Cafe Saint Rose

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.