Dining Editor Heather Irwin dives into summer with a celebration of cuisine as community — plus where to go crepe-crazy and how community-supported kitchens can help us all eat healthy. Click through the gallery above for photos.
REVIBE CAFÉ, Sebastopol
Amidst women in flower-print dresses, the gently scented breeze of a Southern Pride smoker and the lilting patois of Caribbean music, the patio of Revibe Café and Scoop Shop in Sebastopol is about as close to Jamaica as you can get in Sonoma County. Aside from, perhaps, a backstage pass to a Marley concert.
Though the tiny island nation is still 3,000 miles away, it’s not a stretch to say that Sonoma County shares the Caribbean passion for laidback lifestyles, dreadlocks, herb and embracing diverse culinary traditions in a literal melting pot of flavors. And at that intersection
of NorCal and Kingston is a restaurant that brings the best of both to the table.
Revibe Café is a longtime project of its owner, Bronx transplant Will Abrams, and executive chef Anthony Walters, of Kingston, Jamaica. Serving up authentic “beanie” or tapas-style plates of curried goat, jerk chicken, rice and peas, and yam cookup, along with their own exotic ice creams, the restaurant showcases the mashup of Spanish, African, British, Chinese, East Indian and Rastafarian cuisine.
Why Jamaican? It certainly wasn’t a lifetime spent on balmy West Indies shores that led Abrams, his Jamaican-American wife, and their two kids to spend three years rehabbing the former Quonset hut on Healdsburg Avenue into an irie (translation: cool, nice) eatery. Instead, it was simply that Abrams missed the ubiquitous Jamaican cafes found in the Bronx, where he lived for many years.
“I could leave a busy day at work and then get into a packed subway with a thousand people and then finally find respite from the city grind in a local Jamaican cafe,” says Abrams, who used to make his living in the nonprofit world. “As soon as you walk in, you can feel the vibe … reggae music pulling you into a groove and taking away that city edginess.”
That and the cultural blend of a big city. “Here in Sonoma County we are spoiled with the natural and diverse beauty of our surroundings, but it is the cultural diversity of the people and their feelings and food that we have to seek out here among the picturesque landscapes,” Abrams adds. “I hope folks can find some of those good feelings and diverse influences here.”
Abrams had a list of culinary ideas he was considering when he first began pondering a restaurant, including a Jewish deli. But it was Jamaican that stuck when he met Walters, who worked for several years to create a menu that would capture the traditional flavors of the island in refined presentations. Abrams gives Walters, a CIA alum who has cooked for dignitaries including former President Barack Obama, complete credit for the food.
“The only thing he lets me make is the tea,” he says — a bright-red Jamaican hibiscus drink you’ll definitely want to try.
Abrams has decided to bring his expertise in the nonprofit world to his new role, donating 50 percent of all profits from the restaurant to local community-based organizations. After asking the community for suggestions, he’s currently supporting the Teen Work Program at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center and Teen Leadership Project at the Ceres Project.
“As a new restaurant venture, we have limited dollars and limited time to offer so we wanted to make sure we were putting these efforts in programs where they could really make a difference,” says Abrams. Bringing the community together is what the word “revibe” means, he explains — creating a contagious effect of good feelings and healing in a community.
As for the food, one common misconception about Jamaican cuisine is that it’s always excessively spicy. But at Revibe, there’s actually very little heat in any of the dishes. Instead, herbs and spices provide a big flavor boost. If you’re concerned about specific ingredients, ask your server. All of the tapas plates are $8.26, and $3.67 for sides. Notable dishes include Saba’s Signature Curried Goat, the jerk chicken kabob, the vegan ital stew, and for dessert, Sudanese tamarind ice cream. Irieshun, bredda.
7365 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-827-8188, revibecafe.com
BISTRO 29, Santa Rosa
You have not had a crepe until you have had a French crepe. And you have not had a French crepe until you have had a buckwheat crepe. Fortunately, both are now available at lunchtime in downtown Santa Rosa at Bistro 29. The longtime French cafe has reopened for lunch featuring both sweet and savory crepes (along with a duck burger, frisée salad, and Croque Madame).
Bistro 29’s crepes are dairy- and gluten- free, stuffed with things like Gruyère, figs, lox and crème fraîche, pears or bacon. We’re partial to the sweet crepes, as well. Made with regular flour, they’re the light brown discs some of us remember from the 1970s, when the Magic Pan crepe restaurants were all the rage, and flambéed crepes Suzette seemed the height of culture. Here, simpler ingredients fill these gently folded pillows, stuffed with lemon curd, caramelized apples, butter, sugar and about 10 other goodies.
620 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-2929, bistro29.com
THE REEL FISH SHOP & GRILL, Sonoma
Each morning, Chef Aiki Terashima butchers whole fish for his Sonoma seafood restaurant, some of them weighing as much as 500 pounds. A former sous chef at Napa’s Morimoto, Terashima spends up to 15 hours a day, six days a week at the restaurant, which serves up coastal fare from ahi poke and New England clam chowder to cioppino, fish tacos and lobster rolls — a rarity on the West Coast.
Make sure to try their signature two-day Japanese curry, chowder-covered fries, lobster with drawn butter or sizzling sweet soy catch, often made with fresh rock cod from the Bay. Housed in a former dance hall that’s more than 100 years old, the space has been refreshed, with weekly live music and a bar that’s seen generations of Sonomans belly up after a hard day’s work in the vineyards.
401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044, thereelfishshop.com
Featuring simple, plant-based carryout lunches for on-the-go downtown workers and shoppers, this tiny walk-up has already become a quick-bite favorite. The owners of the mobile pizzeria Pizza Politana have a selection of premade vegan salads that can be upgraded with smoked trout, chicken salad or a soft-boiled egg. For bigger appetites, consider hearty focaccia slices with organic whole wheat and spelt flours, topped with seasonal ingredients.
For dessert, almond flour cakelettes and vegan/ gluten-free cookies are sweets without all the guilt. Salads range from $8 to $12, slices $5 to $7 and desserts $2 to $4. There won’t be any seats at the storefront, so you’ll literally have to grab your food and go, though they’ll offer blankets for folks who want to picnic across the street at the city’s Historical Library & Museum.
25 Fourth St., Petaluma, 707-241-7443, lunchettepetaluma.com
THREE LEAVES, Santa Rosa
Former Ceres chef Rob Hogencamp has taken over Sonoma County’s first CSK (community- supported kitchen), introducing many of his own recipes for weekly “shares” picked up at the Santa Rosa store that include soup, a large entrée, salads and dessert. He’s also got several freezers and refrigerators, however, for a la carte offerings ranging from bone broth and burgers to vegan desserts, probiotic drinks, nut butters and dressings.
Each “share” is $80, and is roughly two to three meals, depending. (For comparison, we tried Blue Apron, which is about $60 for three meals and requires prep and cooking). We use the salads as supplements to our usual dinners, soups for two to four lunches, and the entrée for, well, an entrée with some leftovers. It’s the perfect solution to the never-ending quest for a healthy diet.
Big Oak Shopping Center, 2484 W. Third St., Santa Rosa, 707-595-0316, threeleavesfoods.com
A Napa option…THE RESTAURANT AT CIA COPIA, Napa
The Culinary Institute of America recently acquired the long-fallow Copia, which boasts a theater, classrooms and an impressive restaurant space (along with a destination-worthy bookstore and culinary lifestyle shop). Food and wine classes are offered several times a week, but one of the most engaging activities is a lunch or dinner at their staff-run restaurant. More than a meal, it’s an experience that includes a cheese cart shaped like a cow, a wandering cocktail cart and a lineup of rotating small plates eaters can pick and choose from, then have delivered to the table by a chef.
Call it interactive eating, where dishes like duck fat potatoes with Spanish chorizo and crema, fire-roasted cauliflower with raisins and caper chips, pork belly with lentils and shiso, or bruléed oysters with verjus can be ordered a la carte, most for under $15. As you see something that strikes your fancy, it’s added to your bill and brought to you. Larger entrées are available for the table, like a 34-ounce ribeye, whole roasted chicken or seared rack of lamb. Carts with the day’s cocktail special and various wines by the glass roll through the room, as does the signature cheese cart, affectionately named “Bessie” and filled with all manner of local artisan cheeses you won’t be able to resist.
500 First St., Napa, 707-967-2555, ciarestaurantgroup.com