The story of Nick’s Cove began in 1931, along the picturesque banks of Tomales Bay when Nick and Frances Kojich acquired a piece of land on the eastern shores. They undertook the remarkable task of relocating several buildings — including a herring curing facility — from their Pierce Ranch property on the opposite side of Tomales Bay, using barges for the transfer. During this time, some of the structures were transformed into cozy cottages for visiting fishermen, while the herring curing facility was reborn as a charming roadside seafood eatery known as Nick’s Cove.
Nick’s Cove quickly gained renown for its bay shrimp and Dungeness crab cocktails, becoming a welcoming destination for the surge of tourists who flocked to the region after the construction of State Route 1 in the early 1930s and the inauguration of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. Nick, who had previously engaged in bootlegging during Prohibition, expanded his offerings to include alcohol after its repeal in 1933.
Fast forward to today, and most of the building and restaurant structures have remained unchanged, and still exude the historic charm they always have. In December 2022, a multi-phase restoration project was completed at Nick’s Cove by the San Francisco-based design firm IDF Studio, in collaboration with branding firm Bootjack.
“For over 90 years, Nick’s Cove has remained an essential part of the fabric of the Bay Area, and has a fascinating history,” explains General Manager Wade Nakamine. “This cultural heritage is of the utmost importance to us, and we hope to share this story with our guests through our food, cocktails, and hospitality.”
This extensive revamp breathed new life into the property while preserving its timeless nautical character. The cottages received a makeover, featuring new wallpaper, paint, mattresses, furniture, décor, soft furnishings, window treatments, and amenities.
“Preserving the history of Nick’s Cove during the renovations was of the utmost importance to us,” continues Nakamine. “So many of our regulars didn’t want us to make any changes, but we just had to reassure them that we’d be honoring the essence of Nick’s Cove with every update we made. Of course there are a few people who say they miss the old kitschy décor, but overwhelmingly the response to the updated cottages has been very positive.”
The bar and restaurant areas were also revitalized, with dark ultramarine blue tiles adorning the bar area, fresh paint throughout, and aquamarine beadboard accents in the dining room. The space was further enhanced with new light fixtures, tables, chairs, and tableware, creating a more vibrant and inviting ambiance.
In addition to this renewal, Nick’s Cove has partnered with “Top Chefs Masters” winner and San Francisco Bay Area local Chef Chris Cosentino to revamp their seaside dining experiences and overall menu. Formerly of Cockscomb and Incanto, Chef Cosentino is focusing the menu on all things seafood, influenced by his Rhode Island roots and his childhood experiences clamming and fishing in New England.
He believes that every dish at Nick’s Cove should tell a story, and so as the new consulting chef of the iconic property, he aims to ensure that the versions of these dishes at Nick’s hearken back to their origins, while using the best possible ingredients and keeping things simple. From the Cioppino, to the cocktail sauce, to the remoulade on the Halibut Sandwich, to the “Fries with Eyes,” each item on the menu adds a sense of time and place within American coastal culture, whether from here in the Bay Area or from the East Coast fish houses where Chef Cosentino grew up.
The menu features new takes on classics including the lobster roll with sea urchin aioli; Rhode Island clam chowder in your choice of “Rhode Island clear” or “New England creamy”; steak frites with Point Reyes blue cheese butter; and smoked black cod dip with pickled shallots and fried saltines.
Menu staples including the fish and chips; cioppino with mussels, snow crab, calamari and rock cod; the Stemple Creek burger and classic Louis salad remain, including a selection of raw oysters and the famous barbecued oysters.
“In addition to finding comfort, enjoying delicious food and having fun, our team at Nick’s Cove hopes to encourage visitors to use the property as a jumping off point for getting outside to explore all that Tomales Bay and West Marin have to offer,” says Benson Wang, Co-Founder of Palm House Hospitality.
To this point, Nick’s Cove features kayaks and paddle boards which are available for restaurant and cottage guests, as well as bay cruise and fishing charters that can be experienced with advance notice. Many of the cottages are dog-friendly and there are also nightly beach bonfires (weather permitting), two bocce ball courts up in the garden for guests to enjoy, and in-room massages are offered.
We chatted with General Manager Wade Nakamine, Chef Chris Cosentino, Benson Wang, Co-Founder of Palm House Hospitality, and Sam Levy, owner of Fern Bar and former bar manager of The Restaurant at the Meadow on Nick’s Cove renewal and revamp. Here’s what they had to say.
Talk about maintaining the balance between preserving the historical essence of Nick’s Cove and offering modern amenities.
Wade Nakamine: Nick’s has always been a refuge for travelers looking to get out of the city and into nature, so they can enjoy the pristine beauty of Tomales Bay. The rejuvenation of the cottages enhances the guests’ ability to relax, unwind and enjoy their surroundings. We kept a lot of the historic photos of the property so guests could look at those and feel a sense of place but we also added unexpected pops of nautical design like the new wallpaper in the bathrooms that bring in a sense of fun and playfulness.
Talk about your new partnership with Nick’s Cove — why is this special to you? What is on your new menu and what are you most excited for going forward as Nick’s Cove’s consulting chef?
Chef Chris Cosentino: When I first came out to Nick’s Cove and walked down the long pier out to the Boat Shack, I was shocked to walk inside and be swept back to my Grandparents beach house in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My grandfather, Thurston Easton, was a wooden boat builder, so all the historical nautical items were a part of my childhood, just like the inside of the Boat Shack at Nick’s Cove.
The history of Nick’s Cove is remarkable, and I am excited to help the kitchen better represent the iconic property, and ensure that the menu tells the story of Nick’s Cove’s place in Bay Area history.
What are a few menu items that you are excited about?
Chef Cosentino: I am excited to be melding the two worlds of East Coast/West Coast fish houses at Nick’s Cove. The Black Cod Dip, which is a riff on the typical Smoked Bluefish Dip served across the Northeast, uses local Black Cod smoked over pinot noir barrel shavings from Sonoma also pays tribute to Nick’s Cove’s original history of being a herring curing facility and smokehouse.
The Tomales Bay Clam Chowder is gluten-free with two versions; either the original dairy-free Rhode Island style (featuring a clear beer-based broth) or the creamier New England chowder. The Captain Thurston’s Burger is named after my grandfather, and is the type of burger you might expect at a fish house – one that is slathered in cocktail sauce and tartar sauce instead of ketchup and mayo.
Where did Nick’s Cove’s famous BBQ oysters come from?
Wade Nakamine: We don’t have an exact date but we do know that a local Point Reyes man named Anastacio Gonzales first invented the Original Tomales Bay BBQ’d Oyster at Nick’s Cove in 1972. We actually included a color photograph of him and the owner of Nick’s Cove at the time (Al Gibson) in the Nick’s Cove cookbook that came out last year and that photo shows them cooking up the BBQ oysters together on the deck in 1973.
Talk about the new bar program. What’s the inspiration and what are you most excited about?
Sam Levy: Wade is leading an amazing staff at Nicks’ Cove, and the bar team are already are making their own fresh juices, house tonic, house vermouth, stout syrup, etc…” said Levy, “so I’m more of a filter who will help clarify that creativity and hard work that is already there, and help them get their clientele to appreciate it.” To do this, Levy is helping to ensure that the prep, glassware, garnishes, and ratios are standardized and simplified. He is also excited to help the bar team bring their same attention to detail, balance, and quality of ingredients to the non-alcoholic options on the bar menu.
How has it been teaming up with Aaron Keefer? How has the rejuvenation of the bayside garden been going?
Sam Levy: A big part of both the bar and restaurant menus are the addition of aromatics, herbs and edible flowers, all grown or foraged on-site. Chef is foraging wild sea beans, New Zealand spinach, wild fennel and nasturtiums from the shoreline surrounding the property. And now that Aaron’s hard work is beginning to come to fruition, we are also able to utilize the herbs that are filling the raised beds up in the garden. Some of these herbs include lemon verbena, lavender, parsley, rosemary, five types of mint, sage, lovage, bay, thyme and a wide variety of edible flowers.