.First Bite

An old-fashioned exercise in old-fashioned comfort food.

Editor’s note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they&#8212informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves&#8212have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

There’s a gorgeous patio with stunning views of the water at Claudio’s Trattoria in Bodega Bay. It’s decorated with bistro tables charmingly complete with yellow umbrellas despite the glass roof, as well as lush plants and flowers.

On a recent early evening visit, the sun was setting, and the bay was dancing into darkening navy pools struck with brilliant red. No matter how long I live here, I’ll never fail to be smitten by that sight, and this Tuscan cafe is one of the best places to catch it.Inside, the ambience is equally enticing. Claudio’s has been open for about a year, yet it feels like it’s been there for a much longer, well-loved time. Owners Betsy and Claudio Capetta previously operated a restaurant of the same name in Sebastopol in the mid-1990s. Its cottage interior soothes with warm buttercup walls, bistro-style chairs, and a home-fashioned décor of potted plants, kitschy Italian art and even empty Chianti bottles turned into tabletop vases. The owners greeted us at the door, then bid us farewell as we wander out at meal’s end.

Pretty perfect? Yes, and especially for the low-key dinner I wanted after a long, hectic week of way too much work and too much thinking.

This cooking isn’t cutting edge, and it’s not rock-the-world, but it’s plenty competent, and friendly for its familiarity: sturdy spaghetti and meatballs ($16.95), eggplant parmigiana ($16.50), veal Marsala ($18.75) and the like. In a nod to its waterfront setting, it’s a fine option for ocean-minded folks seeking a tasty cioppino (brimming with calamari, mussels, clams and shrimp in just spicy-enough marinara over linguine ($22.95), or an admirably tender calamari steak ($18.50) sautéed simply in lemon butter.

Ravioli casalinga ($16.95) is pleasant, too, tucked with cheese in an earthy mushroom cream sauce, while lasagna ($16.75) is wonderful to keep warm with as the bay breezes start to kick in. I’d expect a wedge salad in an old-style spot like this, and it’s here ($6.75), topped with chopped tomatoes and better only if it came with big fat crumbles of real bleu cheese instead of bleu cheese dressing.

And though it’d be a more mom-and-pop meal if entrees included salad for the relatively high price, or a more interesting basket of bread, those are minor quibbles when the chef sends out such a savory dish as veal Claudio ($18.75), layered with prosciutto, fontina and peas in a sweet sherry wine sauce.

The true highlight, though, is the antipasto della casa ($10.25). I painfully crave, as I recount this now, the enormous sampler blossoming in a pretty starburst pattern with tangy marinated artichokes, assorted olives, roasted red peppers, assorted cured meats and mild cheeses, bracingly salty anchovies, and a centerpiece of gorgeous bruschetta buried in lots of great gutsy garlic.

For dessert, classic cannoli ($6.25) fills the bill, stuffed with sweet ricotta and chocolate bits. Sipping a strong espresso alongside, out on the patio, with the full moon sending silver streaks across the black waters of the bay, it’s a perfect ending.

Claudio’s Trattoria, 1400 Highway One (Pelican Plaza), Bodega Bay. Open Saturday and Sunday for lunch; Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. 707.875.2933.

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