by Geneva Anderson
If you haven’t been to Petaluma lately, things have changed. No longer a pit stop on the way to wine country, Petaluma is now the center of food for the entire North Bay.
It’s the hip place to spend the entire day meandering historic streets and experiencing farm-to-table dining at its source. The diversity of great eating to be had in the small downtown area is crazy, and the number of creative people who are running food businesses out of Petaluma has exploded, creating a vibrant and committed farm and food network that everyone wants to enjoy. Embracing this transformation, sweet Petaluma, one of California’s oldest cities, has managed to hang on to its soul and stay as laid back and friendly as ever.
In last Wednesday’s 2015 Taste of Petaluma preview, I visited three of Petaluma’s newest food establishments, along with 13 other food writers and persons of interest from around the Bay Area.
We gathered round rustic tables at Bistro 100, Sauced BBQ and Spirits and Sonoma Spice Queen — all of which opened in the past year and epitomize Petaluma’s food scene — and we got to know each other while sampling delicacies that will be served at the 10th annual Taste of Petaluma on Saturday, August 22.
Taste of Petaluma is an annual benefit for the town’s jewel, Cinnabar Theater, a charming 115-seat theater located in the old red Cinnabar schoolhouse on the outskirts of town. If you’ve ever attended one of Cinnabar’s intimate performances, you understand what a treasure it is—you are so close to the stage and performers that you are pulled right up into the drama; an unforgettable, mind-blowing experience.
“Taste is all about connecting with Petaluma,” emphasizes the event’s founder Laura Sunday, “and that’s why we’re not all standing out in parking lot, or a huge field, where there’s no connection to where the food came from. When you actually walk in a restaurant, meet the staff and experience the ambiance and their way of handling dining, you’re much more likely to return. The restaurants are donating everything, but they love it because it works.”
This year, there are 50 locations and about 90 participants — restaurants, food, wine and beverage purveyors, even a pet store — spread out from River Plaza to Theatre Square to Putnam Plaza to downtown proper (Kentucky Street). Some 70 musicians will be performing in 18 acts at 11 downtown locales — offering just as promising a musical menu (full performance schedule here). Forty dollars gets you 10 tickets, a map and a wine glass, and off you go to cash in those tickets on 10 generously portioned tastes of your choosing.
The event draws people from all over the Bay Area and is capped at 1,500, so it’s not insane. “It’s grown organically into something that is very comfortable and very social,” adds Sunday. “We’ve all got a yellow Taste of Petaluma bag in one hand, and you actually meet people and talk and everyone opens up. Taste a little, buy a little, knock around. Petaluma always looks its very best on this day.”
Our first stop was Bistro 100 (140 2nd Street), across from the Boulevard 14 Cinemas, in Petaluma’s bustling Theater Square. Voted the best new restaurant in Petaluma in the 2015 Petaluma People’s Choice Awards, Bistro 100, with owner/chef Garrett Adair at the helm, is praised constantly for its fresh, seasonal menu of French-California cuisine inspired by the Wine Country. The art-filled, rustic space has great vibes and an intimate feel. Manager Tracy Emerson greeted us warmly and we started with a seasonal salad of Canvas Ranch strawberries, tender heirloom lettuces (red oak and green leaf), Point Reyes Blue, and a vinaigrette from Sonoma Port Works, the miraculous Gewurztraminer-based Sonomic, an “almost vinegar.”
The just-picked berries in this salad were exquisite, rivaling those in my patch at home—bright red, juicy and at their peak in terms of sweet flavor and aroma. Ditto for the tender lettuce. With ingredients this fresh you can hardly go wrong, but the artful presentation on crisp white plates with gorgeous swirls of the luscious Sonomic added elegance. Who’s counting but I saw that four of us used our fingers to wipe this off the plates and savor every drop.
Next, chef Adair came out with the dish that he will serve for Taste of Petaluma — his Mushroom bruschetta cream canapé. He got my attention — his earthy duxelles (sautéed mushroom blend) of maitake, crimini, and black trumpets was exquisite with a shaving of savory dry Jack cheese, a dab of creamy aioli and a crunchy fried maitake on top. He further seasoned it with a black trumpet salt that he makes. (The maitake and crimini come from Gourmet Mushrooms of Sebastopol; the black trumpets are sourced from certified wild mushroom hunter Dylan Toube.) Adair loves wine and recommends a 2012 Pinot Noir from Thumbprint Cellars to pair with his Mushroom bruschetta.
Amidst ohhs and ahhs, Adair explained that Bistro 100’s name reflects its “go local” philosophy—ingredients that don’t come from more than 100 miles away. “Actually, 67% of our stuff comes from much closer, like 25 miles,” said Adair. Bistro 100’s beef and pork come from local family-owned ranches or purveyors and its produce comes from FEED Sonoma, which sources from over 25 local sustainable farms, or from Petaluma’s Green String Farm. “I’m here in Petaluma because I want to be right on the pulse of the farm culture. We don’t actively seek organic,” Adair added. “Many of the farms we buy from use organic practices but are not certified because it’s so expensive. We’re looking for the best quality and to support our neighborhood financially.”
Adair’s roots are local and humble. The amiable chef grew up in rural Forestville and started busing tables, washing lettuce and making BLT’s at the town’s “scrubby” Old Hiding Place. Gradually, he bootstrapped his way into fine cooking with stints as a saucier or line cook under mentors who included chef Volodia Crettol from Sebastopol’s now bygone 101 Main Bistro & Wine Bar. Adair attended La Cordon Bleu and developed his French-CA cuisine style at Forestville’s Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, now a Michelin star restaurant (it wasn’t then). He also worked for several years as private chef building an exclusive clientele.
When you stop by Bistro 100, or any of the Taste venues, be sure to check out the artworks on the wall. They’ll likely be from local artists and a lot of care went into their selection. Bistro 100 will be showing works by Canvas Ranch owner, Tim Schaible, a widely exhibited painter. He uses a large barn on his celebrated farm as his studio.
Mushroom Canapés & Herb Aioli (from Garrett Adair of Bistro 100)
- 4 garlic cloves, divided
- 1 shallot
- 3 cups coarsely chopped crimini mushrooms
- 3 cups coarsely chopped maitake mushrooms
- 2 cups coarsely chopped black trumpet
- mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
- Truffle oil drizzle
- 2 tbs flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbs. tarragon
- 1 tsp EVOO
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pinch paprika
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Sonoma Dry Jack cheese
- EVOO for sauté
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 tbs Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove
- Juice from ½ fresh squeezed lemon
- 1.5 cups canola oil
Preparation for Aioli: Puree all ingredients in food processor until paste. Drizzle in the canola oil.
For Canapés: Chop 3 garlic cloves. Cut remaining clove in half and save for later Place the mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Place minced garlic, shallot, herbs, and EVOO in a large nonstick skillet; cook 30 seconds over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; stirring constantly, cook 6 minutes or until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat; stir in salt and pepper. Cool slightly.
Crostini prep: Lightly coat bread and grill or toast … Rub one side of each bread slice with cut sides of garlic clove halves. Repeat procedure with remaining bread and garlic. Spoon about 2 tbs mushroom mixture over “canapé” breads. Top with arugula, dry Jack cheese and drizzle truffle oil.
Drizzle aioli on plate and over a complimentary salad of greens of your choice (mizuna greens pair well); place canapés on salad.
Our next stop, Sauced BBQ and Spirits (151 Petaluma Blvd. South), also in Theatre Square, was opened three months ago by cousins Barrett Gomes and Brenden Scanlan, who founded the original Sauced in Livermore in 2012. Gomes recently relocated from Livermore to Petaluma to nurture along this second start-up. The restaurant’s humble entry, just adjacent to Rosso’s (another Taste of Petaluma participant), belies the immensity of its sprawling interior. Rows of flat screen TV’s—all tuned on sports channels—frame a huge bar area and the hopping sports bar atmosphere is amplified in the evenings. The overall style is hillbilly chic with lots of reclaimed wood and rustic signage. The draws are some of the best Southern-inspired barbecue to be found; a specialty bar serving some 250 rare whiskeys, bourbons, scotches and ryes; its casual, relaxed atmosphere; and live country music on the weekends.
Our server, Tony Leon, greeted us with individual plates of their signature meats — ribs, burnt ends and pulled pork sliders. We shared family-style servings of their most popular sides — sweet potato casserole, mac-n-cheese, and smokey baked beans. For Taste of Petaluma, Sauced will serve pulled pork sliders, Carolina style, with a vinegar-based mop sauce on a soft white bun.
Tony explained that great barbecue shouldn’t require a knife, the meat should just fall right off the bone. Sauced starts out with very high quality meat from Bassian Farms (San Jose), which supplies both their restaurants, and takes up to 16 hours cooking it, something that is nearly impossible for the backyard barbecuer to replicate.
I’d never tried burnt ends before, one of their most popular meats. I’m a convert. Burnt ends are flavorful pieces cut from the point section of the brisket, a very fatty and tender meat. As the brisket slow cooks over 14 hours, it creates its own natural au jus. The bits are tossed in Sauced’s famous homemade Tin Roof Sauce, a sweet, tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce, and smoked in this au jus for an additional two hours creating a delicacy that had us all punch-drunk. The ribs and sliders, too, were fantastically flavorful.
Sauced’s creamy Sweet Potato Casserole, an addictive side dish made with candied walnuts, is the brainchild of Barrett Gomes’s mother, Darlene. When I asked for mama’s secret recipe, he wasn’t parting with it.
In between bites, Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, now in her 40th year at Cinnabar, discussed Cinnabar’s programming with new-comers. I am excited about their holiday show, opening on New Year’s eve — Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am, featuring Sharon E. Scott, from Florida, in a tribute to the gospel legend. As I was growing up, we played Jackson’s music over and over again in our home and her powerful voice rocks me to my core, bringing back a flood of memories. I can’t wait to experience Scott on Cinnabar’s stage, where it will seem like she’s singing just for me. I’ll take my 88- and 90-year-old parents as well.
SONOMA SPICE QUEEN
Next, we met spice enthusiast Wind McAlister in her gorgeous new spice shop, Sonoma Spice Queen (407 C Street). The two-room space is chock full of smartly displayed and gorgeously labeled tins of organic spice mixes, rubs and salts. The intoxicating smell worked its magic immediately, evoking shouts of “Wow!” and “I love it.” The urge to start shopping also overtook a few of my colleagues. Once we all settled down, Wind and her husband, Colin, welcomed us by serving Moroccan spiced coffee over ice, which she will also be serving for Taste of Petaluma.
Traditionally, Middle Eastern coffees are spiced, and McAlister prepared ours by grinding green cardamom pods right along with the coffee beans and adding a “secret ingredient,” her custom-blended pumpkin pie spice, for warmth. After we all smelled this exquisite blend, she divulged that it too has a secret, “a pinch of lemon peel and not too much cloves because it tends to take over.” Having plied us with coffee, she shared her story while her husband served us bowls of headily-perfumed mujadara. Mujadara is a Middle Eastern comfort food that relies on staples like lentils, rice, onions, olive oil and that every family spices its own way. It was the perfect showcase for her custom Moroccan spice blend. McAlister served the dish with a dollop of a yoghurt sauce and a wonderful little salad of tossed tomatoes, cucumbers, feta and Zatar, another of her exquisite spice blends.
McAlister offered special tips for those who of us who couldn’t wait to make this at home. The rice is poached in lemon and saffron. She uses Spanish saffron because, when compared to more readily-available Afghan and Middle Eastern saffrons, there’s “a real earthiness to the Spanish saffron which is just more appealing”. The rice is then blended with the lentils, which should be cooked in a broth with some lemon until al dente. She goes the extra yard and dries her lentils on a cookie sheet. She toasts her Moroccan spice blend first and then blends it with olive oil. She always uses nonfat yoghurt in her sauces because it absorbs the flavor a little better. As for the accompaniments, her yoghurt-tahini sauce has a clove of garlic, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, Himalayan salt, and rainbow pepper. Her cucumber, feta, tomato salad is spiced with her own zatar, a delicate blend of ground sumac, sesame seed, oregano, marjoram. And yes, she’s working on a recipe book.
McAlister’s passion for cooking and the lack of culturally authentic spice mixes led her to pursue creating her own small spice batches from scratch in 2013. Once licensed, in 2014 she began to sell her mixes at local farmers markets and built up a loyal and enthusiastic clientele. She sources her spices from Mountain Rose Herbs, a triple-certified organic wholesaler, and uses a commercial kitchen in Petaluma where she toasts, grinds and blends everything herself. She never prepares more than 30 to 40 tins at a time, so it’s always fresh. She adds no fillers, like salt or sugar, to her mixes.
“Spices come from all over the world,” cautions McAlister. “Unless something is labelled organic it is likely grown with pesticides. They’ve come up with a lot of terms—sustainable, natural—but those are just words. A lot of spices are irradiated and the long-term effects of that process are not known.”
McAlister has about 20 blends now that reflect her passion for global cuisine. When I mention I recently visited Myanmar and had fallen in love with the tea leaf salad, she sighed with wanderlust. She’s working on a berbere spice mix (Ethiopian) that I’ll have to come back for.
I lingered to examine her smoked salts—gorgeous earthy sparkling crystals. A sniff of that smoky heady aroma and I was already back at home, hearing jazz and cooking up my own feast. For Taste of Petaluma, Sonoma Spice Queen is serving a Javan spice pulled beef slider and Moroccan spiced coffee.Garam Masala Chicken (from Sonoma Spice Queen)
Grate or finely chop 1 medium onion, 4 cloves garlic, and 2 inches of freshly-peeled ginger into a large sauté pan and let them sweat on low heat in ¼ cup of canola oil, or ghee or coconut oil (add fresh chilies for more heat).
Cut 4 large chicken breasts into two inch pieces.
Add 3-4 tbs. Sonoma Spice Queen Garam Masala Spice Mix to sweating onion mixture and cook until spice is toasted and fragrant.
Add chicken to the sweating mixture and coat thoroughly. Add 2 cups of chicken stock or vegetable broth. Cover and cook until chicken is fully cooked.
Add ½ cup green peas (fresh or frozen) and heat through. If you want to try the Southern Indian version of this recipe, finish by adding 1 cup coconut milk.
Serve with basmati rice, saag greens, and with cucumber raita.Taste of Petaluma Tips:
If you’re new to Taste of Petaluma, plan on spending the day in Petaluma. You’ll love strolling historic streets that have appeared in famous films like Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and American Graffiti (1992). (Click here for a complete list with addresses and great trivia.)
And don’t miss the old library (Petaluma Historical Library & Museum), a gorgeous neoclassical style stone building on the corner of 4th and B Streets, built at the turn of the century. It’s one of three still-standing Carnegie Libraries in Sonoma County. The year, for Taste of Petaluma, the library is serving wines from Adobe Road, Balletto, Cazadero, Lombardi, Martin Ray and The Other Guys, paired with classic cheeses from the Marin French Cheese Company. So grab a glass of wine and look up and take in its pièce de résistance—one of the largest leaded glass domes in all of California.
Freebies—No Tickets Required:
Petaluma Pet Company (144 Petaluma Blvd. North), new to Petaluma, will be giving out samplers of crunchy, chewy, meaty snacks for your favorite pup.
Saturday, August 22, 2015; downtown Petaluma. Ticket packages (10 tastings) available for $40 starting at 10:30 a.m. at the event at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North). Only 1,500 tickets will be sold. All tickets are non-refundable. Purchase advance tickets here ($4 surcharge) or in person at the following Petaluma locations (up until 3 a.m. on the day of the event):
- Cinnabar Theater between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, or by calling (707) 763-8920.
- Gallery One—209 Western Ave.
- Velvet Ice Collections—140 2nd St, Theater Square.
- Blush Collections—117 Kentucky St.
- Petaluma Downtown Association—210 Lakeville St.
- Advance tickets can be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza, after 10:30 am, on the day of the event.
Advance tickets can be picked up at will call at Helen Putnam Plaza after 10:30 a.m. on the day of the event. Ticket packages include:
- Book of 10 tickets, one sampling per ticket. Additional tickets can be purchased throughout the day for $4 each.
- Street map of sampling locations.
- A complete menu of food, special events, music.
- Taste of Petaluma tote bag to first 1,000 guests.
- A plastic wine glass is provided, but you are welcome to bring a wine glass or beer tasting glass from home to the event.
This event is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater, a 501(c)(3) California non-profit.
More about Cinnabar Theater:
Cinnabar Theater opens its 43rd season on Friday, September 4, 2015, with Cy Coleman’s musical comedy, City of Angels. The season also includes a fabulous blend of musicals, dramatic works and an opera (always in English), Mozart’s The Magic Flute. City of Angels is a jazzy homage to ’40s film noir, interweaving a Hollywood comedy and a detective drama. The story chronicles the hilarious misadventures of Stine, a young novelist attempting a screenplay for movie mogul Buddy Fidler while sparring with a character of his own creation, a hard-boiled gumshoe named Stone. Two Cinnabar favorites return for this performance—soprano Kelly Brit (Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, spring 2014) and Stephen Walsh (Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof, fall 2014, and Georges in La Cage aux Folles, fall 2013).
“Kelly Brit is a phenomena; she can do opera and musicals and she’ll do wonders with this upbeat jazzy score” said Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director. “And the wonderful Stephen Walsh, with his dramatic flair and warmth, always outdoes himself.” The original Broadway incarnation of this beloved musical racked up six Tony Awards. Music is by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and book by Larry Gelbart. Sept 4-20, 2015 (nine performances); $35 ($25 for youth under 22).
Cinnabar Theater, a 501(c)(3) California non-profit, is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA. Most performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $25 plays; $35 Musicals; $40 opera, $25 concerts; steep discounts for ages 21 and under. Cinnabar’s shows always sell out. If you see something that interests you, don’t dally in getting your tickets. For more information, visit cinnabartheater.org.
Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Theater opens its new season on November 20, 2015 with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Based on the beloved MGM film, this adaptation by Jeremy Sams features adorable local talents as Jeremy and Jemima, who are helping their eccentric inventor father restore an old race car that has magical powers. There’s no better way to celebrate the holidays! November 20-December 6, 2015; $15.Geneva Anderson is a freelance writer based in Penngrove, CA who writes on art, film, music, identity, and cultural heritage. She grew up on a small farm in Petaluma, California, with lots of animals and gardens, graduating from Petaluma High School in 1978, and from UC Berkeley in 1983. She earned a masters degree from the Columbia School of Journalism in 1987, and masters degrees in public administration and economics from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School in 1988. She’s covered the transition of Eastern Europe and reported for eight years from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey, also working on assignment from Mexico, South America, Asia and Central Asia. She’s written for Art, Arte, ARTnews, The Art Newspaper, Balkan, Balkan News, Flash Art, Neue Bildende Kunst, Sculpture, Euromoney, Global Finance, The International Economy, The Press Democrat, The Argus Courier and other publications. She can be reached at email@example.com.