Wild and Wonderful: de Havilland pop-up is a little bit of everything

Chef Mark Malicki, who helped make the The Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega a dining destination, has created a new excellent pop-up experience in a 45-seat cafe and tea room.

For nearly 13 years, chef Mark Malicki spent his Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights cooking in a closet-sized kitchen at The Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega. Inside that kitchen was a two-burner stove, flat-top grill and refrigerator drawer — not exactly a dream setup for a chef.

But somehow, Malicki made it work, serving up decidedly un-barlike dishes like short rib goulash with mushroom gratin, Dungeness crab from nearby Bodega Bay, buttermilk fried rabbit with rémoulade sauce or Wagyu with chanterelle mushrooms.

After years of owning restaurants or working for others, Malicki finally had the dream job of creating exactly what he wanted each weekend based on his relationships with local farmers and purveyors. Without the financial pressures of a brick-and-mortar, he thrived in the remote west county town as a culinary curiosity — an off-the-beaten-path food destination beloved by insiders but mostly ignored by the Michelin-star obsessed.

Chef Mark Malicki operates his de Havilland pop-up at Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma. Photo taken in Petaluma on Friday, January 12, 2024. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
Chef Mark Malicki operates his de Havilland pop-up at Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Now 64, Malicki says he was ready for a change, something closer to his Petaluma home and more expansive kitchen. Not that he didn’t love The Casino, its nonagenarian owner Evelyn Casini and its clientele, but after spending more than 50 years on the line and facing some health challenges, it was time for a more sustainable solution.

It was time for de Havilland.

Last summer, de Havilland — the name of his new pop-up dinner concept at the Tea Room Cafe in Petaluma — was born.

For several months, Malicki tried straddling weeknight dinners in Petaluma and weekends in Bodega but couldn’t find a balance between all the prep work and cooking.

In late 2023, he left The Casino and focused only on the 45-seat cafe and spreading out in the Tea Room’s large commercial kitchen. It turned out to be a perfect match.

De Havilland is a through line for Malicki’s deep-rooted passion for, well, whatever he’s passionate about at the moment — whether that’s frying latkes in Chinese scallion oil, feeding crab boat workers facing a deferred season, cooking for a fundraiser, or sharing a produce haul from his favorite farmer.

In the expansive kitchen of the Tea Room Cafe, Malicki juggles multiple pans and ovens with his sous chef, concentrating on the handful of dishes he has created for the evening.

A record player quietly pumps old jazz music into the room as guests casually order from the a la carte menu, and service is bare-bones but friendly and helpful. The wine list is short but well thought out, with small producers and unusual picks.

Recent dinners included Delicata squash boats with rice, crayfish and sea beans; stuffed mushrooms with wild boar sausage; cod with lobster broth; and caramelized Thai banana tiramisu.

What you’ll experience on the plate is usually a pleasant surprise unless you follow Malicki’s Instagram (@malle.mal), where he posts the evening’s dishes along with his frequent observations and insights.

There’s often a theme, but sometimes there isn’t, and it’s better not to go with any expectations. Just put yourselves into Malicki’s hands and enjoy being treated to the wild, wonderful, heartfelt, idealistic, perfectly imperfect world of de Havilland.

De Havilland is located at 316 Western Ave. in Petaluma. Dinner is offered from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with reservations recommended. Call 707-623-5141 or go to Instagram.com/malle.mal.