Something special: Feast owners Heidi Scott McQuarrie and Jesse McQuarrie.

Small Banquet

Feastin’ in a new downtown bistro

By Paula Harris

THE PLACE has been open only a few weeks, but already local ladies hailing from downtown banks, plush offices, and departments of the city of Santa Rosa are gravitating toward Feast, a tiny American bistro located on Old Courthouse Square.

One recent lunchtime, the clientele includes four women (at different tables), all sporting identical short blonde coifs, conservative jackets, and power jewelry as they delicately sip oversized glasses of sauvignon blanc (poured one-third full) and rip into the crusty bread.

The regulars have even staked out their “own” tables and can be heard jokingly bickering among themselves about who’s taken who’s prime spot on that certain tapestry chair next to the window.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Sharon Wright and Mayor Janet Condron would look perfectly at home in this setting, perhaps nibbling on a couple of caesar salads and shooting the breeze.

The compact restaurant (it has just 11 tables in one room and two in an adjoining nook, where there’s also a small bar area) is graceful and minimalist while retaining a certain intimate and cozy feel. It occupies the small space that used to house Wolf Coffee Co.’s adjoining tea room. Feast’s owners, Jesse McQuarrie and Heidi Scott McQuarrie, have blocked off the restaurant from the java business next door and have totally transformed the small space into something unique.

The walls are pale celery green and adorned simply with a couple of large paintings, a mirror, and a reproduction of an ancient clock.

Twisted, bent forks–à la psychic prankster Uri Geller–serve as attention-grabbing napkin holders, and there are quirky centerpieces composed of containers of water, twigs, dried leaves, and stones on each table.

Although the restaurant is touted as an American bistro serving American regional cuisine, there’s a certain Japanese sensibility to the decor and a couple of Japan-inspired dishes pop up on the menu. Our server cleared up the puzzle–owner Heidi Scott McQuarrie is part Japanese. Indeed, one dish, Tsugiye salmon ($16.95 at dinner), featuring pan-seared salmon with Japanese rice, sesame spinach, daikon purée, and sweet shoyu sauce, is a family recipe named for her grandmother.

MUCH OF THE REST of the menu is traditional, down-home American fare, like Southern fried-chicken salad, North Carolina barbecued-pork sandwich, surf and turf, and oyster po’boy with Uncle Jesse’s tartar sauce.

Dungeness crabcakes ($7.95 at lunch) are warm with a firm-flaky texture, and napped in very fresh-tasting lemon cream sauce. These perfect cakes sit on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce and diced tomato with a touch of serrano chili aioli on the side. Lovely.

The generous and fresh caesar salad ($6.50), featuring a roasted-garlic dressing, asiago cheese, and herb croutons, derives its assertive flavor from the cheese rather than from any detectable anchovies in the dressing.

A plump, juicy, oven-roasted breast of chicken ($12) in a whispery light batter coating comes with silky-‘n’-sloppy cheddar cheese grits, salty braised mustard greens, and “tobacco” sauce (a rich smoky gravy made with onions and a touch of chili spice). The dish is topped with one perfect onion ring.

The lamb meatloaf ($11.50), made with local lamb, has a pleasing intense flavor with a slight cinnamon spice tinge. It comes with garlic mashed potatoes, cremini mushroom gravy, baby carrots, and squash. Comforting yet slightly exotic.

Although the Redwood Hill Farms goat cheese ice cream also sounds interesting, the only dessert we can manage this visit is the sweet potato pie ($5)–a yummy concoction topped with brandy-orange whipped cream.

By night, Feast becomes a quieter, less businesslike and more romantic place, especially now with the view of all those twinkling white lights around Old Courthouse Square. Another plus: the ugly, concrete-bordered, tired plaza itself is less noticeable in the dark.

However, the food is a bit more hit-and-miss this night. A rotating appetizer trio ($12.95) features a single smoked oyster wrapped in spinach with tongue-searing wasabi sauce; a miniature Dungeness crabcake; and one slice of grilled pistachio bread smeared with rich duck paté and port-soaked cherries. The strongly opposing flavors of the oyster and the duck paté do not thrill us. And the price is way too steep for the meager portion.

A vegetarian special of Mexican tempura over polenta ($12.95) sounds like a strange mishmash, and unfortunately it is. The veggies are soggy and flavorless, not as light and crisp as tempura should be, and the black bean sauce clashes with the polenta.

Too much going on here.

The molasses duck ($17.95) is better. It has a dark molasses-basted skin and moist, light meat and comes with a couple of potato-scallion pancakes and a warm spinach salad.

An excellent wine list, with many local offerings, and professional service are other attractions for this new, conveniently local downtown bistro. Try it for lunch and cinch that business deal. If you like it, go back for dinner and celebrate.

Feast Address: 98 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa; 591-9800 Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. (to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays-Saturdays) Food: American regional cuisine Service: Professional Ambiance: Graceful bistro; business-like by day, romantic by night Price: Moderate to expensive (much depends on time of day) Wine list: Good varied selection by the bottle and some by the glass Overall: 2 1/2 stars (out of 4).

From the December 16-22, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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