It has been almost a year since chef Garrett Adair opened his dream restaurant, Bistro 100. But the cozy cafe in Petaluma’s downtown Theater District feels like it has been there forever. Everyone knows everyone or, if they don’t, the bistro tables lend themselves to casual conversation and knowing nods of approval as a lusty plate of short ribs arrives.
“Oh, those are so good,” says a woman on one side, apologizing for the interruption. “Sorry, but we come here all the time, and those are just so good.” It’s an opening to ask about her cheesecake, and in turn a chatty dessert and coffee conversation about kids and taco trucks.
It’s that kind of neighborly vibe and approachable fine-dining that Adair mentally mapped-out for a decade while working as a caterer and private chef in Sonoma County. Combining that with stints at notable restaurants like 101 Main Bistro and Wine Bar in Sebastopol and the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Inn, Adair has hung his toque on upscale-everyday French-American cuisine.
Take the cabernet braised short ribs and truffle butter, tender beef rib meat taken off the bone, with garlic mashed potatoes and red wine sauce with black truffle butter ($29). This isn’t Wagyu, just a simple cut of meat that’s deboned, trussed and braised in red wine for hours, then dolled up with a few classy accessories: truffle butter and veal demi-glace.
Other good bets on the menu include:
Mushroom and Truffled Bruschetta Cream Canapés. Black trumpet, crimini and shiitakes with white cheddar, cream and herb aioli on a baguette ($9.50). These luxe vegetarian appetizers are one of the most-ordered dishes. For good reason.
Sonoma “Country” Terrine. A barnyard mix of pork, lamb, bacon, ham and walnuts with herbs, brandy and tarragon creme fraiche ($10.50). Forget all about calories; it’s worth a splurge.
Poulet Forestieres and Potato Gratin. A pan-seared chicken breast with mushroom-chardonnay cream sauce cheese-tasic gratin. ($23).
Croque Monsieur. This is a grilled-cheese sandwich you’ll lay awake dreaming about. Pullman bread, Béchamel sauce, ham, Sonoma Dry Jack ($14, lunch only).
“We try to elevate the sense of casual dining to something more elegant,” said Adair, using high-end local ingredients sourced from within 100 miles (hence the name, Bistro 100).
If you’re rolling your eyes at the whole farm-to-table mantra, Adair shifts the focus to relationships he has forged with players like the fledgling Live Oak Farm in Petaluma, Green String Farm, F.E.E.D. Sonoma, Twin Dog Farms and Canvas Ranch.
“We’re talking the talk and walking the walk, with about 96 percent of our menu actually coming from within 20 miles,” he said.
That also includes wines from the up-and-coming Petaluma Gap wine region, a unique cool, coastal microclimate in the Sonoma Coast AVA (Cloud’s Rest, La Follette) and frequent winemaker dinners that sell out in hours.
“We like to work with the little purveyors, the stuff you can’t find in Safeway,” Adair said. Bistro 100 also has frequent beermaker dinners and stocks seven microbrews on tap.
You’ll find Adair spending plenty of time in the dining room on Friday and Saturday nights “expediting,” doing everything from garnishing plates to bringing them to your table and making sure the kitchen runs smoothly, while leaving the cooking to his kitchen staff.
During the week, he’s in the open kitchen, serving up everything from crepes to mussels.
Having weathered the perilous first six months of restaurant ownership, Adair says there are four things he has learned the hard way: Ambiance is just as important as a great dish (they’ve spent lots of time reducing noise levels); finding a cohesive staff is imperative (in the early days they had lots of turnover); fancy brushstrokes on a plate are nice, but real soul is what brings people back; and cooking is the easy part of owning a restaurant.
“When I stress out in the morning worrying about things, prepping polenta is a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m doing this on a dime and a lot of hope, but we’re here for the long haul.”
Bistro 100, 140 Second St., Petaluma, 981-8228, bistro100petaluma.com.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch; happy hour 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$.