In Marin / FYI
“As Costigan intended, you get a sense that
you’ve entered somewhere European, some-
place different from anything you might expect
in California,” says Sturno, who attends to the
daily tasks needed to keep El Paseo worthy
of the praise restaurant critics have heaped
on it since 2011, when it reopened under the
leadership of longtime Mill Valley resident and
musician Sammy Hagar and celebrity chef and
newer resident Tyler Florence.
Before Hagar and Florence could greet
their first customer in March of that year, they
first gave the place the equivalent of a much-needed day at the spa — albeit one that lasted
two years. Down came the railroad-tie beams
for scrubbing, up came the signature walkway bricks for repair, and in went new lights,
earthquake retrofitting, bathrooms and more.
“As one of the most beautiful historical sites
The result? “A chophouse with a Marin
in Mill Valley, it was getting a little run down,”
Hagar says. “I wanted to make sure it would
last throughout my lifetime and be a place the
entire community could enjoy.”
The menu got a makeover, too. Gone was
the aging continental cuisine, to be replaced
by 32-ounce cowboy rib eyes, béarnaise burg-
ers and seasonal salads like kale-persimmon.
twist, a Marin chophouse,” Sturno says.
And that means? “In the classic chop-
“ We are becoming more embedded in the
house, vegetables, chicken, fish and salads
were an afterthought, and here they are as
much highlighted and respected as our cuts
of beefsteaks and chops.”
Approaching its third birthday, the recon-
ceived El Paseo is evolving. The kitchen has
a new boss, executive chef Mike Ward, and
Sturno says the restaurant “has gotten a lot
closer to local farmers. We’ve been working
with MALT (Marin Agricultural Land Trust),
showcasing the goods from their farmers and
helping with their fundraising efforts.
community,” Sturno adds, noting that about
90 percent of the restaurant’s customers are
local. “It’s about learning the business. It takes
a while to learn what truly appeals to guests,
what works and what doesn’t, getting the staff-
ing and processes together to support that.”
El Paseo managers do have a little help sat-
isfying their guests’ desires, however — and it
comes from the resident oenophile. “Sammy
has been generous enough to open the doors
of his cellar and supplement our wine list
with well-aged and well-stored classic Napa
Valley cabs as well as great Bordeaux and
Burgundies,” says Sturno. “He and (wife) Kari
are incredibly committed to this restaurant. It
is truly a labor of love.”
While guests always enjoy intimate meals
in the 110-seat dining room, many, who will
likely fill El Paseo’s bookings on Valentine’s
Day, prefer a simple spot at the bar.
If you do hit that bar, you might run into
Hagar, a regular at his corner table near
the front window, either enjoying a meal
with friends and family or getting into the
action and serving up something special. For
instance, last December he donned a Santa hat
and passed out white Alba truffles on risotto
as a surprise for dinner guests.
“I just love the place,” says Hagar, also the
founder of the Cabo Wabo and Sammy’s Beach
Bar and Grill restaurant chains. “Since El Paseo
opened both Tyler and I have been so busy with
our schedules that I haven’t had time to enjoy
the restaurant as much as I wanted to. But in
the last few months, I’ve been more involved,
working with chef Ward and the staff, and I’m
enjoying El Paseo more and more each day.” M
What is now one of Marin’s most
iconic eateries began as the run-
down three-story Holtum Building.
Community activist Edna Foster saw
potential in the space and purchased
the building and the lot behind it in
1936. The rest is history. CALIN VAN PARIS
A Storied Past
1947 El Paseo begins its life as a restaurant.
1947 Mildred Snell and Amy Hanson are the first
owners of the restaurant.
1957–1972 Mary Harkins (famous for her popovers)
1972–2006 Mark Bottmeyer and Gunther Kollner
take over and win the Wine Spectator Grand Award
multiple times for their outstanding international
2006–2009 Chef Keiko Takahashi takes the helm.
2011–present Rock star/restaurateur Sammy Hagar
and celebrity chef Tyler Florence acquire El Paseo.
They’ve received three stars from S. F. Chronicle
critic Michael Bauer every year since.