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Nick’s Cove owner’s new cookbook serves up a side of history

“Table with a View” events

Here are some of the upcoming events celebrating the release of Dena Grunt’s “Table with a View” cookbook. For links to register, go to nickscove.com and click on the cookbook.

Cookbook brunches: COVID-19 permitting, there will be intimate cookbook brunches held in The Croft garden at Nick’s Cove at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 2, May 23, June 2, July 25 and Aug. 22. Ticket are $75 and limited to 20 guests.

Point Reyes Bookstore: A virtual event with the author and the staff of the bookstore will be streamed at 7 p.m. May 11 through Zoom.

Book Passage: An online conversation between the author and Avram Kosasky of Book Passage will be held at 6 p.m. May 13.

Copperfield’s Books: A virtual event with the author will be held at 7 p.m. May 19.

Napa Bookmine: An online event with the author will be held at 7 p.m. May 27.

Omnivore Books: Omnivore Books and Nick’s Cove will partner for an in-person signing of “Table with a View” at 5 p.m. June 4, with books available for purchase along with a special treat for buyers. The restaurant menu will feature recipes from the cookbook. No tickets required. Come for the cookbook, stay for the sunset.

Nick’s Cove, located along the salt-licked shores of Tomales Bay, is a destination that has gone from a hunting and fishing lodge to a modern retreat in the past 90 years, all while staying true to its rustic roots.

For owner Dena Grunt, the landmark restaurant and bar, 400-foot-long pier, quaint fishing shack, 12 cottages and terraced garden have an aura of magic about them. Although not quite stuck in time, the little haven has stayed in people’s minds through memories passed down through generations.

“Unlike so many other places, it’s basically in its same form of use from the time Nick (Kojich) created a bar, restaurant and an inn in 1931,” Grunt said. “That’s exactly what it is now.”

As soon as she started working at Nick’s Cove in 2010, Grunt wanted to pay homage to the spot nestled between the craggy coastline of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the rolling hills of West Marin. Her dream was to write a cookbook and give it a dash of local flavor.

“This is so much more than a place where people come to eat,” she said. “People would come and say, ‘My mom and dad would take me here when I was little.’ People had such nostalgic and happy memories.”

During the past year, Grunt finally made her dream come true by finishing a 192-page cookbook sprinkled liberally with local lore and historic photos plus enticing landscapes and food shots by well-known photographer Frankie Frankeny.

“Table with a View: The History and Recipes of Nick’s Cove” (Cameron + Company, 2021) will be available to buy at Nick’s Cove starting April 1 and at local bookstores on May 11. To celebrate, the restaurant will host a series of Cookbook Brunches in its Croft garden, COVID-19 permitting, starting May 2 and continuing on the fourth Sunday of each month, May through August.

The hardback book includes nearly 60 recipes from a trio of talented chefs who have cooked in the Nick’s Cove kitchen over the past 15 years, including Kua Speer, the executive chef since 2017. Speer served as sous chef under Austin Perkins, who worked alongside Grunt as executive chef from 2011 to 2016.

“He had never been an executive chef, and I had never been a (general manager) of a restaurant,” Grunt recalled. “We were probably not totally prepared to it, but we figured it out together. To this day, we’re very good friends.”

Well-known Bay Area Chef Mark Franz bought the property in 1999 with restaurateur Pat Kuleto, and Franz served as the opening chef in 2007 after the Nick’s Cove resort underwent a massive redevelopment that took seven long years.

“It’s really just three chefs in the book — Mark Franz, Austin Perkins and Kua Speer,” Grunt said.

In 2010, Grunt started working for Kuleto, then was asked to stay on as general manager when Nick’s Cove was sold in 2011 to one of its original investors, Prescott Ashe. Grunt and Ashe, who died suddenly last year, also joined forces to launch Highway One Hospitality, a company for which Grunt still serves as CEO.

“From Day One, Nick’s Cove was the darling of our hospitality management company,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “The property is delicate, refined, temperamental, fiercely strong, exquisite and difficult, but when you are here, you experience such joy that all of the challenges fade.”

The cookbook includes recipes for starters and cocktails, soups and salads, seafood and meat or vegetable entrees, plus desserts. Many of the recipes reflect the restaurant’s fresh take on classics such as the Oysters Nickerfeller (a play on Oysters Rockefeller) and the Nick’s It oatmeal cookie sandwich (a play on the iconic It’s It frozen treat from San Francisco).

Seafood dishes range from perennial favorites like Tomales Bay Clam Chowder and Shrimp Louie Salad to hearty comfort food such as Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese and Tuna Melts with Roasted Tomatoes and Thyme.

Both Nick’s Cove and its new cookbook celebrate the culinary bounty of the coastal region, home to organic creameries such as Straus Dairy, grass-fed beef ranches like Stemple Creek Ranch and tomato growers such as the legendary Larry Wagner. Of course, local oystermen and fishermen are also part of the Nick’s Cove story; they provided fresh ocean-to-table seafood to the restaurant from the very beginning.

Many Nick’s Cove neighbors get a nod in the book in a nostalgic, hand-drawn map that highlights producers of the restaurant’s farm-to-table cuisine, from Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station to Tomales Bay Oyster Co. in Marshall and Liberty Duck Farm in Petaluma.

“There’s so much more that we could have talked about — the dairies and the cheeses,” Grunt said. “And there’s so much history to go into. We only had so many pages.”

“Table with a View” events

Here are some of the upcoming events celebrating the release of Dena Grunt’s “Table with a View” cookbook. For links to register, go to nickscove.com and click on the cookbook.

Cookbook brunches: COVID-19 permitting, there will be intimate cookbook brunches held in The Croft garden at Nick’s Cove at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 2, May 23, June 2, July 25 and Aug. 22. Ticket are $75 and limited to 20 guests.

Point Reyes Bookstore: A virtual event with the author and the staff of the bookstore will be streamed at 7 p.m. May 11 through Zoom.

Book Passage: An online conversation between the author and Avram Kosasky of Book Passage will be held at 6 p.m. May 13.

Copperfield’s Books: A virtual event with the author will be held at 7 p.m. May 19.

Napa Bookmine: An online event with the author will be held at 7 p.m. May 27.

Omnivore Books: Omnivore Books and Nick’s Cove will partner for an in-person signing of “Table with a View” at 5 p.m. June 4, with books available for purchase along with a special treat for buyers. The restaurant menu will feature recipes from the cookbook. No tickets required. Come for the cookbook, stay for the sunset.

The following is an interview with the author, who has been proprietor of Nick’s Cove since August 2011 and lives in Petaluma with her husband and son.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Lake County, and then I moved to Santa Rosa and went to the SRJC and worked part-time. I finished my AA and moved to Petaluma for a summer. ... I was transferring to SF State, but I met a boy who I later married, so I’ve been here since 1992.

Q: When did you get the idea to write a cookbook about Nick’s Cove?

A: Honestly, the first time I started working there in 2010, I started talking about a cookbook. There’s so much history, and it all needed to get written down. At the time, Ruth Gibson (the owner before Pat Kuleto and Mark Franz) was still alive, and I was worried we would miss the opportunity to get her story. She would come to lunch, and I would sit down and take notes.

Q: Were there any big surprises along the way? Did you always know the original owner Nick Kojich, who immigrated from Croatia, was also a bootlegger?

A:

I knew Nick and his wife Frances’s niece and nephew, Dorothy and Andy Matkovich (the second owners of Nick’s Cove) had a daughter Judy Matkovich. ... I was telling a friend of mine who was born and raised in Petaluma that I know this lady Judy lives here in Petaluma, and I can’t find her. She said, “That’s one of my mom’s best friends.“ It turns out I could walk to her house. She and her husband Ron sat down with me and gave me details about who everybody was in the pictures. The one thing she said was that Nick was ”absolutely a bootlegger.”

Judy was wonderful, and I had her look over parts of the history (in the cookbook) for accuracy. ... I’m a stranger writing about her family’s history, and it made me feel really good that what was written honored all the people who came before me.

Q: It’s interesting that even your publisher, Cameron + Company of Petaluma, is local. How did you find them?

A: Chris Gruener (the publisher) and I have a lot of mutual friends. They were an absolute delight to work with. Everyone was so helpful and encouraging and supportive. Kim Laidlaw was the project manager. ... She would make adjustments and help with the copy if I was stuck on something. She really tried her best to not lose my voice. I wanted the readers and the cooks to see Nick’s through my eyes ... of someone who fell in love with the location first.

Q: What kind of changes did you make when you bought the property in 2011?

A: I had beautiful wooden tables made from a recycled water tower and removed all the white tablecloths. I really wanted people to feel comfortable coming in after a day of kayaking or hiking.

I decluttered some of the knickknacks that Kuleto was fond of. He had a lot of texture, like fishing nets hanging from the ceiling. You can’t clean that stuff, and it collects dust. So I decluttered without stripping away the essence of the design and the aesthetic.

I got the garden (The Croft) started in 2012. It was 10 feet of weeds all the way around. The terracing had been done by Kuleto ... so I took it back to see the terracing and the irrigation. We started harvesting in 2013 in the summer and fall, and it’s been getting better and better ever since. In the pandemic, we pivoted and offered a CSA box of vegetables because we had all this produce that we couldn’t turn into food in the kitchen. … The boxes sold out.

Q: You’ve also made the property kid-friendly with a kids’ menu. Why?

A: We didn’t have a kids’ menu, and I had a 7-year-old. When we went out to dinner, I didn’t appreciate a menu with fried chicken fingers and a corn dog. It was a big deal for me to have a healthy children’s menu.

The Nick’s It was my baby. … We were thinking about a dessert, and I said we should make an ice cream sandwich, like an It’s It. And I jokingly said, “We can call it a Nick’s It.”

Q: What kind of pivots did you have to make at the restaurant during the pandemic?

A: When it was spring heading into summer, we did takeout. We laid everybody off, furloughed the ones we could and kept those who could handle takeout. Then, with outdoor dining, we pivoted to a counter-service model so we could cut down on the table interactions with our staff and the public.

Then in December when it closed down again, we just shut down completely. ... When they opened outside dining again, we went into full gear of being able to serve our guests with counter service.

Now we’re open 25% indoors, but it will still be a window where you order and the pickup is inside and you get your drinks and food as they come up.

More and more, people care less about how they get their food versus the kind of food. Millennials and Gen-Xers want the beautiful location, wonderful experience and amazing food.

Q: Is there anything you feel you left out of the cookbook?

A: I really feel like I said everything I wanted to say that I knew personally. It’s not a history book — that’s for somebody else to go into the details. But I feel like I achieved what I set out to do, by giving the reader not only a glimpse of the beautiful location and these recipes but also a look at an entire location, Nick’s Cove. It’s not just the restaurant and the cottages. It’s all the things that it was before.

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The following recipes are from Dena Grunt’s “Table with a View: The History & Recipes of Nick’s Cove” (Cameron + Company, 2021). This poke recipe is a starter from Executive Chef Kua Speer, who grew up in Hawaii.

Be sure to use a non-vinegar-based hot sauce and make the pickled vegetables a day in advance so they have time to pickle. Remove the blood line from the tuna by cutting it off with a sharp knife, if it has not been removed already.

Ahi Tuna Poke with Pickled Vegetables

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For the pickled vegetables:

1½ cups unseasoned rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

½ cup ice (about 4 large ice cubes)

3 small radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 small Japanese or English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch thick)

For the poke:

1 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

¼ cup thinly sliced red onion

2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 teaspoons non-vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Sriracha or wasabi paste (optional)

2 pounds sashimi-grade ahi tuna, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 teaspoons white sesame seeds

2 green onions, thinly sliced, green tops only, about 2 tablespoons

To make the pickled vegetables: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the rice wine vinegar, ginger, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Place the ice in a small heatproof bowl. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the pickling liquid over the bowl of ice. Divide the cold pickling liquid between two bowls, then add the radishes to one bowl and the cucumber to the second bowl. Cover the bowls tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to five days in advance.

In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, red onion, ginger, garlic and hot sauce until well combined. Cover and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature or refrigerate for up to one day.

Place the tuna in a mixing bowl. Strain the soy sauce mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over the tuna, then toss to coat evenly.

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring often, until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly, then add to the tuna along with the green onion. Stir to combine.

Pile the tuna poke mixture onto a serving plate. Remove the radishes and cucumber from the pickling liquid and arrange around the poke mixture. Serve immediately.

_______

Chef Mark Franz created this delicious salad for the opening menu of Nick’s Cove in 2007, after seven years of renovations.

Grilled Romaine Salad with Lemon-Anchovy Vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings

For the lemon anchovy vinaigrette:

⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)

4 olive oil-packed anchovy filets

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

4 small romaine hearts

Kosher salt

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

To make the vinaigrette: In a blender, combine the lemon juice, anchovies, garlic, mustard, Parmesan, salt and pepper and blend on medium-high speed until smooth. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil, blending until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Set aside. (The vinaigrette will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.)

In a dry small skillet, warm 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Brush the grill grate clean.

While the grill heats, halve the romaine hearts lengthwise, carefully cutting away most of the core and leaving enough stem to keep the leaves attached to each other. Brush the cut sides of the romaine lightly with the oil, then season with salt.

Arrange the romaine halves, cut sides down, on the grate and grill until the leaves are nicely charred, about 1½ minutes. You do not want to cook the romaine. You just want to create nice char marks.

Transfer two romaine halves, grilled side up, onto each individual plate, arranging them into an X. Drizzle each serving with about ¼ cup vinaigrette, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan and 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

_______

This recipe has gone through variations but originated with former Nick’s Cove Chef Austin Perkins.

Nick’s Cove Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 cup unsalted butter

2 leeks, white part only, sliced

¾ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

3 cups heavy cream

2 cups shredded aged Gruyere cheese, such as Grand Cru

2 cups shredded Point Reyes Toma or medium white cheddar

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt

Vinegar-based hot sauce (such as Tabasco), for seasoning

Juice of ¼ lemon

1 pound dried fusilli pasta

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 pound fresh-cooked Dungeness crabmeat, picked over for shell fragments

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the flour, whisk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and starts to smell like shortbread, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream. Continue to simmer, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the cheeses, a handful at a time, stirring after each addition until melted before adding more. Season to taste with salt, hot sauce and lemon juice.

About 15 minutes before the cheese sauce is ready, begin cooking the pasta and toast the breadcrumbs. Fill a large pot two-thirds full of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 6 to 8 minutes or according to package directions. Drain into a colander, then transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In a small dry skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to combine. Add the crabmeat and gently stir to distribute evenly. Divide the pasta between individual bowls or plates. Top each serving with the toasted breadcrumbs and parsley. Serve right away.

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In 2011, Nick’s Cove launched a kids’ menu that included the Nick’s It, a chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwich of vanilla ice cream between two big oatmeal cookies.

Nick’s It

Makes 12 cookies, or 6 ice cream sandwiches

For the oatmeal cookies:

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 ½ pints of vanilla ice cream

For the chocolate:

1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped

¼ cup canola oil

To make the cookies: In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla until blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and both sugars on medium speed until fluffy and smooth, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the egg mixture in three additions, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Continue to mix until the dough is fully combined, about 1 minute longer.

Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a log that is 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours or up to 1 day in advance.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and cut into 12 equal slices. Using your hands, roll each slice into a ball. Arrange on the prepared sheet pan, spacing the dough balls about 4 inches apart. Using your palm, gently flatten each dough portion into a disk about 3 inches in diameter.

Bake the cookies for 4 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and bake 5 more minutes, until golden brown but still soft. Transfer to a wire rack and let cookies cool completely.

To assemble the sandwiches: Let the ice cream sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften slightly. While the ice cream softens, line a small sheet pan with parchment paper. Arrange half the cookies, bottom side up, on the prepared pan. Fill a small bowl with warm water and place it next to the ice cream.

For each sandwich, dip a large ice cream scoop in the water and scoop out ½ cup ice cream and place it on a cookie base. Place another cookie, bottom side down, on top and press gently to spread the ice cream as evenly as possible between the cookies; the ice cream should be about an inch thick. Immediately move the pan to the freezer and let ice cream freeze for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Rest a heatproof medium bowl on top of the saucepan over, but not touching, the water and put the chocolate and oil into the bowl. Heat, stirring often, until the chocolate is mostly melted with only a few pieces remaining. Remove the bowl from the heat and wipe the outside of the bowl dry. The chocolate should be warm but not hot.

Dip each ice cream sandwich vertically halfway into the chocolate, then return it to the sheet pan. When all of the sandwiches are dipped, return the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until chocolate hardens, then serve. If you are not going to eat them right away, wrap each one in plastic wrap, slip them into a zippered plastic bag or two and store flat in the freezer for up to 5 days.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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