If You Build It, Will They Come?

A considered review of Ditas Sausalito.

Ditas Sausalito dining room

What is Ditas, exactly? A self-proclaimed “amalgamation of luxury and simplicity in the world of culinary art” according to its website, Ditas is the newest entrant on the Marin dining scene, built from the studs up by Tiburon resident and CEO Nikita Khandheria.

Walk up the wooden staircase that once lead to The Trident’s event space in Sausalito and enter a room that takes full advantage of 180 degree views across Richardson Bay to San Francisco. Table seating with cozy chairs lines the windows and fills the room – everyone has a good seat. Above the bar, itself situated along an interior wall, Edison bulbs elegantly dangle. A ramp allows for both easy access for the differently abled and connects the bar to the room. Tables are far enough apart to ensure privacy. It feels special, the view intended to occupy your visual sense.

Ditas Sausalito bar
Ditas Bar

Cocktails & Culinary Artistry

a Manhattan cocktail at Ditas Sausalito
Manhattan served up

Up first, a cocktail and an amuse bouche. Stefan chose a classic Manhattan, executed to form and served up in an elegant martini glass. My Rosé Highball, the glass filled with crushed ice, is designed for summer sipping, the sake rosé shrub and mint refreshing enough but its flavor diluted by the ice. (Next time, I’ll ask for no ice.)

Course One of the three-course tasting menu, salad blanc
Salad Blanc

Seated at a table along the deck, Stefan and I were invited to try the three-course tasting menu from chef Cody Buchholz, who spent time at two of Napa’s renowned fine dining establishments, French Laundry and Press, before firing up the burners at Ditas. That pedigree translates to beautifully executed dishes. Salad Blanc – white asparagus panna cotta – arrived as a slender slab, dressed to the nines with petite cauliflower, shiso leaves, nearly transparent celery nibs and slender half moons of radish. Dots of umeboshi move the eye closer to the plate, itself a work of art.

After the amuse bouche, Chef sent out fish tacos from the separate bar menu, a more casual dish than the Blanc, served in a wonton crisp and adorned with plenty of flavor from spicy aioli, spirals of green scallion and twirls of marinated chili. That was promptly followed by the second tasting menu dish, Burrata. Graced with a delicate toile shaped as a honeycomb, the cheese orb is topped with chive blossoms resembling cups, adding dimensionality to a dish that often appears as a blob. A delicious blob, but still, this version of a dish available on many, many menus is elevated to a much better place in Buchholz’s hands. (Star-shaped madeleines accompany and could stand solo as a dessert with a cup of coffee.)

Course Two: Wagyu strip loin at Ditas
Wagyu strip loin

Dish three, a medium rare Wagyu strip loin, was two thick pieces stacked above a pool of glacé de viande, paired with sugar snap peas half shelled to reveal their symmetry, and mushrooms. In composite, the dish represented spring and its bounty. Elegant. Miso sea bass, the other entrée choice on that May evening, hid under a buckwheat cracker cloche, the ginger dashi a bit too subtle for the hearty quinoa and macadamia pairing.

Course Three: Yuzu Poppy Cake
Course Three: Yuzu Poppy Cake

Buchholz’s exacting attention is given to dessert as well. Above a whirl of lavender-infused blueberry coulis, creamy yuzu poppy cake balanced citrus with cream and subtle hints of elderflower.

Wines, paired for the experience – a Pouilly-Fumé with the Salad Blanc, Mersault and Rosso del Veronese with the Wagyu and cod, and a Moscato d’Asti with the dessert – struck neither of us as exceptional but got the job done.

(Side Bar) Neither of us tried the vegan tasting menu – Peas & Carrots was a terrine of celeriac and fennel with carrot top crème fraiche, Veggie Loaf plated with a shiitake ginger gravy, and carob cake enlivened with passionfruit and almond. The neighboring table raved about it.

Service a Work in Progress

On the service side, the staff is still getting themselves sorted. Fine dining like this is not abundant in Marin (chef Ron Siegel’s Madcap is the only other fine dining I can think of in Marin – please give me a shout if you know of others) and service felt a little off-kilter, as if management has not yet determined a course of action. Should the GM or Sommelier spend a few minutes explaining each wine? How close should staff be to the tables? How often do water glasses need refilling? These questions still require attention.

One could say that restaurant service everywhere is going through a retrofit and this is true. Many in service are new to the industry and many dining experiences of late have felt off. Yet at a restaurant that is striving to be a player in the fine dining game, or the aforementioned amalgamation of luxury and simplicity in the world of culinary art, these details need polish. Tout de suite. Pronto. As soon as possible. Perhaps this is why we were oft-reminded that the restaurant is in soft-open. (Ribbon-cutting is June 21.) Please, some grace, the team seems to be saying. At $120 per tasting menu, will diners be forgiving? Perhaps. It’s a big ask.

Luxury and Simplicity?

Khandheria likes to remind people of her youth – she is just 21 she told me, and running the show. Every Ditas detail not on the plate is hers. Perhaps this is the hubris of the young, that building something you are passionate about ensures that it will be a success. And I, for one, am not keen to see anyone’s dream crumble before it has a chance to shine (from all that polish). Confidence (and showing up, as Woody Allen reminds us) can get you a long way in life and many restaurants have succeeded with much less – less polish, less determination, less skilled chefs. The team has a ways to go before it achieves its goal of fine dining destination. The paint is still drying, if you will.

In Sum

What is Ditas? Fine dining that has not quite achieved its potential. There is much to like here. Well-executed, flavorful food. Stunning Marin views. Staff that is trying. The food and cocktails are worth a visit – and service should smooth as the team gets its feet under them and figures out what works in Marin. In the fullness of time, perhaps…meanwhile, the vegans are thrilled to have such an elegant dining experience, a rarity in Marin or anywhere in the Bay Area.

restaurant critic Christina Mueller at Ditas Sausalito
Me looking at the Ditas deck and the fog blanketing San Francisco