Nick’s Cove Enters a New Era With Help From Top Chef Chris Cosentino

Photo by Gamma Nine

Some relationships just work. And an exciting new collaboration with Tomales Bay’s Nick’s Cove and Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino feels like a warm and inviting blended family. The partnership comes on the heels of a top-to-bottom renovation of the iconic on-site cottages that have been there since the 1930s.

We arrived at our cozy bungalow for the night, the “Fly Fisherman’s,” with its views of the bay all around and claw-foot tub beckoning from the wainscoted bathroom. The 1940s jazz was playing softly and charming knickknacks were everywhere, creating a rich sense of nostalgia. We had just enough time for a glass of pinot noir in front of our wood-burning stove before the short walk across the street to Nick’s restaurant.

We started off with a classic cocktail at the bar — a bloody mary with Sonoma Brothers vodka and Nick’s secret spice blend — that paired well with the oysters. A couple sips in and Cosentino appeared pushing a giant wheelbarrow filled with ice, piles of those local oysters and bottles of champagne. We followed him out to Nick’s Boat Shack.

Cosentino, who grew up clamming and fishing in coastal New England, says it was easy to integrate the food of the East Coast at Nick’s. “It felt like I was coming home.”

We polished off dozens of oysters with celery mignonette and several trays of grilled ones with house barbecue sauce and herbed butter. “You guys hungry?” he shouted to us, the good Italian that he is, and asked if we’d brought our expandable britches. And with that our merry little party trotted back toward the dining room along the pier lined with colored lights as a light rain fell. Cosentino is the brother you never had (if your brother was a celebrity chef); you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. He’s just fun, and so is his food. “The goal is to create a lovely, honest experience. People don’t want tweezers,” he tells us. “I want it to be fun.”

And it is. Plate after plate was passed family-style. Fries With Eyes, fried smelts with tartar sauce; Not Your Grandma’s Clam Dip, an addictive updated take on a classic; Smoked Black Cod Dip, served in a robin’s-egg blue Le Creuset pot with fried saltines on the side. And for entrees, in addition to classics like cioppino and fish and chips there’s even a burger, named after Cosentino’s Grandpa Thurston. “Because every fish house needs one,” he tells us. But this one has tartar and cocktail sauce on it.

The showstopper came when Cosentino, who made cooking with offal (the odd bits and cuts of meat) famous, scraped out the insides of some lobster heads into a bowl of melted butter. “You had to know I was going to do one gutty thing,” he said. We dutifully slathered the rich, chive-y, lemony mixture onto a crusty slice of baguette, enjoying each bite.

We never thought we’d eat again but started all over again the next morning with French press coffee and freshly baked pastries delivered to our door. You know those getaways that feel like a whole vacation rolled into one 24-hour period? Yeah, that’s Nick’s. Even the sheets smelled like magic. We took a walk in the garden and then packed up our stuff, including our new Nick’s tote bag with its printed message, “Stay a Little Longer” — and we really, really wanted to.

Chris Cosentino stands by the bay
Chef Chris Cosentino (Photo by Gamma Nine)