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Feb 6, 2011 03:37 PM

Chef Mark Malicki at Bodega’s Casino Bar & Grill

Three weekends ago, we made the foggy drive for a first visit to the Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega since Mark Malicki started cooking here. I’ll confess that my heart sank on spotting this “barbecue” menu for Sunday, 1/16/11.

Malicki was standing behind the counter and you order from him directly. But we were here and we tried all three dishes:

BBQ beef short ribs with collard greens & sweet potato, $15
Pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw, $10
Macaroni and cheese gratin, $8

Apologies for the badly lit photo and this was not Malicki's most photogenic food anyway, but everything was delicious. Malicki served the food himself and busses the dishes too.

The mac and cheese gratin was curdled and wouldn’t win any beauty contests but had loads of cheesey goodness. Quite complex with slightly chewy elbow macaroni, I’m sure this incorporated a wide range of cheeses to build that depth of flavor.

The pulled pork this time was not up to the other times I’ve had this from him, however, the portion was enormous. And, I loved the very spicy and fresh-tasting cole slaw served with it. In addition, this had a slab of roasted sweet potato alongside.

His pièce de résistance turned out to be the BBQ beef short ribs. The bland, generic menu description was no tip-off for the robust, original flavors served up on this plate. Smoky from the grill, the kalbi-cut short ribs were spicy, garlicky, and sweet. Actually really spicy but held in check by the other bold elements and we sucked on the bones for every bit of the sticky glaze. Equally grand were the collard greens, softened but not mushy and dancing with tart, chile hot seasoning. A handful of roasted sweet fennel and onion strips over the top gave the dish another punch and some sweetness to tame the heat. The plain roasted sweet potatoes also helped to tone down the fire.

Yes, this was “barbecue” but with Malicki’s own special touch, and I felt a twinge of guilt that I’d doubted him. I’d asked him whether this was a typical night. He sort of shrugged and told me that he’s mixing it up, trying to keep the prices low and figuring out what the Casino’s customers like. The night before he’d served braised pork neck with borlotti beans and he was planning to make a rabbit paella next. He also let me know that he’d be expanding his days here to Friday through Tuesday, and a friend would be manning the kitchen on his two days off. Please do check for hours before heading over there as this has been in flux.

Since then, I’ve discovered that the menu is posted on the Casino’s facebook page every day.

I’ve been checking in occasionally and have been drooling over his menus. I’ve cut and pasted some of them below. So far, I’ve not seen anything priced over $15. Mark Malicki has been one of my favorite chefs and I’m delighted to catch up with him and his cuisine again.

* * * * * * *

Jan 17 Monday’s menu:

Butternut squash soup with goat cheese toast, $6
Arugula salad with walnuts, figs, fennel & cream, $8
Fideo with shrimp, mussels & kale, $10
Black trumpet & chanterelle mushrooms on grilled bread, $9
Griddled pork chops with macaroni & cheese and sautéed greens, $12
Salted caramel pudding with toffee peanuts, $6

Jan 23 sunday supper at the casino

dates with
manchego, pistachios
& serrano ham

griddled brussels sprouts,
carrots & bacon with goat cheese toasts

potato & fennel soup with creme fraiche

caesar salad

oxtail stuffed piquillo peppers

fish tacos with cilantro,
radishes and green onion crema

flourless chocolate cake
with whipped cream

Jan 24 monday supper

griddled asparagus with bacon and eggs 8

puree of winter squash soup with creme fraiche 6
warm rabbit salad with huckleberries,
hazelnuts and cream 11

oxtail stuffed piquillo peppers 8

fish tacos with cilantro,
radishes and green onion crema 10

roast shoulder of pork with pig ear mushrooms, curly endive,
glazed carrots and pancetta 15

flourless chocolate cake
with whipped cream 5

Feb 5 Saturday supper

chowderless clam soup,
clams, spicy fennel sausage,
sweet potatoes and kale

steelhead trout,
grape, almond, leeks
bacon brown butter

niman ranch prime rib of beef,
savoy cabbage, fingerling potato,
fresh horseradish, smoked salt

almond tart with almond cream

On the Trail of Chef Mark Malicki (and outstanding pulled pork), August 22 2006

Earlier post about chowing at Bodega’s Casino

Casino Bar & Grill
17000 Bodega Hwy, Bodega, CA

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  1. Casino is great and I hope they haven't changed their burgers but now I'm interested in trying Malicki's menu. It sounds like they are trying to turn it into a destination spot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: peterbconure

      Oh, let me clarify that Malicki is cooking dinner only, from about 5-9pm on his designated days of the week. There's a sign posted that the grilled foods, which I guess refers to the burgers and hit dogs, are available from 11-4.

      The friends who joined me there for Sunday supper said they were coming back the next day! He's using local organic produce. This is a true bargain in farm-to-table cuisine.

    2. Having read Melanie's report, we ate there last Friday night in the pouring rain. The food was great - pork shoulder on braised greens ($15); fried rabbit legs ($8). Draft beer is $4. Totally worth it.

      2 Replies
      1. re: amaro

        Glad you liked it. I haven't made it back yet, maybe this weekend.

        For those heading north to Barrel Tasting weekends in March, a swing to the west for a dinner detour to the Casino would be my recommendation for a casual dinner stop before returning home.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Took my own advice and stopped by before 6pm in Sunday's rain after a wine-filled day for a light supper before returning to the City. The Casino is 60 miles north of San Francisco.

          I started with a bowl of Crayfish Bisque, $6, a big bowlful. Unlike many other versions, this one didn't hide the sweet flavor of crayfish under too much heavy cream. The tail meat was so tender and succulent, maybe a dozen pieces in the portion.

          Then I had what Chef Malicki called Beans & Greens, $7. And, surprise! A thick slab of slow-cooked pork belly, maybe about 6" worth, graced the platter. This was a huge serving and despite being utterly delicious, more than I could eat despite having walked in starved. I had to ask the chef what kind of beans these could be, and my second surprise of the night was to hear that they're lima beans. Quite unlike any limas I've ever had. The beans were gigantic and swollen from braising with butter, tomato, molasses and pork juices, transformed into creamy-textured Boston baked bean-flavored bonbons. And again, the high quality local greens were perfectly cooked.

          Chef Malicki has settled into a Thursday thru Monday schedule, and he's tending toward "comfort food" menus while its wet outside. His beans and greens dish represents the genre at its finest.

          Casino Bar & Grill
          17000 Bodega Hwy, Bodega, CA

      2. On Bastille Day I was back at the Casino with a couple friends. Had hoped to catch some summer barbequed oyster action on the pation, but they were sold out before 6pm.

        We'd started off with beers at the bar, then segued to a red burgundy I'd brought, 2006 R. Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Champeaux. Corkage is $10 per bottle.

        On arrival we learned that Chef Mark Malicki was busy catering a gig at Bohemian Grove and his stand-in, Jody, was on duty. The day's menu included cornmeal crusted fried frog legs on a bed of arugula, as good a way to mark the French holiday as any. Good thing I'd put in our order early, as soon these were sold out too. Two backsides, actually, so four frog legs to an order. A bit thick on the batter, but cooked perfectly hitting that smooth meaty texture that L described as more like fish than chicken.

        When we tried to order something else, the word from the kitchen was that everything but Scotch eggs were sold out for the night too. Endive salad, Portuguese chowder, gorgonzola sliders, BLTs, pork kaboba, chocolate pie . . . all gone. So Scotch eggs it was, two orders, served with salad greens and a dijon garlic mayonnaise. Good quality sausage, a bit overfried, and I would prefer a soft-yolked egg, a good bar bite when the mood strikes you.

        Lessons learned: 1) Jody can do a more than decent job when Mark's busy. 2) Order early on the weekends before the food runs out. 3) Don't try to make a meal out of more than one deep-fried dish.

        1. So, an hour ago Chef Malicki posted his daily dinner menu on FB but with a message that he'll be moving on soon. No date of separation stated.

          I'd advise that if you haven't had a chance to try his cooking, this would be the time. I'm doubly sad that I missed his shrimp & grits for all hallow's eve.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I was there a couple of weeks ago and had a terrific merguez sausage plate. The party at the next table raved about the Reuben sandwich, so I got one to go and ate it the next day. Fantastic. I'll follow Mark wherever he goes.

            1. re: amaro

              Good thinking!

              I hope he'll make an announcement about his future plans.

          2. This time he left a trail . . . to the Pine Cone Diner in Point Reyes Station,

            2 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Does that mean that he's permanently at the Pine Cone?