RESTAURANT CLOSED

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that Cafe Saint Rose had recently reopened
on the outskirts of Sebastopol. And like many of you, I harbored some
fears that the move to a funky roadhouse on the way to Bodega Bay might
end up being too much of a haul for their former fans. What I failed to
realize was that the journey, at least in some part, is the destination.

To
fully appreciate chef/owner Mark Malicki’s Soho-meets-Mendo vibe, you
need to be in the proper frame of mind. Not to so much jostling for
elbow room as kicking back on patio with the sound of a crackling fire
and a babbling brook. Less urban storefront. More Sebastopol farm set
to a soundtrack of crickets and jazz. Now you’re getting it.

The
place already feels like it’s been there forever. Folks kick back and
settle in. Dinner can last for hours without feeling like, well, you’ve
been sitting there for hours. It’s the kind of spot that’s as much fun
with a gaggle of pals as it is with a romantic date. Kids can ride
around on Big Wheels outside. Grown-ups are encouraged to carve their
name on a back table while Mark and his cadre of hipster waitrons
(including his daughter, the hostess) take very good care of you.

But that’s not what brings people 20 minutes into the country. It’s the food.

Mark’s
already proven himself to locals–from his years of service as winery
chef and caterer to his ever-intruiging menus at the old Saint Rose. We
get it. But the new spot reflects more of his comfort with, uh, comfort
foods. Easy-going preparations of farm-fresh ingredients that feel so
very right out here.

It starts with a peach. In fact, a small plate of white peaches drizzled with muscat wine,
folds of Spanish ham and almonds ($11). I brace for a hard, flavorless
disappointment of a bite of stone fruit. Instead, the fuzzy peach
yields perfectly. It’s the details. The almonds are toasted with just a
hint of salt. The ham isn’t too much or too little. Little leaves of
peppery greens join the party. It’s the details.

Menus change up
pretty much every day, so maybe it won’t be a peach for you. You can be
pretty confident the details will be right, however. Mark’s usually got
four or more small plates that can range from duck confit with dandilion greens and white cherries to pan-roasted scallops or a simple salad.

Main courses are far heartier, but equally well thought-out. There are always surprises. Like a braised heritage pork shoulder
with grade B maple syrup on a bed of creamy polenta and sauteed chard.
Savory, sweet, creamy, a little bitter. An easy sell. Also no the menu
that night, coq au vin ($20), sauteed halibut with Hollandaise ($23), a
simple flat-iron steak ($24) with sweet and sour onions and a nod to
vegetarians with an asparagus and bread crumb omelette.

The wine
list is equally easy-going. There are a handful of by-the-glass
selections you can’t go wrong with, lots of small-production wines
under $50 and some very nice wines under $100. Servers know the drill
and will guide you with confidence. Wines are well-matched to
compliment Mark’s food without overpowering.

Desserts stay
all-in-the-family, with Malicki’s wife doing the sweets. They’re mostly
simple, homespun treats: A rum-soaked upside down cake with creme
fraiche whipped cream, panna cotta with fresh berries, profiterolls
with ice cream.

You can easily get away with a $50 dinner for
two. It’s also not hard to spend $160 for two if you’re feeling
generous with your date. Spend an hour sipping wine and nibbling salad.
Spend a whole night savoring every sip and every bite. It’s your
journey.

Cafe Saint Rose, 9890 Bodega Hwy (a few miles
west of downtown Sebastopol), 829.5898. Open Wed through Sun for dinner
starting at 5pm. Reservations are a good idea, but not required if
you’re willing to sit at the bar. Want a killer brunch spot? The
outdoor patio is tops, featuring Saturday and Sunday brunch. Don’t miss
the Satan’s Breakfast: Lucky Charms with half and half. There’s also
suckling pig hash, blintzes and lots of other tasty grub.