I had high hopes. Really high hopes. The local buzz on Risibisi, Petaluma’s newest Cal-Italian eatery is good. Headed up by Chef Fabio Flagiello (formerly of Il Fornaio) and his charming front-of-the-house partner, Marco Palmieri, the small restaurant has been packed since its opening with fans of the wine bar and downtown bistro.
It’s a swell idea, really. Lots of exposed brick, funky music, light, flavorful riffs on Northern Italian dishes with a meaty wine list featuring the best of Italy, as well as California and a few French wines thrown in for good measure.
And certainly, there is plenty of potential on the menu, which changes up frequently to reflect what’s in season. Risotto is the restaurant’s namesake dish (Risi e bisi means rice and peas), there’s the requisite fritto misto (fried calamari shrimp and artichokes) and a handful of pasta dishes make for a solid lineup.
But can Risibisi ultimately deliver?
BiteClub ended up walking away from last night’s dinner unconvinced. The duck entree (served with black grapes and pearl onions on a bed of pancetta) was dry, dry, dry, and colder than the plate it was served on. The risotto, served with a portion of lobster tail was bland and the peas lacked much luster. The appetizer of grilled calamari, scallops, shrimp, arugula and tomatoes was uninspiring (and the mealy tomatoes clearly way out of season).
Adding insult to injury, our server seemed far from comfortable with the wine list, offering up, uh, a bottle of Chianti and bringing us white wine glasses with our red wine. Call me less than overwhelmed. Especially when my wallet ended up $100-plus lighter at the end of the night. Ouch.
Dessert was a late bright spot, a spoon-tiramisu served up in a martini glass. Lots of creamy mascarpone, tasty little chocolate shavings and nicely-soaked ladyfingers. You pretty much can’t go wrong with feeding your date cream and chocolate.
But it takes more than mascarpone (not much, but a little) to stay in business. Ultimately, the space and the vibe, along with the experience of the chef, make for strong potential in Petaluma. Locals love the Big Night promise of this bootstrapping Italian newcomer. But good faith only lasts so long.
Time to deliver.
Risibisi, 154 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, 707.766.7600. (Best bet; try the $12 prix-fixed lunch menu)