Gearing into the first well-curved turns out of Petaluma, the bright summer sun is setting like a hot boiling yellow onion dancing atop the dry hills as they roll west out of town. I?m on a beautiful drive with my girlfriend and the warmth of the season resonates over this gorgeous countryside.
Economy is down? So what? We can afford to take a little excursion once in a while. Our destination? The Olema Inn. What was once an old schoolhouse sits in a dark, tree-filled valley just over the hill from the now foggy Pacific ? straight out D Street. We cruise past Nicasio Reservoir as the fog pours down the ravines just ahead of us. In 35 minutes we are there.
The Olema Inn is a jewel. The executive chef, James Wong, is young, bright, imaginative and cooks what may be the best food north of San Francisco. Even better, he is from Petaluma. Right away we are served some raw oysters prepared four ways. Each finds its way to my heart with a little tug of the Point Reyes Vineyard Late Harvest Sparkling. My favorite: the sweet onion/vinegar followed, closely by the fresh-pressed heirloom tomato juice swimming in radiator-green olive oil oysters. Like my date, lovely.
The restaurant then starts filling up. A baby cries and the trees seem to pull in their leaves and tighten as they enmesh in the sneaky lowland fog that has crept over from the sea. Suddenly, there is a sense of urgency. In comes old man hunger from the cold and seats are filling up. They have come to the right place.
Between meals, we are ushered out a glass of some lovely, rose-perfumed gew?rztraminer and a petite dish of beautiful, pan-seared scallop topped with a lovely grilled shrimp. Head and shoulders, these tasty niblets rest upon a hill of tapenade built of zucchini, corn, green peas, and, yes, morel mushrooms. I haven?t seen morels in quite some time and they are a favorite of mine. The forest-earth flavor of the morels contempts the green in the veggies. They seem to fight over who was the uglier one coming out of the ground in a duel for flavor supremacy in the palate. The spark of the crispy shellfish echoes above all and, within, the scallop battles the shrimp for the crown in my taste buds.
James sends out the main course and what a presentation it is. My date has ordered a porterhouse and it is the biggest, beautiful block of steak served anywhere, hands down. I ordered Mark Pasternak?s Devil?s Gulch Rabbit from Marin County. Big, perfect cuts of rabbit adorn my plate and below lay soft, smoky fava beans with chunks of smoky ham and spinach over creamy polenta. Maybe Hannibal Lecter had something here. Yum!
Pinot to pair? Anything grown in the Petaluma GAP (Growers Alliance of Petaluma). This dish was designed for the pinot grown in this region. The charred rabbit does wonders with the pungent beans. The spinach seems to wrap itself around and into everything and sets a clean, primed landing for the wine that follows. This is a 10. Wait, no, it?s the best rabbit I?ve ever tasted.