First Bite

First Bite

Central Market

By Gretchen Giles

Editor’s note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they–informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves–have 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.

Those contemplating marrying on a Saturday should remember that, barring leap year, the second anniversary (appropriately, the “cotton” celebration) will fall on a Monday. And so, we duly set off on a recent gray Monday to celebrate the joint tax returns and shared medical benefits that wedlock has brought over the last two years.

Mondays can be a terrific night for enjoying a terrific restaurant. Places aren’t packed, the chefs aren’t banging pots and servers are presumably relaxed and able to give attentive service. At Petaluma’s Central Market, some of the servers indeed seemed able to do so. Unfortunately, the affable young woman who helped us wasn’t one of them.

Opened in 2003 by former Ernie’s and Ravenswood Winery chef Tony Najiola, Central Market is all about sustainable, local foods, often prepared in the Mugnaini wood-burning oven that dominates the open kitchen in this large, airy restaurant. And while our server left us sitting before and during the meal for inexplicable lengths of time, a meal at Central Market is not easily forgotten.

Dinner began with a generous smoked trout salad ($8.75) and a crisp baby romaine salad studded with bacon lardons, blue cheese and chopped egg ($8.50). The firm, sweet trout certainly hinted at Najiola’s renowned way with fish. Looking nosily around, as one sometimes does on married dates, it provoked longing to see that our neighbors had all opted for the white corn and clam chowder ($8.25), which was served with bacon and spring vegetables, and evoked a hot desire to try this on the next visit.

Under the “butcher” category on the menu, pork is well-represented by the house-cured, double-cut pork chop ($21) served with a spinach cake and creamed mushrooms. But it is the crispy pork confit ($17.50) to which religions should be raised. Three insanely delicious portions of pork are cooked in their own fat, creating crispy and tender shreds alike as one’s fork cavorts about the plate. The accompanying potato “crouton” and the roasted peppers are unnecessary with such a wealth of crispiness and meltingness, and the potato was so waxy and underdone (thus its state as a “crouton,” one supposes) as to be inedible.

We also tried the seared Angus hanger steak with blue cheese ($19.50), which featured six strips of individually grilled rare steak, served with a traditional potato gratin that was the definition of cheesy richness. As with the side dishes served with the pork, the accompanying olive salad was a messy, unnecessary affair.

Central Market offers a sparkling wine from Alsace ($7.75 glass), which was simply golden, lip-smacking love; red and white winetasting flights ($18); and designates its varietals as “floral,” “rich,” “fruity” or “ripe,” making it easy to make a match with the market plates on the main menu.

Fairly drugged on pork confit and hanger steak, dessert was deemed an impossibility. As often happens, our largely absent server became a model of efficiency when presenting the check, and we stepped out into the misty Monday night, well-fed and contented, ready to weather the insurance co-pays and tax challenges of a marital third year–traditionally known as the, um, leather year.

Central Market, 42 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Open for dinner daily from 5:30pm. 707.778.9900.

From the June 29-July 5, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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