Chef Todd Shoberg is not your typical Mill Valley resident. Covered in tattoos and scruffy, he would look equally at home in Seattle or Detroit. And yet it’s here, in Marin County’s luxurious and laid-back setting, that Shoberg, now taking the lead at Mill Valley’s historic El Paseo, became somewhat of a local star. It didn’t happen overnight.
A few years ago, Shoberg moved to Mill Valley from San Francisco and started working at Piatti, the local institution well visible from the highway; he then proceeded to manage the whole Moana Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant. In 2014, Shoberg made a bold move by opening Molina, the first restaurant that he co-owned, while still with Moana. Lush and stylish, with sheepskin-covered chairs and the evening’s playlist printed on the back of the menus (and played from the chef’s expansive record collection), Molina was a standout. The menu was as innovative and exciting as the setting; fresh local produce paired with unexpected touches, fish and seafood played off by smoky meats, desserts playing on sweet and savory. Now, in El Paseo, open in town since 1947, Shoberg’s cooking brightens up the aged brick walls and wooden beams.
“Cassie Corless, who was brought on by Sammy a few months prior, reached out, quite unexpectedly actually,” Shoberg says. The ‘Sammy’ in question is none other than Sammy Hagar, former Van Halen frontman and a unique brand of Mill Valley celebrity. In 2009, Hagar took over the restaurant with celebrity chef Tyler Florence, and this year, as Florence moved on, Hagar was looking for someone to take over and develop a lighter, more contemporary direction. Being an avid music lover, Shoberg immediately clicked with the musician.
“I had never dined there, believe it or not!” Shoberg says of El Paseo. “I feel like the space was waiting for me to show up and actually cook, not just dine.”
After leaving Molina, which is now temporarily closed, Shoberg took time to consult other restaurants and run a pop-up, weighing his options. He’s looking forward to this venture, as many customers show up on El Paseo’s doorstep, excited to try his cooking again.
“I will say that there is no inside dirt to reveal,” Shoberg says of Molina’s closing. “It’s just a product of the increasing challenge it has become to operate a small restaurant in the high-cost market of the Bay Area.”
On Shoberg’s new menu at El Paseo, diners can find a fresh, vibrant salad combining stone fruit and heirloom tomatoes, stone fruit again—but in an addictive, salt and olive oil-flavored crisp for dessert, rainbow trout with chorizo and mussels and other Shoberg staples. There’s an avocado toast, but with an indulgent addition of trout, and steak tartare, charred pork belly with broccoli, game hen with grapes and more.
Shoberg knows all about spot-on combinations of decadence and healthy Californian touches, bound to attract younger, more adventurous eaters. He shops at the farmers’ market daily to accommodate the menu. Shoberg’s own definition of it is pretty accurate: “Ingredient-focused, locally sourced Northern California coastal cuisine. Simple, bold, familiar and comforting flavors. Unpretentious and without fluff.”
In the near future, he promises, “the menu now at El Paseo is going to be much more dynamic than previously, with subtle changes on an almost daily basis, and a new brunch program is planned for this fall.”
How does Shoberg see the role of El Paseo’s Marin County location reflecting in his cooking?
“It’s huge,” he says. “The dairy, produce, fish … so much of the area is supplying the chefs and restaurants with arguably the best products available in the world; I believe it.”
Now, with a new gig in his favorite stomping grounds, Shoberg is excited, once again, to put these products on the table.