From the beginning of construction, 256 North exuded a sense of class. Unlike some other locations, which languish during construction, start but never finish, or ignore media requests for information, 256 North was all business from day one. In short order, the simple yet classy “256 North” was hung from the front of the historic building, telling us their name.
This speaks volumes about co-owner Jan Rosen’s understanding of Petaluma, as well as her insight in collaborating with long-time restaurant builder, but first-time restaurateur Joe Castro. For those that are new to Petaluma, Jan is a legend, in part because of her restaurants and cheesecake, but more importantly, because of how she treats people. She is like that aunt that you cannot wait to visit. She is not afraid to tell you how it is or call you on your shenanigans, but her love and support is all-encompassing.
A New York transplant in the early 1970s, Jan has created some of Sonoma County’s most memorable restaurants, including J.M. Rosen, a silver service restaurant on Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, and Petaluma’s Salad Mill, J.M. Waterfront Grill and Rosen’s Eastside Grill.
However, Jan is probably best known for J.M Rosen’s Cheesecakes, which she and sister Michelle started in the early 1980s, when Jan discovered she could not find a good cheesecake on the West Coast. Her cheesecake quickly became a Hollywood favorite among celebrities like Frank Sinatra and the Reagans, and is still wowing customers almost 40 years later. For many, this would go to their head, but Jan remains a down to earth, no nonsense business woman, who knows that without customer loyalty, a restaurant cannot survive, no matter how good the food.
Jan’s expertise in running a restaurant gave us confidence that no matter what the menu, we could expect a meal like no other in Petaluma. Sure enough, the dishes were on par with what one would find at the likes of John Ash & Co., only much closer to home. Chef Damion Jones most recently ran the kitchen at Bourbon & Beef in Rockridge, an upscale Oakland neighborhood known for great restaurants, and certainly helps bring the menu to life.
First up was the Trio Crudo ($16). Crudo means “raw” in Italian, and 256 North’s trio came by way of three excellently prepared raw fish presentations. Ahi tuna carpaccio, rock shrimp ceviche, and salmon poke were served with lemongrass ginger soy, pickled ginger, aioli, taro, wanton chips, and a small serving of a delightful seaweed salad.
I have always been skeptical of grilled octopus because I grew up on the chewy Asian imports, but 256 North’s Grilled Octopus ($17) was excellently prepared, and artfully plated. Thankfully, Chef Jones knows that the only place to source tender and flavorful octopus is the Iberian Peninsula and loyal to its Spanish octopus, this dish also offered a unique Spanish chorizo chimichurri.
I am always excited to see Dungeness Crab Cakes ($9) on the menu, especially during the season, because it shows that the chef is paying attention to his surroundings. This particular one comes with mango avocado caper relish, wasabi aioli, and frisee.
I am partial to Petaluma’s Liberty Duck, so I was pleased to see them highlighted in the Liberty Duck Meat Balls ($15), which came with pixie mandarins, grilled Asian pear, jalapeno and ricotta salata.