By Jonah Raskin
Editor’s note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
Over the last few decades, that’s all been changing, as growers increasingly get into the winemaking business. Like many of their neighbors, the Mauritsons have suddenly found themselves known for more than just their grapes. Their first vintage was produced in 1998, with twenty-something son Clay Mauritson at the helm. An airy, contemporary tasting room opened last spring, featuring the family’s wines.
Petaluma’s Graffiti, which just opened last month, is surely the hottest, newest restaurant in town. It also might be the hottest new restaurant in the North Bay. On a Friday night, when all the tables are booked and executive chef Jeremy Roberts creates one dazzling dish after another, you can hear the place sizzle. Or so my Petaluma friends tell me.
I could have gone on a crowded Friday night, but I chose the cowardly way. I went to Graffiti for lunch on a Thursday, with a friend, and felt like a king in a palace. The location, on the Petaluma River, is perfect. There’s a spacious patio for outdoor eating, a big dining room and a hip bar where you can eat and drink beer, wine or a martini. We took a table near the bar, began to order furiously, begged the waiter to bring it all at once, and in a moment there wasn’t room for a single elbow.
Jeremy Roberts loves the sumptuous cooking of the Mediterranean, from Spain to Italy, North Africa to Greece, and the menu shows off his eclectic good taste.
We started with the modest olive medley, accompanied by feta cheese and red onion ($3), and sipped our beers, which are brewed at Graffiti. The Spanish gazpacho soup with creamy guacamole ($5) had diced, garden-fresh summer vegetables. The crab cakes came with crème fraîche and a white corn liqueur that was a tad too sweet for me. (I add jalapeños to my crab cakes.)
I also make mussels, and Roberts’ mussels arrabbiata ($9)–cooked in the traditional Italian way with white wine, tomatoes, garlic and herbs–provided the real taste test. I have eaten mussels at dozens of restaurants, but I have never had mussels better than the plump, juicy mussels that Jeremy Roberts makes. His flatbread was excellent for sopping up the sauce. I could go on and describe the tender steak sandwich with tasty peppers and onions ($14), but after the mussels, it would be anticlimactic. Eating the Scharffen Berger decadence fudge cake ($9) for dessert really was decadent.
At 28, Roberts is one of the youngest executive chefs around. He’s dynamic, creative and daring, and it’s easy to understand why Mark and Maureen McGowan, who own Graffiti, have placed their trust in him. The McGowans have lived in Petaluma for 20 years, and they know what people in town want to eat. So far it seems like love at first bite, and it seems, too, like a love that’s born to last.
Graffiti, 101 Second St., Petaluma. Open daily; lunch, 11:30am to 2:30pm; dinner, 5pm to 10pm. 707.765.4567.
From the September 14-20, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.