Ravenous Cafe

Culinary joy: Chef Joyanne Pezzolo, along with husband, John, has created one of the North Bay’s most popular eateries.

Somethin’ to Crow About

Seasoned Ravenous continues to satisfy

By Paula Harris

ANTICIPATION is part of the pleasure of dining at tiny Ravenous Cafe in Healdsburg. Since there are only eight tables and the affable staff never pressures one to hurry, a short wait (even if you drift in with dinner reservations) isn’t unusual. But half the fun is in sitting outside on the rustic rough-hewn bench out front on a mellow autumn night and savoring the cooking smells wafting out to the street while you peruse the beautifully handwritten menu.

By day, Ravenous is a welcome retreat from the increasing bustle of the plaza. You can meet good friends for a lazy lunch, to chew the fat and feast on tasty smoked trout and warm potato salad, or a bowl of soup–like the Moroccan red-lentil broth–and maybe share a glass of sauvignon blanc.

By night, the cozy restaurant is a warm, shadowy hideaway. Oversize tortoiseshell-framed mirrors, faux tiger-skin banquettes, deep ochre walls, topaz-hued beaded candleholders, and Natalie Merchant’s lilting voice flowing from the sound system give the intimate feel of dining in a gourmet chef’s dusky bedroom.

While culinary new kids in town–organic-inspired Acre Cafe and Lounge and the flashy bistro Zin–may have grabbed all the attention of late, it bears mentioning that Ravenous (which is attached to the venerable Raven Theater) steadily has been turning out creative, high-quality fare for the past eight years. It’s a tribute to chef-owners John and Joyanne Pezzolo, who add thought and love to their food, and have never let their standards drop.

A recent dinner proved it.

The evening’s cream of tomato soup ($3.50) had an unusual but pleasing texture: a warm silky base bolstered with semi-crunchy vegetables and chunks of whole fresh tomato. It was topped with a dollop of sour cream and fresh basil leaves. Each tomato-y spoonful perked up our appetites.

We gasped at the sight of the smoked salmon appetizer ($8.50), equally impressed by the colorful ingredients in shades of green, orange, black, and yellow, and the super-generous portion. Having been charged $7 for an appetizer consisting of three miserable midsized shrimp (and little else) at a new restaurant in Sonoma recently, this was a glutton’s dream.

Luscious slices of the smoky rose-gold fish rested atop warm and fluffy corn cakes, which resembled old-fashioned popovers. Scoops of gleaming (though a bit bland-tasting) gold and black caviar, topped with crème fraîche. The dish was garnished with a wreath of large pungent salty caperberries (extra-large capers on stems), some peppery mesclun greens, and a thick wedge of fresh lemon for spritzing. Terrific!

Our vegetarian dining companion gave thumbs up to the roasted chili pepper entrée ($12.50). “It captures your interest,” he enthused, caressing the bountiful plateful with his fork. The dish, a roasted poblano-type chili pepper stuffed with potatoes, hominy, greens, and jack cheese with grilled corn salsa, black beans, yellow rice, and lightly fried house-made corn tortillas on the side, certainly was a rainbow of tastes and a visual delight.

The pork tenderloin scaloppini ($15)–delicate slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork in a wine, cremini mushroom, and sage sauce–was another winner. It was accompanied by airy, baked cheese-scented polenta as light as a feather-down comforter, and exceptionally moist roasted white turnips. Cauliflower, green beans, squash, and roasted Bermuda onion with a slight caramel flavor completed the dish.

The Asian pear and huckleberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream ($6) was light and sconelike with chunky pears, teeny purple huckleberries, and smooth ice cream. It had a delectable natural fruit flavor without extra added sugar.

And the chocolate crème pie with chocolate sauce ($5.75) featured a pale gold pastry shell with a milk chocolate pudding interior, set on a pool of dark chocolate, drizzled with more dark chocolate, and topped with a cloud of whipped cream.

Toe-curlin’ good.

The servers were friendly and efficient. Our one gripe was that they (at least the two we questioned) lacked the wine knowledge to make pairing suggestions. However, our server did let us taste some of the wines offered by the glass before we made our selections.

The Peterson 1997 pinot noir ($7.50 per glass) had a strawberry, balsamic, black pepper flavor that was a good match with the pork dish. And the Ledson 1997 chardonnay ($7.50 per glass) was full-bodied, buttery-rich, and heavy enough to drink with creamy seafood or pasta dishes–or all by itself.

Make those reservations and take your appetite along. We anticipate you won’t be disappointed.

Ravenous 117 North St., Healdsburg; 431-1770 Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Food: Eclectic American bistro-style; lovely desserts Service: Friendly, low-key Ambiance: Intimate Price: Moderate (no credit cards accepted) Wine list: Good selection, including several interesting wines offered by the glass Overall: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

From the October 21-27, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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