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.
For eons, I lived on the outskirts of Occidental and often ate in town. Now I live in Santa Rosa, and don’t know where to go. When I heard about Pignole (Italian for “pine nut”), opening in Occidental, I knew I had to try it.
Diane Albracht, the brains behind Pignole, has been making pastries for years at elite restaurants, from the Buckeye in Marin to Equus in Santa Rosa. She’s hired Kurtis Lumetta, a perfectionist who has worked previously at Bistro Ralph, Cafe Portofino and the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, to do the cooking. Taking over from the recently shuttered Cock and Bull, Diane and her husband David have redone the building inside and out, and the place feels festive. You can eat and drink beer and wine at the bar or sit at the counter in front of the kitchen and watch Lumetta perform his culinary magic. If I’d been alone, that’s what I’d have done. But I went with friends, so we sat in the main room, where it was quiet enough to hear one another talk, which counts mightily in my scheme of things.
For starters, I like the sautéed chicken livers with pancetta and pearl onions in a rich port wine sauce ($8). The caesar salad with shaved Reggiano Parmesan is tasty ($8), and the carrot soup with ginger had real kick ($6). The heirloom tomato salad with fresh Mozzarella and basil ($9) featured tomatoes that seem to come right out of the garden, perfect for this time of year.
For an entrée, I ordered the 12-ounce Black Angus New York strip steak ($21) and could only eat half because I also tried the scrumptious meat loaf and mashed potatoes ($13) that a friend ordered. There was enough on her plate for dinner and a sandwich the next day, but we devoured it. The steak usually comes with a potato gratin made with Gouda, but I paid extra for the Pignole french fries ($5) and wasn’t sorry. The house red wine ($5) went well with my rare steak.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t have room for dessert, though it was difficult to say no to apple and rhubarb pie. I’d go back again, maybe just for dessert, Diane Albracht’s specialty. Lumetta’s cooking is excellent, the place has the feel of family and it’s exhilarating to be back in Occidental, if only for an evening.
Pignole, 3688 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental. Open for dinner Thursday through Monday, 5pm to 9pm. 707.874.9012.
From the August 31-September 6, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.