At Campground, those seeking privacy can slip into a high-backed booth in the back and more social animals can bring the party to a long table up front. But firebugs will appreciate the couple of seats at the counter overlooking the open kitchen, where aged steaks, seafood and all manner of vegetables are cooked over a lively wood fire.

Pam and Dan Willey, who own nearby Salt Fish House, opened the Argentinian-inspired steakhouse this past year. Executive chef Michael Aguilera has built a menu around the Argentinan-style grill while incorporating his background with Mexican and Latin American flavors, drawing regulars and visitors to the flame.

A glance at the cocktail menu and wine list lets you know you won't be roughing it. Where there's smoke, there's the Campfire ($12), a snifter-cum-cauldron of Japanese whisky, dramatically cherrywood-smoked lapsang tea, house syrup and lemon. For a bit more fruit, get Lost in the Woods ($11) via bourbon, a tart pomegranate-thyme shrub, sweet vermouth, lemon and house syrup, or the Marino ($12), with mezcal, Campari, St. Germain, grapefruit juice and smoked sea salt.

The warm lighting and cozy surroundings encourage comfort and you'd be wise to follow the impulse. An order of queso blanco ($7) with bright roasted salsa and smoky paprika oil is more subtle than you'd expect a cauldron of melted cheese to be and the sweet onion and white wine bring to mind Swiss fondue. You may think you don't have enough of the excellent warm tortilla chips but you do. Just as well proportioned is the wedge salad ($12) of butterhead lettuce, house dried cherry tomatoes, Point Reyes bleu cheese, crisped bits of pork skin and a snowfall of grated egg, over which a mild buttermilk dressing is judiciously drizzled.

click to enlarge The decadent Wedge Salad. - AMY KUMLER  STYLING BY LYNN LEISHMAN
  • Amy Kumler
    Styling by Lynn Leishman
  • The decadent Wedge Salad.

Everything on the menu is à la carte, giving you room to explore. An 8-ounce American wagyu flat iron steak from Imperial Farms ($24) proves the live fire is no gimmick. The char-striped meat is melting tender and the ancho chili coffee rub gives it a savory, lightly spicy crust. You could happily enjoy it as it is or alternate between the accompanying herby garlic chimichurri and the tart smoky version with chilis and smoked paprika. The Mary's organic duck breast, aged 14 days is topped with crisp, chestnut brown skin. It's bedded down on farro with sharp shishito peppers, sweet roasted radishes and a creamy mole verde rich with pumpkin seeds, plantains, dried fruit and cilantro. Even with its gaminess toned down by dry aging, the duck stands up to and works in concert with the contrasting flavors and textures.

Beef tallow roasted potatoes ($7) may ruin you — possibly even for French fries — with their easy luxury, crisp edges and fluffy interior. Meanwhile the fire-roasted corn — a take on elote with char, queso fresco, lemon aioli and a hit of cayenne and paprika — is worth forgetting about your lipstick and/or shirt. The charro beans with salsa-stewed lardons ($7) are a wholesome, sentimental choice, an understated callback to a cowboy meal eaten, appropriately enough, around a campfire.

The desserts are all lovely but can you really go to a place called Campground and not get the s'mores pie? Please don't. The thick graham cracker crust holds a fine ganache filling topped with homemade marshmallow torched to the exact brown your childhood self only dreamed of achieving without the prize slipping from the branch. Enjoy it now from the comfort of your booth, warm and dry.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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