Photograph by Rory McNamara
Rack ‘Em Up: Randy Sommerville, executive chef at Rosen’s Eastside Grill, digs into one of his own creations.
The other half of Petaluma gains a funky and family-friendly eatery with Rosen’s Eastside Grill
By Sara Bir
It’s an odd sensation to walk into a place that boasts a cosmopolitan feel when that place makes its home in a suburban shopping center. Petaluma now has such a place in Rosen’s Eastside Grill, a new and boxy building in the G&G shopping center. The Eastside Grill is the spawn of Rosen’s Waterfront Grill, a fine-dining favorite in downtown Petaluma.
The Rosen sisters, Jan and Michelle, have charmed diners all over the country with their justly career-making cheesecakes (which are shipped down to swanky and famous restaurants in L.A.). But you cannot build a restaurant on cheesecake alone (never mind that those abhorrent Cheesecake Factory places are so popular). Thankfully, the Rosens and chef Randy Sommerville keep this bar and grill’s noncheesecake fare simple, satisfying, and entirely up to snuff.
One reason the Eastside Grill works at this location is that it’s clearly the kind of place where parents can take their families on a Friday night and the kids won’t make a stink about it. There’s a wide-screen TV above the bar, silently broadcasting some sports-channel stuff, so it could also make an after-work hangout for sports fans.
Those on a first date will also feel pretty comfortable at this casual yet stylish location. The banquettes are dark, rich wood, and Roy Lichtenstein and Picasso prints hang on the walls. Even the plates–whose rims are edged in primary-colored benday dots–are splashy and funky. The noise level, usually so high at places like this, is totally manageable; we could barely hear the generic saxophone music wash in the background (thank God!), so low was the volume.
The menu is rather all-encompassing, with wood-fired pizzas, pastas, burgers, and entrées whose basic approach is almost a breath of fresh air. No balsamic-reduction-drizzled roasted avocado-topped seared skate wings in a citrus crust here. Nope, you can get yourself things like a hamburger steak with onions and mushrooms or beer-battered fish. Those who lean away from red meat are best off if they have a soft spot for starches or fish.
We started off with parmesan olives ($6.95), what you might call a classier version of jalapeño poppers: green olives stuffed with parmesan cheese, breaded, and taken for a dip in the deep fryer. They arrived at the table in a martini glass (clever!). Like any breaded-and-fried cheese thing, these kind of explode in the mouth, but the salty olives cut through the gooeyness of the melted cheese. Since I love olives, I’d rather have just olives, but these were undoubtedly delicious.
The Eastside Grill’s salads are classic affairs, the kind of salads you’d see published in an issue of Gourmet about half a century ago–chef’s salad, Cobb salad, the ubiquitous caesar, and the iceberg wedge with blue-cheese dressing.
The spinach salad with candied pecans, dried cranberries, pancetta, and feta cheese was ample (all of the servings here are) and didn’t skimp on the ol’ bacon or pecans. The dressing, which tasted sort of bottled, came on the side, though. This is a heresy! How is a person supposed to toss her own salad when it’s on a plate and not get salad all over the table? Somehow we managed, and the salad was good enough, but I’m sure a decent tossing back in the kitchen would have transformed it into the salad it had the potential to be.
The pesto pizza ($12.95) had a crisp, thin crust, but not so thin that it was impossible to lift up a slice without it going flaccid, all too often a mark of lesser wood-fired pizzas. The promised fresh tomatoes were smothered under a profuse amount of melted mozzarella and sliced so thinly that they sort of disappeared, but as a whole the results were good. The pizza’s large enough to have some slices to take home and have the next day for lunch.
Mr. Bir du Jour, always a cautious fellow, got himself a cheeseburger ($9.50) with fries. Lovers of burgers–substantial ones, whose burly patties run with greasy juice–are on a constant quest for a reliable source for a killer non-fast-food burger, a big fat one that’s not refined or gloppy or out of control. Go ye, I say, to the Eastside Grill! The patty came on a nonmushy, lightly toasted bun and was cooked exactly to the medium doneness ordered. The fries were, you know, fries. Mr. Bir du Jour was happy. I was envious.
The only big flop of the night was the chicken pot pie ($12.95), whose generous proportions carried over into farce. This thing came to the table, and–no kidding–it had the diameter of a ’76 Impala steering wheel. All four people sitting at the table could have shared the pie for dinner and not gone home hungry. I felt dwarfed and gluttonous sitting behind it.
The broad expanse of golden pastry covering the top was overworked and tough instead of tender, and the sea of filling it obscured was flavorless, a random assortment of overcooked green beans, cauliflower, red bell pepper, potatoes, and plump hunks of chicken. The gravy was thin but tasted of flour, like mediocre diner gravy, and it sloshed around in there more like a so-so chicken stew than a homey pot pie. Halfway through dinner, one of us noticed a soup spoon on the far reaches of the rim of the plate, so apparently it’s supposed to be like that, though I’d prefer a normal-sized chicken pot pie that requires no spoon.
The pot roast ($14.95), on the other hand, put the so-called pot roast my mother set on my family’s dinner table to shame. Tender and cooked perfectly (no toughness lingered), the meat had the succulent richness of a good beef cheek. Our friend declared it the best pot roast he had ever had. The accompanying mashed potatoes (entrées come with a choice of two sides) were creamy, smooth, and full of fatty dairy goodness.
To wash down the pot roast, we tried a 2002 Santa Barbara Rock Rabbit Syrah ($6.50 glass), which was big and fruity and not all that distinctive, but it’s a good, versatile match to many of the items on the menu (as were most of the wines on the short but serviceable list).
We were very full but also very curious about Rosen’s deep-fried cheesecake ($7.95). Because cheesecake is the cornerstone of the whole Rosen operation, skipping it would be like visiting the Blarney Stone and not kissing it. But deep-fried? Such treatment sounded suspiciously British. We had imagined a beer batter-dipped wedge of runny grease, but upon inquiry to the waiter we discovered it’s sheathed in a very non-British won ton wrapper.
Still, we skipped it in lieu of the apple crisp ($6.95), piping hot and with a pleasingly firm Granny Smith apple filling under a sweet crust of caramel and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. (It would have been nice had our waiter brought the bill after he brought us the dessert, though. He seemed a bit scattered that night.)
Mr. Rosen himself then came to check in on us and, dismayed that we had failed to kiss the Blarney Stone, sent us a piece of cheesecake on the house. Well, no wonder they are famous for this stuff! It’s light and airy, not as dense as a New York-style cheesecake but just as creamy and still with substance. The top was beautifully browned and the graham cracker crust wielded a citrus punch.
Rosen’s Eastside Grill is an amazingly friendly place–the staff was all very pleasant, and it was easy to feel relaxed and at home. You eastsiders of Petaluma are pretty lucky folks, I’d say. Just stay away from that pot pie and you’re home free.
Rosen’s Eastside Grill, 701 Sonoma Mountain Parkway (in the Parkway Plaza, by G&G Market), Petaluma. 707.763.4644.
From the January 16-22, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.