Chef Mike Garcia has had a lot on his plate since he opened his new restaurant, the Left Coast Depot, for the dinner crowd about six weeks ago.
Looking to create and serve "approachable comfort food" for dinner, his tasty-looking small plates all come in under $10 while the big plates can be found for under $15. Garcia said the short ribs cooked with Old No. 38 Stout beer from North Coast Brewing has been a hit with customers so far.
"It has that roasted coffee and chocolate tone to it, almost like a mole," he said. "When I reduced it and braised the meat, it just came out really cool. People are really taking a liking to that."
Other popular items so far are fried chicken and shrimp scampi, he said.
The beer and wine offerings are limited but impressive. Garcia, a fan of craft beers, keeps five taps open with microbrews and additional bottles in the fridge, and he would like to set up beer-food pairings and special beer tastings down the line. The wine list favors selections from the North Bay region, and there is no corkage fee for the first bottle brought in.
"I think we've set it up so it's affordable and table-friendly," he says of the wine choices. "I'm not going off the deep end because you don't need the real high-end stuff if you're getting a $10 meatloaf."
For the kids, 12 types of milk shakes are available.
"I want it to be a family gathering place," he tells me on a recent Friday afternoon. "I hope to have the patio open in the spring, with maybe a firepit if the city will let me, and add a slide guitar and maybe some bluegrass musicians."
Since leaving his job as the executive chef at Toast five months ago, he's still working "85 hours a week," adding with a laugh, "the only difference is that I'm not getting paid."
He's a man with a plan, however, and says it's always been his ultimate goal to open his own place. After years of working for high-pressure and top-of-the-line restaurants such as Farallon and Hawthorne Lane, Garcia is committed to making the Left Coast Depot a destination for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Having chosen to keep on the staff from the Golden Egg Omelet House, Garcia tells me he "didn't want to be that guy who comes in and blows everybody out."
The Left Coast Depot is just blocks from his downtown home. Garcia with his wife, Nicole, and their two young children moved to Novato five years ago for the relatively affordable real estate and the great family atmosphere.
The opportunity to take possession of the building and create his own place presented itself over a matter of weeks last summer as did the financing partnership with a Novato couple, James and Susie Powell. "It all fell into place," Garcia says.
Now all the Left Coast Depot needs is for people to show up ready to eat, engage and enjoy. There's just one more Friday night before Christmas during which the Downtown Novato Business Association is urging shops and restaurants in Old Town to stay open. Who's in?