Nighttime is the right time: Chef Emile Waldteufel holds court.
Night & Day
Creekside serves all-American breakfasts and French bistro suppers
By Paula Harris
DRIVING PAST the unassuming little Santa Rosa eatery sandwiched between a couple of stores on Highway 12 across from the Flamingo Hotel, you’d be forgiven for being a tad confused. Competing signs on the front (one printed on the awning, one glowing in the window) announce “Hank’s Creekside” and “Emile’s Creekside.”
Now, even non-Francophiles can work out that “Hank” is not the Gallic translation of “Emile.” So what gives?
This is actually a schizophrenic restaurant with an unlikely double life. By day, the sunny place awakens as the wildly popular all-American Hank’s Creekside Cafe, where they flip a short stack of fresh blueberry pancakes and dish out sizzlin’ Cajun sausages and warm homemade biscuits, with lashings of strong, hot coffee to wash it all down. Hank’s also does lunch.
But at night, they bring out the long-stemmed wine glasses and the floral plates, and the place morphs into its second incarnation as Emile’s–a charming little country French bistro, bien sûr, where coq au vin, candles, and crême brûlée rule the night as the moon rises lethargically outside the window.
Over the past three years, restaurateurs Hank Vance and Emile Waldteufel have hit on a novel way to bring in clientele: share the space and operate two distinct eateries in one locale. The concept has caught on, and diners frequent both completely different Creeksides.
We begin our Creekside experiences at Emile’s on a Friday night. It’s about 8:30 p.m., so many customers have left. Still, the host/server is charming, and he insists that we not feel rushed. The place is fairly rustic, with plain wooden tables, chairs, and benches. Candlelight and fresh miniature carnations spruce up the intimate dining room. The walls are dappled ochre with stenciled ivy details, and there’s recorded blues music on the sound system.
The smoked salmon with baby spinach and asparagus with caper vinaigrette ($7.50) is a pretty presentation, with four slices of salmon rolled up into rosettes, a pile of spinach in a creamy dressing, and a fan of chilled asparagus. Our gripe, though, is the heavy-handed creamy dressing, which seems at odds with the tart oiliness of the salmon. The cloying quality leaves us longing for a hit of citrus.
In addition, the house caesar salad ($6), although it has an excellent fresh crunchy texture, is once again let down by the dressing, which this time is rather vinegary.
Things get back on track with the soup of the day (included with the entrées). This night we are served an unusual warm cantaloupe soup. The melon is combined with potato, butter, and lemon zest and puréed into a smooth, deep-gold cream. It tastes good, but not at all fruity, more like a hybrid of cream of tomato and butternut squash.
The chalk boards act as menus, and the dishes rotate. Emile’s traditional bistro entrées include confit of duck with baby spinach salad ($14.94), filet mignon with red wine sauce and gorgonzola ($18.50), tenderloin of pork with cognac demi-glaze and gratin potatoes ($13.95), and classic coq au vin ($13.95).
Hard to decide. However, when the server assures us the beef bourguignon ($14.50) “flies out of here as fast as Hank’s pancakes,” we have to try it. Chef Waldteufel, who previously operated Remillard’s in Larkspur, does a fine job with this dish. The beef is fork-tender in a substantial red wine sauce and is accompanied by mushrooms, roasted red potatoes, and sugar snap peas.
It is dark, lush comfort food.
Desserts continue the bistro theme. Chocolate mousse cake ($6.50) is dense and sweet and served with fresh strawberry slices. But we prefer the crême brûlée ($6.50). What makes it so good is the generous addition of lime zest, which imparts a wonderful refreshing flavor. A thin layer of caramelized sugar and the good-sized portion are other pluses.
Emile’s is a comfortable, casual romantic retreat–like a little French bistro hidden away in the Rhône countryside.
Comforts of home: Chef/owner Hank Vance (right) keeps the grill hot and ready.
RETURN to Creekside in the morning and you’re back in the bustling USA. All that seems constant is the lazy creek out back. Hank’s has the feel of a B&B dining room full of folks kick-starting their day with a power breakfast or kicking back to linger over the morning newspaper. The buzz of conversation correlates with the buzz from the java. It’s a real neighborhood place–casual, homey, cheerful–with great gardenlike views of leafy greenery and the creek from the picture windows.
Traditional breakfast is topnotch here. Take your pick of sausages: chicken apple, chicken turkey with artichoke, chicken turkey with sun-dried tomatoes, Cajun, or British banger. All $6.95 with a choice of eggs, hash browns or cottage fries, and toast, English muffin, or biscuits. The extra-plump succulent banger is terrific, with a sneaky spicy after-bite. I order it served with a perfect poached egg, lightly crisped cottage fries incorporating sliced fried onion, and warm homemade biscuits.
Don’t miss the biscuits.
There are lots of pancake choices, or fancier fare like crab-cake benedict ($8.95). If you’re short on cash, the hearty half bowl of oatmeal ($1.95) with a choice of fixin’s–raisins, cinnamon, or walnuts–is a good nourishing bet. Another winner is the veggie omelet crammed with chunky avocado, zucchini, mushrooms, onion, and tomato ($6.95).
For purists: plain puffy French toast ($3.95), dusted with powdered sugar and made with Texas toast–thick spongy slices of white bread perfect for sopping up the egg batter. Add pure maple syrup for 50 cents more. A very efficient young woman keeps the fresh coffee coming and thoughtfully covers your plates to keep the food warm.
For lunch there’s a selection of sandwiches, burgers, homemade chili, and salads. The service is great.
Even devout nonbreakfasters would be tempted.
Emile’s Creekside Bistro 2800 Fourth St., Santa Rosa; 575-8839 Hours: Dinner, Wednesday- Sunday, 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Food: French Service: Very attentive Ambiance: Intimate bistro Price: Moderate Wine list: Midsize selection, including by the glass Overall: 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Hank’s Creekside Cafe 2800 Fourth St., Santa Rosa; 575-8839 Hours: Breakfast and lunch, Sunday-Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Food: American Service: Cheerful and professional Ambiance: Casual and homey Price: Inexpensive Overall: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4 )
From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.