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COX: Tuscany in Forestville

Chef Francesco Torre's Canneti Roadhouse is named after a street in his home in Italy

Bee Pollen Panna Cotta at Canneti Roadhouse in Forestville.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 2:05 p.m.

The restaurant that was previously Mosaic in Forestville has changed. Now it's Canneti Roadhouse, with solid oak tables and a beautiful backyard for dining al fresco. Chef and owner Francesco Torre has done a fine job with the décor.

Facts

CANNETI ROADHOUSE

Where: 6675 Front St., Forestville
When: Dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays, closing at 9 p.m. Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. Fridays, 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 8:30 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays
Reservations: Call 887-2232
Price range: Expensive to very expensive, with entrees from $19 to $26
Website: NA
Wine list: **
Ambiance: **½
Service: **
Food: **
Overall: **

**** Extraordinary
*** Very good
** Good
* Not very good
0 Terrible

The food isn't bad, but it lacks pizzazz. Dishes that should sing only talk. Torre's cooking is based on his Tuscan heritage; Tuscany is known for its flavorful dishes of meat — especially game — fresh vegetables, and bread. It's sweet that chef Torre has named his restaurant after a road he walked from his home in Italy to his elementary school.

But whatever excitement was there on Canneti Road should be translated into the dishes served up in Forestville. There's not much excitement in “Tuna of the Chianti” ($12 **), as a dish of shredded pork, tondini beans, olive oil and herbs was called. It bore no resemblance to tuna. One of our diners noted that it was, fundamentally, pork and beans. And mildly flavored pork and beans, at that.

It was the deep flavor of sheep's-milk cheese that enlivened the Sformato ($13 ***) and gave it full-throated taste. This soufflé — about 3½ inches in diameter and slightly deflated as it cooled — had that distinctive nutty flavor of a nicely aged pecorino cheese (pecora is Italian for sheep). Fava beans in a buttery sauce accompanied the soufflé, and a sprig of fresh thyme added some zip.

The pasta course included Maccheroni with Tuscan Meat Sauce ($17 **). The pasta was big fluted tubes that flattened after they were boiled, mixed with a very mild-flavored meat sauce. Perhaps it's our familiarity with Bolognese meat sauce, with its acidic edge provided by a reduction of wine and tomatoes, that makes this Tuscan version seem bland by comparison. But with every bite, I kept hunting for that satisfying richness and didn't find it.

It was surprising that the Saffron Risotto Cake ($19 **) was priced so high, given that the mild dish consisted of a rice cake in a swirl of butternut squash puree topped with curls of baked turnips that arrived cold. Fresh thyme tried to add its cheery perfume, but the cold turnip shavings prevailed.

A nice piece of Alaskan Halibut ($26 **½) was wrapped in a crespella (Italian for crepe) with rainbow carrots, pea leaves and uncured guanciale (fatty pig's jowl) crisped in a pan. The savory crepe looked a lot like injera, the Ethiopian griddle bread. This plate had good flavor, but it arrived lukewarm when piping hot might have been better.

A skewer of Marin County Quail ($24 **) on a bed of large croutons with a serving of pickled onions offered slim pickings. The bed of bread cubes was, unfortunately, greasy and barely warm.

Desserts, however, were more generous. Bee Pollen Panna Cotta ($9 **) with fennel marmalade and a shot glass of liquid dark chocolate was inventive and fun. Crispy Angel Wings Tiramisu ($10 **) was not the typical dessert made with cocoa powder and sweet liqueur. It was crunchy and came with rich mascarpone cream and an espresso sauce.

A seasonal Tuscan tasting menu is available for $55, or $85 with each of the four courses paired with wine.

Brick walls painted beige reflect sound, and so when the front dining room is full, it can get loud. Things are quieter in a smaller dining room halfway to the back room where a single long oak table can seat a large extended family or group of friends. From there, it's just a few steps outside to the al fresco dining area with its own bar and lovely canopy of trees.

The 27 wines on the wine list include local whites and reds from the Russian River appellation, some good Clos Saron reds from the Sierra foothills, and 14 well-selected Tuscan wines, including a 2009 Rosso di Montepulciano for $36, a 2011 Maremma Sangiovese for $36, some lusty Chiantis and high-priced Sangioveses. Corkage is $20.

Service was swift but a bit obtrusive as several times one of our party was interrupted in mid-sentence by staff inquiring about our satisfaction or offering information about a dish.

To sum up: A nice spot in downtown Forestville serves Tuscan food that could use some amping up.

Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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