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Murray Circle

Nosh and a Nip with a Getaway Feel

Foodies and hedonists leapt when the ownership of Big Sur's ultra-tony, hyper-earthy Post Ranch Inn announced their plans for Cavallo Point, a fancy new eco-resort -- complete with posh digs, a full-service spa, holistic education, cooking school, and fine dining at Murray Circle on the historic, bay front Fort Baker, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Open since mid-2008, we allowed plenty of settle-in time for Michelin one-star Chef Joseph Humphrey (Meadowood, Auberge du Soleil, One Market, Fifth Floor, Redwood Park) to find his groove. Then we slid in for brunch one sunny Sunday in early 2009. After a ho-hum experience due to truly spotty service, we waited before giving dinner a try. While slightly more fine-dining than one would expect from an enviro-lodge, the food was precisely executed. Though in the end, we’d opt for opening a bottle of wine by the firepot with sweeping views of the Golden Gate and beyond.

Brunch at Murray Circle: If the Service is Weak, Why Go?

The view. The sunshine. The easy curb parking. The feel of a getaway with barely a drive home. The restaurant's veranda sports comfortable, cushiony deck chairs on a wooden-railed porch with a sweeping bay view. You can have wine (from accessible to excessive), oysters (with a jalapeno mignonette), green grass, and blue skies.

Even if there's no table service at the separate, unsheltered patio of plush couches and formidable rocking chairs adjacent to the restaurant (Why not?), and even if the day staff at Farley Bar -- a masculine little affair to the left of the Murray Circle host stand – who don't know to give you flutes with your sparkling wine (Really? With $1,000 bottles on the list?), you still go. Because frankly, it's fun. Just don't expect the best of the best, wear your stunna shades, and soak in the early-1900's vibe from the well-restored architecture.

Keep those expectations especially low if you order from your oddly awkward and forgetful server a Dungeness crab BLT sandwich ($16), which comes with only about two tablespoons of fresh crab mix spread (as well as some unremarkable avocado and heirloom tomato) on an outsized ciabatta roll. Happily, on this brunch visit a beautiful poached cod with Brussels sprouts and parsnip puree ($17) shone, and we were able to leave with upside-leaning mixed feelings, new freckles, and a light white wine buzz.

Dinner at Murray Circle: Expect Fine Dining and You’ll Be Fine

Murray Circle’s formal dining room is like dining in a rich great aunt’s mansion. The experience exudes fine dining, and this is the spot for a romantic, somewhat nostalgic, occasion.

The menu is divided in three: Meats & Poultry, Fish & Shellfish and Fruits & Vegetables, with portions slightly larger than small plates, but not quite entrée sized -- making it ideal for sharing. Everything is refreshingly fresh from the farm, the market, and the sea, to any staunch localvore’s delight.

Our server, a hands down professional, walked us through the menu, gave us time to settle, and offered opinions and suggestions at just the right moments. Plus, the waitstaff-to-diner ratio must’ve been four to one, with quite a lot of attention paid to dropping the dishes at the exact same moment and clearing the table briskly.

We started with the roasted baby beets atop crisp quinoa and fresh ricotta ($13) then moved on to halibut with sassafras and foraged mushrooms with an urchin emulsion ($17). Continuing with seafood, we opted for the wild day-boat salmon with wood-grilled morels and a tangy lemon/basil sauce ($19). Between the two, the rich flavors of the salmon paired with the hearty wood-grilled morels made a bolder statement.

Moving onto the meats, the Wolfe Ranch quail over Swiss chard ravioli with Romesco ($21) left us wanting seconds on the nutty, peppery sauce. Similarly, the roasted Liberty Farms duck ($22) was outshined by the accompanying caramelized coins of turnip.

For dessert, the rhubarb tart ($9) was a classic, but next time we’d go for the red velvet cake with candied beets and toasted walnut sauce, or maybe the candied orange doughnut holes for a bit of whimsy.

Ultimately: with so many truly exciting culinary destinations in the Bay Area to visit, Murray Circle doesn't quite hit the top of the pantheon. However, it's a very comfortable spot for a fancy cocktail or a bite, and it will always shine as an out-of-the-way escape that is remarkably close to home.

California Cuisine
Marin County/Sausalito
$$$$

Reservations? Yes.

Written by SF Station contributors Tracie Broom and Sarah Sung.