A restaurant review
When I first wrote about Ditas, Sausalito’s new fine dining restaurant, the restaurant had been open a few months with two tasting menus – vegan and meaty – and a separate menu at the bar. Summer was just beginning. During the first week of fall, I was invited back to experience the menu’s evolution. Executive Chef John Carney (FARM at Carneros Inn, French Laundry) now offers two daily five-course tasting menus ($130) and an a la carte menu ($14 to $72) for all diners.
Embracing Inclusiveness Beyond Vegan
Though the vegan tasting menu is no more, Carney is committed to making each dish accessible. No, chef cannot transmogrify an Australian lamb rack with potato fondant and mustard oil into a vegan dish. But Carney’s openness to adjusting dishes to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and other dietary considerations is a fresh hallmark of the kitchen’s approach. You can call it inclusive. A better term might be thoughtful. There is a through-line of consideration in chef’s approach to the menu. This is on-trend for fine dining, but chef’s a la carte menu demonstrates the same heightened degree of care. It’s refreshing.
The first rule of Ditas is there are no rules at Ditas. Order the whole tasting menu. Or a few a la carte dishes. Ask to try a dish from the tasting menu. Or not. This is also a form of embracing inclusiveness. Our order crisscrossed the menu.
Is it Bistro or is it Restaurant?
Up first: a beet and shiso amuse bouche. A whole leaf sliced cleanly down the middle is filled with vegan beet cream and dotted with pearls of pear and crispy rice nuggets. Its presentation is fun, its flavor unexpected. It’s a fine dining touch. It sets a mood.
The second dish, an off-menu Little Gem salad with pickled radish, would be right at home at a bistro, a dish of casual comfort lifted by its pristine ingredients dressed correctly. Another salad of peach and arugula appeared, a pressed circle of geléed peach topped with fresh fruit, the arugula’s bite tamed with pistachio two ways: toasted nuts and oil. Ok, this is a little bit cheffy, but instantly recognizable.
Fine Dining with Cheffy Touches
Perhaps most cheffy was TGC Arancini. An Italian rice ball typically filled with ragú or cheese, Carney’s arancini instead is a tropical salute, the arancini appealingly oozing kiwi salsa while reclining against pillowy coconut foam. Dragon fruit and kiwi rounds give the dish an otherworldly look.
From here, we transitioned to heartier fare. An off-menu vegan dish of “veggie loaf,” arrived under a potato pavé sheath. Further hidden by a girdle of wafer-thin mushroom arranged to look like a lobster tail, the dish, a reinterpretation of meatloaf and mash, is a hidden treasure, an expression of chef’s delight in the playfulness of food. Food as design. (Origami?) An ode to technique. (Note to the team: Pease rethink the name. The dish deserves to be called something more elegant, less retro-hippie. May I suggest ‘escalope of mushroom and potato?’ Or maybe ‘meat-free loaf?’
Best Bite of the Night
My favorite dish of the night, though, was the branzino. The work of chef Anthony Le, who came to the table to present his dish, the fish was served skin on and up, its nearly black color a bold statement of technique. Under pressure from my fork, it shattered to reveal an underbelly of soft flesh, a topping of crispy shallots, garlic and other nubs of yumminess cascading across the palate, each contributing distinct flavor yet building a harmonious crescendo. I daren’t put down my fork – Stefan was forking at a rate speedier than my savoring slowness could match. Yum.
I largely avoided the beurre blanc sauce, another bistro touch that helps keep the dish earthbound – no need to add butter to this experience.
Same Amazing Cocktails, Same Amazing View
Some things should not change. Stefan’s Manhattan was a highlight and executive wine director Marco Buffa’s wine pairings were on point. The moon, full that night, rose over Richmond as if on cue, cascading pools of light across the bay’s waters. A party for the Mill Valley Film Festival occupied the deck or we all would’ve sat outside to revel in the moon’s monthly glory.
After a few months and some management changes, service was running more smoothly than during my last visit. There was no confusion over which tasks belong to which staff member. The team seems to have found more of a rhythm, a welcome change. There was a quietness to the service, a flow that was previously missing.
Inclusiveness in Dessert, Too
The desserts seem inspired, too. Said to be the work of chef Le, a chocolate mochi brownie was gluten-free and vegan, its springy character balanced with deep cacao richness. The word for “smooth” or “creamy” in Japanese and a style of ganache, bites of honey namelaka are also vegan, presented without dairy and more like a brittle.
This is the new story of Ditas. With cheffy flair and an adherence to consistent, familiar bistro fare, an inclusive menu dreamed up by a team of chefs working together to make the whole stronger than its parts. It is embracing inclusiveness. What a radical idea. Seems just about right for the spirit of Marin.