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While king salmon swim against the current to spawn upstream in the Sacramento River each spring, the people who love to eat them move in the opposite direction.

Come early summer, seafood lovers point their noses to the coast, where they can whet their appetites on briny oysters, then dig into salmon filets, grilled to off-the-hook perfection.

You can find both of these delicacies at Nick's Cove in Marshall, where Executive Chef Austin Perkins serves up California Coastal Cuisine that's sourced from the shores of West Marin and beyond.

And the 27-year-old Petaluma native has tips galore on how to grill fish and seafood to summertime perfection.

Nick's Cove is known for its fresh seafood, but legend has it that was also the first restaurant ever to serve barbecued oysters.

The 1930s-era fishing and hunting lodge was reborn as a high-end hideaway in 2007, after San Francisco restaurant designer Pat Kuleto spent $10 million restoring the rundown roadhouse, fishing pier and cottages back to their rustic glory.

The resort, which was sold last year, is just a half-hour's drive from Petaluma and 45 minutes from Santa Rosa.

You can still order The Original Tomales Bay BBQ'D Oyster, which boasts a secret barbecue sauce inspired by the original recipe, or Baked Oyster Mornay, smothered with cheese and bread crumbs.

But real oyster lovers may prefer the light flavor of Grilled Oysters "Nick-erfeller," made with a splash of licorice-scented Pernod, fresh tarragon and butter.

"Our phlosophy is not to manipulate things too much," Perkins said. "I like to taste all the components as complementary but not overwhelming."

Tomales Bay is home to several world-renowned oyster farms, and the tide-tossed beds where most of the oysters are raised can be seen from the deck of the restaurant, located at the northern end of the bay.

"We have to be the closest restaurant to the oyster farms," Perkins said. "Oysters are filters so they need the turnover of the tide water."

Perkins sources oysters from all over the bay, serving up scallop-edged kumamotos from Hog Island Oysters, the smooth-edged miyagis from Marin Oyster Co. and Preston Point oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Co.

"It's the most pristine bay in California, because there is no commercial fishing here," Perkins said of Tomales Bay. "It's very clean water."

In the winter, Perkins likes to serve heartywild game dishes and braised meats, to fortify his customers against the cold rain and wind off the Pacific.

But come summer, Perkins lights up the grill and lightens up the menu with grilled steaks and fish.

"We're lucky to live somewhere where you can grill 10 months out of the year," he said.

One of his favorite cuts is the flat-iron steak, a long, narrow strip that comes from the shoulder and lends itself to a marinade.

"Right now, we're using an espresso marinade made with Kahlua and vinegar," he said. "It's almost sweet-and-sour."

After marinating the steak all day, he throws it on the grill and serves it with a simple, pinot-noir reduction sauce.

"It's cooked down, and then we add butter," he said. "It's a very easy sauce for home chefs."

Perkins serves two or three fish specials a night. This time of year, he likes to serve grilled salmon with sturdy stalks of grilled asparagus.

"I just use salt and pepper on the salmon," he said. "But we cook it over wood, so it picks up that smoky flavor."

Perkins grew up cooking with his dad in Petaluma, then went to Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco. He worked at Cyrus in Healdsburg, which has two Michelin stars, before joining Nick's Cove, which was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for good cuisine at a reasonable price.

"We like to make food approachable," he said. "We get a wide range of people here, from locals and people out for a drive to foodies from Napa, Sonoma and Marin."

The following recipes are from Austin Perkins, executive chef at Nick's Cover Restaurant, Oyster Bar & Cottages. You can find Pacific oyster at various outlets in West Marin, including Drak'es Bay Oyster Co.

Oysters "Nick-erfeller"

Makes 24 oysters

2 dozen Pacific oysters

? pound unsalted butter, plus 1 teaspoon, divided

2 shallots, minced

1 bunch tarragon, chopped

2 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon thyme, chopped

1 teaspoon chives, chopped

2 ounces Pernod

1?tablespoon salt

In a large mixing bowl leave ? pound butter out and covered to soften.

In a saut?pan, add the teaspoon of butter and shallots and saut?over low heat until soft and translucent. Deglaze with Pernod. Being Pernod to a boil and reduce by a quarter. Add this to the mixing bowl.

Add all herbs and salt to the mixing bowl. Combine thoroughly, either with a spatula or your hands.

To shuck an oyster, place an oyster knife in the groove at the bottom of the oyster. Work knife in and up the side of the shell until the top of the shell is removed. About a third of the way down the opened oyster lies the adductor muscle. (It is round and tough.) Place oyster knife at the back of the muscle and detach meat from the shell.

Turn grill on high, or prepare coals.

Top each oyster with 1 teaspoon of butter mixture. Grill two minutes or until butter bubbles 10-15 seconds.

Wood-Fired California King Salmon with Eggplant Pur?, Grilled Delta Asparagus and Cherry Gastrique

Makes 6 servings

1 salmon fillet, pin bones removed, and portioned into 6-7 ounce pieces

2 Italian eggplants

1 bunch asparagus, white bottoms removed

2 pounds cherries (preferably Bing), stems and pits removed

2 cups red wine

2 cups red wine vinegar

1? cup sugar

1 lemon, zested

2 tablespoons flat-leaf Italian parsley

1 cup good extra virgin olive oil, such as McEvoy

1 tablespoon heavy cream

— Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either prepare coals for cooking or turn on gas grill.

Split the eggplants lengthwise, coat exteriors in olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill until good grill marks are achieved. Remove and place on a baking sheet in oven 12-15 minutes, or until soft.

Combine cherries, red wine, and vinegar and simmer over low heat on stove until reduced by half.

In a food processor, pur? cherry reduction thoroughly, return to stove, add sugar and again reduce by half. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature before use.

Remove eggplant "meat" from skins. Add ? cup olive oil, cream and salt & pepper (to taste) and pur? in the food processor until smooth.

In a mixing bowl toss asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Season salmon with salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining oil to avoid sticking. Grill salmon 2-3 minutes on each side until medium rare. Simultaneously, grill asparagus 3-4 minutes until al dente. Return asparagus to mixing bowl, toss in parsley and lemon zest.

Let salmon rest 2 minutes. Serve with the eggplant pur? and grilled asparagus and drizzle with the cherry gastrique.

Espresso-Marinated Flat Iron Steak

Makes 3 servings

1 trimmed flat iron strip (16-18 ounces), cut into thirds

2 shallots, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1? tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1shot (1? ounce) fresh brewed espresso (or strongly brewed drip coffee)

1 ounce Kahlua liqueur

? ounce red wine vinegar

1 ounce good extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Place the steaks in the marinade and let soak 6-10 hours or overnight.

Remove steaks from marinade and sear over a very hot grill for 1-2 minutes. Turn over with tongs or a large grill spatula and cook over a low-medium heat, 3-5 minutes for medium rare. Let rest 3 to 5 minutes and slice the meat against the grain into 6 slices per steak.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson


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