The small town of Mill Valley plays host to a seafood-focused restaurant that beckons with a welcoming atmosphere and a welter of intriguing dishes.
I did not know what to expect when I first walked into Coho. Run by the second generation of a local family known for their long-running Northern Italian restaurant nearby, the restaurant could do the comfortable thing and follow their heir’s successful model of a family restaurant by providing a comfortable setting and serving thoughtful, seasonal dishes, dishes with broad appeal but little challenge for the diner. In bold strokes, Coho steps away from their kin, presenting an exciting menu in a room that is comfortable and just a little showy.
What to Eat
Witness a dish of squid. Skewered and served poised over a bowl garlic and cilantro-bedecked sprouts, the squid is given an elegant makeover, its crispy character buffeted by the gutsy flavor pairings beneath. Or a plate of pea shoots. Served with a golden pair of scissors, guests are asked to engage with their food in a new way, snipping their shoots before passing them through a bowl of carrot dressing.
Chef partner David Kornell (New York’s Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill), celebrates the California coast with responsibly sourced seafood, meat, and produce. Flavors span the globe. A namesake dish of Coho salmon donburi leans Japanese, smacking the palate with a double hit of horseradish from wasabi stems in the greens and milder pink horseradish in the sauce. Found on menus across Asia, Dungeness crab noodles play to the crowd with subtle garlic flavor and the notable addition of spinach. A pork chop with roasted cauliflower and squash is straight out of the California playbook, a dish of local comfort in every bite. Even pierogi are given special treatment, the Eastern European dumplings gussied up with ikura.
At first glance, the dining room’s décor feels dressy in this casual town. Huge bay windows facing the former railroad depot are swathed in barely sheer fabric, an updated take on living room drapes. Wallpaper reminiscent of sea fans pulls the eye up to the whitewashed beamed ceiling. Behind the five stool bar, shimmery blue tiles catch the glow of the bar’s recessed lighting. At once beachy or townie, the details come together to create a mood of understated elegance. Seated as I was in a blue, circular banquette, I was comfortable here. I did not want to leave. I ordered another glass of wine.
Is It Worth It?
Coho is an escape from the rhythm of ordinary life, a chance to explore the bounty of California’s food shed. It fits nicely into Mill Valley, where unpretentious is a way of life. I’ll be back.