Much to like at 'new' Ravenous
Published: Friday, July 20, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 20, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
In 1991, John and Joyanne Pezzolo bought Ravenous, a little cubbyhole of a restaurant next to the Raven Theater on North Street in Healdsburg. It was cute but crowded in the 16-seat dining area.
Where: 117 North St., Healdsburg
When: Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Reservations: Call 431-1302
Price range: Expensive to very expensive, with entrees from $17 to $25
Wine list: **½
*** Very good
* Not very good
Ten years ago, they moved Ravenous to a much roomier bungalow on Center Street, just around the corner from the old location. While Healdsburg over the next 10 added more restaurants, including some upscale like Dry Creek Kitchen and Cyrus, locals could always count on Ravenous to be a warm, comfortable place for a drink and a good plate of food. Chef Joyanne wrote out her nightly menu in a stylized longhand that was hard to read but worth the effort.
Despite splitting up as a couple, she and John remained business partners and now have sold the bungalow to Mark and Terri Stark. The Starks plan to re-open it as Brava, a tapas place, later this summer; it will be the Starks' fifth restaurant in Sonoma County, all located in Santa Rosa or Healdsburg.
The owners of Ravenous, in turn, have moved back to the cute cubbyhole. The menu continues to be ambitious and expensive, but here without the benefit of a full bar. Some of the old Ravenous quality is in evidence, and some dishes soar as high as they ever have.
The room has been rearranged now to seat 19, by my count, and given a brighter look, with butter yellow and ochre walls and old-fashioned lithographs of vegetables on the walls. Chef Pezzolo still writes out the menu by hand and many of the Center Street signature dishes remain, so those who have loved Ravenous in its various incarnations will feel at home.
One of those signature dishes is Crab Cakes ($13 **½). Two patties are loaded with crab, but the crunchy crust spent a wee bit too long in the pan and came out dark brown and too hard. Ginger and cilantro aioli, an upscale substitute for tartar sauce, helped out, as did a small salad of onion, carrot and lettuce.
The wine list is varied enough to make some excellent pairings. Our table paired the crab cakes with a 2011 Picpoul (a Rhone white variety whose name translates to "lip-stinger") from Languedoc in southern France at $33 a bottle. The list includes 21 reds, a prosecco, a rose and 11 whites, with 10 of the wines offered by the glass as well as the bottle. Superstar wines dot the eclectic list, such as the 2010 La Follette “North Coast” Pinot Noir for $45. Corkage is $20.
Corn kernels, tomato and diced potatoes swam in the Soup of the Day ($3.75 cup ***) — a rich, meaty-tasting broth of goodness. This was followed by a cool and crunchy Mixed Lettuce Salad ($9 **½) of chicories and lettuces dotted with dabs of blue cheese and seeded with spiced pecan halves, all dressed in a vanishingly light vinaigrette.
The fish portion of a plate of Grilled Icelandic Arctic Char ($25 **) glistened from its brushing with herbed lemon butter. Grilling gave this salmon relative of the far northern seas a slightly smoky flavor and the flaky pink flesh melted in the mouth. The accompaniments, though, left something to be desired. Black risotto cakes were cooked hard so they became tough and crunchy - not what you want in risotto. And sauteed bok choy and radicchio added chewiness but not a lot of flavor.
To go with our Braised Beef Short Rib ($24 **), the tablemates chose a 2010 Navaherreros Garnacha (Grenache) from Spain. This juicy wine trumped the tough, dry, overcooked short rib, although it paired nicely with the sweet citrus achiote and ancho chili sauce. Also on the plate, slender asparagus, garlic cloves roasted in their paper skins and wedges of roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. The sides didn't really make up for the disappointing short rib.
Things got back on track when the kitchen started cooking Mexican. The menu calls it a Roasted Poblano ($18 ***), but we all know it as chile relleno. The insistently spicy pepper is stuffed with hominy and potatoes and served with cotija cheese (like a parmesan), salsa fresca, sour cream, black beans, red rice and hand-formed corn tortillas.
The poblano was very good, but the Fish Tacos ($17 ***½) were great! Again, the corn tortillas are hand-made. The bone-white and flaky fish was tenderly fried. Salsa fresca is added, along with lime crema, and the two tacos are paired with a crunchy-sweet salad of julienned jicama and oranges. Just a lovely plate of food.
For dessert, the Apricot-Bing-Cherry Upside-Down Cake ($9 **) sounded better than it tasted. The problem was the cake was more bready than cakey and there was not enough fruit to give a flavor pop to each bite. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream helped improve the dessert, though.
To sum up: There's much culinary treasure to be found at the new old Ravenous.
(Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at email@example.com.)
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.