Food & Drink: Beloved bites

New Magnolia Park Kitchen offers unforgettable flavors

By Tanya Henry

What’s in a name? In the case of Robert Wellbeloved’s brand new Magnolia Park Kitchen, quite a bit. For starters, it’s hard not to notice the owner’s surname—a good one to have, no doubt. And for his newly opened restaurant—on the plaza in downtown San Rafael—the moniker pays homage to the early days of the Dominican area that used to be known as Magnolia Valley.

Along with a memorable name, Wellbeloved brings years of restaurant experience to his own venture. A Real Restaurant alum of more than 20 years, Wellbeloved has worked at Fog City Diner, the Buckeye Roadhouse and a whopping 19 years at Betelnut on Union Street in San Francisco.

The San Rafael resident opened the doors to his American bistro on June 10 in the long-shuttered space that was home to the Lighthouse Bar & Grill for 10 years. Clever touches have been added to the long, rectangular-shaped room, including a welcoming family-style wooden table that seats 12, hip butcher paper—spelling out daily offerings—on a roll affixed to the wall and refreshing, self-serve citrus water in ever-trendy Ball Mason jars.

Magnolia Park Kitchen’s menu is deceptively simple. Breakfast items, fresh salads and sandwiches make up the offerings that are served from 7am to 6pm (except Sunday from 9am to 3pm). A few inventive Tartines—or open-faced toasts on grilled levain—include an avocado version and an arugula with fried egg and cheddar cheese.

It is seldom that I discover something that makes me crave it for days on end, but that is exactly what happened when I tasted the incredible Crispy Fried Chicken Bomb sandwich. Crunchy, savory, sweet, salty and delicious all come together perfectly, in equal amounts. A spicy house-made aioli and serrano pickle red cabbage slaw on a brioche bun could not have been better. The quality of ingredients and level of expertise (evident in the slaw and aioli) told me all I needed to know. These are not your average sandwiches!

Along with quality ingredients, the more than 10 sandwiches include the aiolis, dressings and pestos that make every item shine. I also sampled a Green Goddess sandwich prepared with burrata, goddess pesto, avocado and goat cheese. Again, it was the tangy tarragon-infused pesto that made it work.

Prices are slightly higher than average at this tasty dining spot, with sandwiches and salads ranging from $9.75 to $13.95. But again, the quality and execution are there. I won’t be at all surprised if Magnolia Park Kitchen becomes synonymous with the owner’s last name.

Magnolia Park Kitchen, 1016 Court St., San Rafael; 415/521-5591; magnoliaparkkitchen.com.

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