The story goes like this: Talented chef Kim Alter opened Plate Shop in February on Sausalito's Caledonia Street with promises to bring big-city dining to the little city on the water. Alter brought her experience from top kitchens (Aqua, Michael Mina, Manresa, Ubuntu) and a fondness for nose-to-tail dining, but in spite of the buzz, the restaurant didn't pack diners in as hoped.
Add to that an apparent rift between the front of the house and the kitchen. In May, Alter split, taking a few of her crew with her. After a rocky intermediary period, chef Peter Erickson and general manager Kent Liggett came aboard from San Francisco's 1550 Hyde to pick up the pieces.
The argument made was that sleepy Sausalito wasn't ready for Alter's palate-challenging food (smoke uni risotto, cleaved duck head, crispy pig's ear, miner's lettuce) and big city vibe.
Plate Shop 2.0 seems to read Sausalito better.
Like Alter, Erickson draws from local farms and purveyors. The menu offers few surprises, and given Alter's experience, that's probably by design. It's classic Mediterranean-inflected, Bay Area farm-to-table cooking.
For me, the starters are the best part of the menu. The rosemary frites with creamy aioli ($5) are as good as any you'd find—and the fries stay crisp and hot in the narrow necked crock they're served in.
Ordering calamari is always a gamble, given how often the little cephalopods turn out rubbery, but Plate Shop's grilled version is a winner. With the accompanying cranberry beans and salsa verde, the dish could pass as a light entr–e.
While the menu has been retooled to appeal to more catholic tastes, that doesn't mean it has been dumbed down. The best thing I tasted was the rabbit liver crostini ($9). Mention of liver might scare some diners away, but the bunny organs are sublimely rich and creamy without a whiff of the metallic tang and funk that often characterizes liver.
Entr–es are more straight-up-the-middle: grilled pork chops ($23), herb-rubbed chicken ($22) and ricotta ravioli ($16). Grilled Columbia River salmon paired with green beans and sunchokes and a ribbon of herb aioli on top was good, if a little boring. I liked the hearty flavor of the Cutes-du-Rhone braised beef ($24), but the meat itself was less than tender.
Desserts ($6-$8) are standard-issue (sorbet, polenta-olive oil cake, pot de creme, bread pudding, lemon-almond tart), and there's a short but appealing list of cheese.
While the kitchen may have loosened its tie and relaxed a bit, Plate Shop still emits an urban-rustic cool with its caged light bulb pendant lamps, wood floors, glass facade and gleaming bar. Speaking of the bar, mixologist Chris Burgeson shakes and stirs an appealing lineup of classic and classically inspired cocktails. The Spring Street Manhattan ($12, made with Eagle Rare single barrel bourbon, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Peychaud's bitters and brandied cherries) is a boozy but balanced concoction of premium ingredients.
All told, under Erickson and Liggett, Plate Shop seems to have found the right balance of flash and familiarity.
Plate Shop, 39 Caledonia St., Sausalito. 415.887.9047.