September 6-12, 2006

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First Bite

Mountain Home Inn

By Therese Nicol

My first glimpse of Mountain Home Inn in Mill Valley reminded me of the east side of the Sierras, with "glimpse" being the operative word. Word up: Park while you can or you'll end up eating in Stinson Beach. We figured that out the second time around, but forgot to make a reservation. Word up redux: Do make a reservation if you're the impatient sort, because seating is limited.

Fortunately, we're the patient sort, and happily sat out a 45-minute wait. I lounged in a rickety old chair and soaked in the sun, and again experienced a Tuolumne flashback. When our time came, we were seated on the very edge of the patio, with Tiburon and Angel Island in the foreground. The sight of the bay shattered my alpine illusion, but the reality was anything but shabby.

Our first taste came in the form of skewered shrimp with mango salsa and pickled red onions ($11). It was well-presented, and the salsa was fresh and well-seasoned but the shrimp was a little tough, and for the price, the portion was skimpy. The soup du jour ($7), a carrot and ginger concoction made with orange juice, was a psychedelic bowl of cadmium-yellow velvet with beautiful texture and flavor. The house salad ($10), baby greens with feta cheese, olives, walnuts and tomato, was overdressed. It's a wonderful mix of ingredients that could stand on its own, and a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil would have been adequate.

We ordered the local cod and house cut chips ($14) and the blackened tombo tuna sandwich ($16). Both were served with a jalapeño remoulade that tasted like ranch dressing. There was no evidence that the tuna had been blackened, but the sandwich was good. As for the fish and chips, the pristinely fresh fish was overpowered by the heavy pale-ale batter. This is tourist food, and our meal needed punctuation and exclamations marks of hot or sour, but I still like the Mountain Home Inn. Our server was a delight, and the setting was heavenly.

I found myself lusting over the build-your-own Niman Ranch burger ($12) being devoured at the table next to us. I'm going back on a weekday to build my own. With options like blue cheese, caramelized onion and wild mushrooms calling to me, next time I'll do it my way.

Mountain Home Inn, 810 Panoramic Drive, Mill Valley. Breakfast for Inn guests only. Open Wednesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner; American cheese tastings from 3pm to 8pm; after-hiking plates Saturday-Sunday only from 3pm to 8pm; dinners are prix fixe and $38. 415.381.9000.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.