One of the first neighborhood families Tolan and I became friendly with after moving to Mill Valley is Sammy and Kari Hagar. Most people probably think of Sammy in terms of his music career (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, anyone?), but what most people don’t know is that Sammy has a true love of good food and wine. He never ceases to amaze me with his sophisticated palate and deep connection to the food world. I kid you not, the guy has some of the world’s most celebrated chefs on his speed dial. And no, I’m not counting myself.
So I suppose it was a natural thing that he and I would go into business together. We clearly share passions for food, wine, music, and family and we both feel very strongly about the beautiful little town in which we live. While I may be a newbie to this area, Sammy is oldschool Mill Valley and when it comes to understanding the culture of a place, that kind of knowledge is invaluable. We knew that there was something to this newfound friendship and after about all of ten seconds, it hit us: Yes, we need to do a restaurant together. And it has to be in Mill Valley. But where?
About a hundred yards from my kitchen shop is a famous old building called “El Paseo,” which dates back to 1896. It has operated as a restaurant continuously since 1946, and over the years, it has received some of food and wine’s most prestigious honors.
The restaurant, full of original, hundred-year-old brick, is split into four rooms, almost like intimate dining pods, with the signature brick path for which it is named (el paseo translates to “the passage” in Spanish) meandering through the middle. As a restaurant, El Paseo holds a very special place in many locals’ hearts as it is the grand dame of dining in Mill Valley . . . globally recognized but still locally beloved. There was no question in our minds that our job was to honor the traditions of the space and build upon them.