After a round of great signature cocktails at Arc restaurant, we head next door for dinner at its sibling, 5-month-old Restaurant Marin. The contrast is a jarring shift in realms. Where Arc is primal and dark and brawny, Marin is dainty and buoyant and almost girlish. The magical thread stitching these divergent worlds together is the quixotic vision of Marin Howarth and Noah Blom, the hospitality power duo that defies the quaint stereotype of mom-and-pop operators. Marin is the new addition to their SoCo Collection family, and like Arc, it resembles nothing else in our local restaurant landscape. Here, in this 30-seat jewel box of a bistro, Blom and Howarth offer a morning-til-midnight diner serving lush renditions of comfort classics.
It’s an ambitious effort. While other new spots copy design cues from Pinterest that are already cliché—Edison bulb lighting, reclaimed woods, and aluminum stools—Howarth eagerly selects every little thing inside this pint-size mashup of Royal Delft elegance and sand-washed sea glass. There’s even a stealth sliding door for delivering sprightly house cocktails, bottled daily at Arc. Meanwhile, Blom loads the menu with simple fare that isn’t. Chicken pie, with a lattice-weave crust over shredded roast chicken, bound with a velouté. Baked breakfast eggs with molten pockets of goat cheese and house spicy sausage. Can you name one local cafe that opened with hand-chopped rabbit rillettes perfect for pairing with a jaunty French rosé? Didn’t think so.
And as if to make the birth of Restaurant Marin even more high-risk, it launched with a “hospitality included” protocol, meaning no tipping but higher prices. Arc was included in the shift to tip-free dining. It was a daring move, inspired by New York restaurant kingpin Danny Meyer, who made the idea famous in 2015. Blom and Howarth agree with Meyer’s sentiment that it’s “the right thing to do” to better align kitchen staff pay with tipped employees’ compensation.
Though Blom reports the staff at both venues happily weathered the change, business at the more established Arc took a nosedive. Arc diners didn’t warm to having the tipping option “taken from them,” he says. Marin was too new to provide a comparison, but those quiet early weeks spoke volumes. After two months, Arc and Restaurant Marin converted to conventional tipping and the lower prices that reflect it. “We’re so passionate on this issue, we probably jumped too soon, without exchanging our thoughts with customers,” Blom says. “But we’re glad we did it. My idealism remains intact.”
Coping with the sudden decrease in prices immediately changed the menu at Marin, and more adjustments are inevitable. Initial sumptuous portions are shrinking, such as the grand $21 chicken lunch salad that is now $10 and more petite. Multi-part dishes are unbundling into smaller, more noshy items. Lunch and dinner are now united on one menu. Pricey foie gras toast and filet mignon stroganoff are gone, period.
Excellent chicken liver pate is also missing on the new menu, but the unabashedly meaty beef dip sandwich of short rib, ribeye, and jus survives the evolution. More seasonal winners include that blue-ribbon chicken potpie, proper French onion soup with its island of Gruyere and brioche, and a grilled cheddar-Parmesan sandwich that’s niftily crisp outside and slightly oozy inside. It comes with a small cup of gratifying tomato soup.
The steak-and-fries plate undersells the remarkably flavorful filet mignon, grilled to exactness. Stealing the show: splendid fries flecked with sea salt and stacked log-cabin style. Those delicate amber fries deserve their own publicist. For decadence minus red meat, look to the iron skillet mussels, dripping in butter, or the mushroom potpie brimming with earthy, seasonal mushrooms in a creamy goat cheese sauce with a whisper of garlic.
Breakfast is the utility player at Marin. It’s available all day and also pinch-hits for dessert, if you wish. Savory or sweet, the options taste of beloved memories reanimated by Blom’s ingenious ways with a wood oven—yes, using the same type of almond log fire used to cook Arc’s fare. Egg dishes border on terrific and now include orange-yolked fried eggs in place of poached. The Muffin is a wobbly but exquisite tower of egg, thick bacon, and intense cheddar on a house-made crumpet. Physics will defeat you if you attempt eating it sandwich-style—employ utensils for best results. I can’t wait to sample the just-added cheddar-onion minisoufflé. Like the duck hash with chervil and mole, it’s a new addition that begs for a return visit.
Marin’s old-school desserts are brazenly tempting. Freshly baked cakes beckon from their pretty pedestals, and there’s a daily pie, too. Fluffy, fine-crumbed doughnut holes are simply buttons of batter, cooked brown and rolled in fine cinnamon-sugar, ready for dunking in pots of vanilla whipped cream and berry compote. Morning or night, these make a shareable sweet.
Innovative new restaurants are risky. It’s much safer to be a copycat or expand an existing concept. Like Arc, Restaurant Marin will gently grow into itself, so expect nonstop tweaks and course corrections. Patience will be rewarded, but even now, diners can be grateful for this rare, original arrival, conceived by dreamers.
BEST DISHES The Muffin breakfast sandwich, baked eggs, doughnut holes, blueberry pancakes, chicken potpie, mushroom potpie, grilled cheese sandwich, beef dip sandwich, onion soup, steak and fries, Marin Daisy and Party Fizz cocktails
PRICE RANGE Breakfast, $4 to $28; lunch/dinner, $10 to $34
FYI Any cocktail from Arc’s menu can be ordered at Marin and will arrive via secret passageway in the common wall.
3321 Hyland Ave.
Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi