(Santa Rosa, CA) Once our time in San Francisco finished, we headed northward to Santa Rosa. There’s just something about the area that is laid-back, where the people take their time and seem to appreciate quality over quantity. Juliet has long wanted to try Petite Syrah (formerly Syrah Bistro) so we decided to make dinner reservations via OpenTable. On a Monday night, twilight painting the downtown streets a golden hue, we strolled arm-in-arm to the entrance...
We are given a small table near the open-air kitchen. At first I am concerned it might be another instance of the “OpenTable curse” but the proximity to the kitchen provides some entertainment, as we get to see the team at work on our food. It is clear they take great care within the small confines of the kitchen and coordinate with servers like a well-oiled machine. Other patrons sit nearby, but not too closely. There are a mix of low and high-top tables. Everyone seems to be sipping on a glass of wine, so I get the distinct vibe that this might have been more wine-bar focused in the past.
Bubbles, of course, are first on my list. A nice glass of Cuvee 20 from J Winery hits the spot, rough on the roof of my mouth but sweet in the back of my throat with hints of vanilla. Juliet is unable to resist the Fingerling Potatoes, crisped and sprinkled with parsley, paired with cara cara aioli—a kind of navel orange from California. They are nice to munch on, and the orange POP adds a playfulness to the simple appetizer.
I go for the Mixed Chicories, a salad of varied leaves topped with King Island's Roaring Forties blue cheese, some hazelnuts, and dates. A vinaigrette dressing is drizzled on top. I’m usually not a big fan of oil-based dressings, preferring the thick creamy ones instead, but this isn’t bad. I’m not sure but think it has lemon in it, adding a tangy bite.
Initially, I’d planned to try the steak tartare. I’m getting that itch for cassoulet, however, so I switch gears and order the Pork Shoulder. It is braised in fennel and orange, served on white beans, with thick dollops of Calabrian Chile sauce (mixed with yogurt, I think). The interplay between the sweet, savory pork and the spicy kick of the sauce is very fun, while the beans bring everything back down to Earth. You can almost taste the chef giving you a wink and a smile. It’s clear he enjoys exploring the contrasts between different flavors. I clean my plate and only want more.
Surprisingly, I have room for dessert. Sorbet? Panna cotta? Cake? Nah, I gravitate instantly to the Ice Cream Sliders. Little eclair “buns” are sliced in two, then different flavors of ice cream are scooped between like sandwiches—peanut butter, spiced almond, and Nutella. There’s also a little espresso cup of warm Nutella on the side to dip the sliders into. Each bite is like a cold, sweet miracle. I demolish the dessert without offering any to Juliet (though she seems very preoccupied anyway with the caramel chocolate layer cake she orders).
In the end, I am very happy with our adventure at Petite Syrah. The chef enjoys creating unique dishes with local spark; the servers are efficient and friendly; and the whole restaurant has a casual, familial atmosphere. It’s easy to imagine heading here after work and spending time talking with neighbors, chatting up the kitchen staff, and enjoying some really good food.
Our server brings us the complimentary housemade potato chips with a sumac dipping sauce. The chips are good and the sauce is tart with little dots of the bright purple sumac. I first discovered sumac in a cooking class a few years back and am in love with its vibrant color and the bright lemony (to me it's also slightly metallic) zing it gives food. Since I'm not sure what wine goes with chips and sumac yogurt sauce, I order my old standby, a glass of bubbly.
My original intent in suggesting Petite Syrah back when we were planning this trip was to order the foie gras with semolina cake, rhubarb, and pink peppercorn. I love foie and indulge in it more than I should, but vacation seems like the perfect excuse, right? Turns out I'm in the mood for more fresh California veggies. So instead of the foie, I go for the roasted beet salad on greens with horseradish panna cotta and the farro risotto with cauliflower, fava beans, and lemon curd.
The roasted beets are piled under a lovely mound of mâche. The beets are sweet and earthy while the greens are crisp and bitter. At first the unmolded panna cotta sitting on the side seems like a gigantic portion, until I taste it and promptly daub each bite of beet and salad into it. Like a sweet panna cotta, it's creamy and custard-like. But the unmistakable bite of horseradish is mouthwatering. If you like the horseradish cream sauce that steakhouses serve with prime rib or roasted potatoes, think of it turned into a luxurious flan. I devour the entire plate and never even think to offer Jeremy a bite to try. Sharing's overrated!
The farro prepared as a risotto is creamy and lusty. The cauliflower has been roasted and it's got that nutty caramelization going on. And the intermingled fava beans add texture and grassiness to the dish, while the lemon curd is sharp and mouth-puckering. Never in a million years would I think up this combination, but it works. In fact, this might be the best farro I've ever had.
At some point, Jeremy and I agree to share an order of the crisped fingerlings with cara cara aioli, which is delightful. Come on, it's homemade mayo infused with cara cara orange juice. I'd eat it on a shoe.
Between the beets and the farro, I order a glass of Grüner Veltliner, a wine that's been largely ignored in the US, but one that I think deserves a second chance. I'm told it pairs with nearly anything and this seems like the perfect meal to test that theory. (And it holds up to everything quite well.)
For dessert I order the molten chocolate cake with a side car of cream. It's divine and rich, packing a chocolate punch for sure. But the veggies have stolen the show in my book. I highly recommend a visit to Petite Syrah. Wonderfully imaginative food awaits.