Southern Pacific Smokehouse Shines in Novato
Located in an unassuming shopping mall in Novato, Southern Pacific Smokehouse is clean, sleek, and elegantly understated. In other words, it’s not your grandma’s American grill. I find it inexplicably fitting that this four-month-old restaurant occupies a remodeled diamond importers’ space. Things of value and beauty are found here.
At the risk of sounding snobby, I must admit that I detest cluttered funky eateries with dusty knick-knacks hanging from the walls and checkered oil cloth that has seen better days.
A strong believer in restaurant aesthetics and hygienic environments, I like modern spaces with tasteful design, walnut tables, oversized photography artwork on the walls, and open kitchens. And that’s what pleasantly surprised me at the first glance into the Smokehouse dining room.
Of course, it’s the food that makes it a not-to-be-missed destination restaurant. After dining here once, I don’t mind the drive. The food at Southern Pacific Smokehouse is nothing short of spectacular.
Executive Chef Ryan Barnett, originally from Oregon, and very familiar with all of the crab cakes imaginable, made his with shrimp meat instead of excessive bread, and nicely complimented them with shaved fennel and wild arugula in lemon-cayenne emulsion.
Garlic and herb flatbread with parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil – a successful product of seven-year recipe development – made me wish I could have it for lunch every day, especially with a classic French 75 prepared by the bar manager and head mixologist Alex Bachman.
Dry gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and sparkling blanc de blancs never tasted so good shaken into some kind of cocktail perfection.
Grilled flank steak salad had perfectly medium slices of meat on top of spinach, arugula, bell pepper stripes, cheddar shreds, Pico de Gallo, and crispy tortilla strips. What made it sing was a very special dressing – called ranch, but spiked with chipotle.
My favorite dish, shrimp and cheddar grits, put all of the shrimp and grits I’ve ever tried in Louisiana to shame. Yes, I know cheddar makes everything better, but that was not just the grits, baked, molded and deep-fried in several stages, but also the glazed shallot cream sauce with house special Southern Pacific dry rub. I licked my plate, and then I licked my fingers.
A mezcal cocktail that matched the dish was a thing of beauty and a great example of Mr. Bachman’s respect for the main spirit in a drink. The mezcal’s ancho chili flavor was subtly enhanced by lime, apricot brandy, bonal, and gomme syrup.
Dry-rub baby-back ribs must be the signature treat of the Southern Pacific Smokehouse. Meaty, tender, and with a decisive kick, the dish showed its sweeter side paired with a Tehachapi Manhattan made with Leopold whiskey and Barolo Chinato.
And then there was a fresh and airy dessert of banana pudding… The shiny karma of diamonds was definitely there.
General manager Nick Rimedio, who previously worked at the Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and other high-up venues, put together a wonderful team of staffers that makes the Southern Pacific Smokehouse experience pleasant and memorable for all of its guests.
Live music is performed in the Smokehouse Lounge five nights a week, including blues, acoustic, and country, and an outdoor patio offers a welcome respite under Novato’s famous vintage oaks.
Southern Pacific Smokehouse is located at 224 Vintage Way in Novato. The restaurant is open Sunday to Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The Smokehouse Lounge features live music Wednesday through Sunday. For more information or for reservations call (415) 899-9600.
Editor’s note: This venue is currently closed.