Review: Toast offers something for everyone at Novato location
My hat goes off to Sharam Bijan. I mentioned him in my review last week as the restaurateur who tried with all his might to make a challenging restaurant location work in Mill Valley. He finally threw in the towel, bought Toast across the street and was in the process of moving his restaurant Ora to San Francisco. But, as fate would have it, Bijan changed course midway and instead, opened a second Toast location in Novato’s breezy new Hamilton Marketplace.
In many ways we have grown with Bijan as he learned (often the hard way) what it took to become the successful businessman/restaurateur he is today. Of all his restaurants, Toast Novato is certainly his most dramatic and ambitious. Grand in scope and whimsically designed, it combines a tried-and-true concept that works in Marin (comfort food). Bijan has added a contemporary twist and offers it in a stunningly designed 4,000-square-foot space.
Riffing off the appearance of a piece of toast, the decor features walls of blond wood marked with crater-like cutouts that vaguely give the impression of air bubbles. Literally the centerpiece of the Hamilton Marketplace, Toast boasts water features on either side of its entryway and an outdoor seating area adds an inviting touch to the five-month-old restaurant. High ceilings, cement floors, an open kitchen and two bars fill the contemporary space and provide a surprisingly chic backdrop for the restaurant’s massive six-page menu.
On one hand Toast feels a bit too finessed, or formulaic. At the same time, the food is consistently good, and judging by the crowds of families, couples and elderly folks streaming in, it appears to be “just what Novato needed.” Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily. Breakfast standards such as Belgian waffles ($8.50), scrambles, and omelets that are offered at the Mill Valley location are also here. A pizza oven sets this menu apart and allows for such specialties as a Norwegian breakfast pizza ($13) of smoked salmon, tomato and eggs.
On a recent Sunday my family came for lunch. We were met by a gracious host the minute we walked in. My son was thrilled to be able to order a Minnie Mouse pancake for lunch (breakfast is served until 2:30 p.m. ) and I tried the signature Toast chopped salad ($10.95). More Waldorf than cobb, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad included turkey, bacon, grapes, blue cheese, radicchio and more. Though it lacked focus, I didn’t mind the jumble of fresh ingredients all tossed together, but I did mind that the dressing tasted like nothing more than apple cider vinegar. We also tried an entree-sized salad of chile-rubbed ahi tuna ($15.95). An intriguing combination of julienned jicama, squash and strips of crispy tortillas were encircled by several large bite-sized chunks of ahi tuna. A chipotle-orange vinaigrette brought the textures and flavors together well; it was quite tasty. We also sampled blue cheese french fries ($4.95),; I have to admit, I rarely find much to quibble about when it comes to deep fried potatoes, especially ones dripping with pungent, melted blue-streaked cheese.
Our server was competent and earnest, however, when I requested an additional item to go, I was informed the kitchen had shut down five minutes ago and would be unable to prepare anything other than dessert. I’ve worked in restaurants before and if I were that server, I would not have asked a cook, I would have asked the manager whether this could be done. Understandably, the menu is unwieldy here, but customers should not be denied additional food when they have been seated well before closing time.
Seven thin-crusted pizzas are offered, including a Margherita ($11.95); a North Beach ($12.95) prepared with pesto, pine nuts and arugula; and a delicious, if artery-clogging On the Green ($11.95) prepared with ricotta, fontina, spinach and lots of garlic. They are ideal for sharing and go well with a salad and a cold beer. We tried two of a handful of offerings on draft, including a Lost Coast Great White ($4.25) and a Trumer Pilsner ($4.25). Both were light and cut the richness of the pizzas.
Desserts are mostly hearty American classics such as a root beer float ($5), banana cream pie ($5.95) and chocolate molten cake ($6.95) We opted for the most unusual looking, crispy fried cinnamon toast. Of course my son loved this cloying sweet, deep-fried wheat toast topped with bananas in a caramely sauce and finished with a scoop of vanilla. I, too, found it irresistible, but a tad sweet.
In all, Toast is a celebration of familiar, classic food that has been given an updated, contemporary sensibility. Chef Mike Garcia splits his time between both restaurants and manages to add some creative flair to his ambitious and something-for-everyone menu. Bijan seems to have gotten it right this time, and the appeal of Toast appears perfectly geared to the demographics of Novato. He would have been pleased to hear my almost-8-year-old son say, as we departed after a second visit, “This is a good place; let’s come back soon.”
Toast: 5800 Nave Drive in the Hamilton Marketplace, Novato
Liquor selection: Beer and wine
Recommended dishes: salads, pizzas, burger
Parking: Free lot
Wheelchair access: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Summary: Sharam Bijan has brought his winning comfort food formula to Hamilton Marketplace in Novato. Toast has many of the same items as the Mill Valley location, but the space is much more dramatic and boasts a whimsical and playful decor. Family friendly with plenty of favorites for everyone, the five month old restaurant has become a fast favorite with the locals.
Tanya Henry, the former senior food editor at cooking.com and a judge at the James Beard Foundation journalism awards, has degrees in culinary arts and nutrition and lives in Marin. Contact her at email@example.com. The IJ invites readers to post their own opinions and experiences about the restaurants featured in Wednesday’s dining reviews. Enter your comments at the bottom of this story online at www.marinij.com.
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Toast Novato Restaurant
Monday7:30 AM to 8:00 PM
Tuesday7:30 AM to 8:00 PM
Wednesday7:30 AM to 8:00 PM
Thursday7:30 AM to 8:00 PM
Friday7:30 AM to 9:00 PM
Saturday7:30 AM to 9:00 PM
Sunday7:30 AM to 8:00 PM