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Twisted 2 is a Petaluma hidden gem

Tucked away in a cozy corner of downtown, Twisted 2 is easily Petaluma’s best-kept restaurant secret. Created, cultivated, and curated by the husband and wife team of Dick and Julie Warner, Twisted 2 offers a prix fix wine paired dinner that is on par with even the best that the big city can offer, but without the necessities of bridge tolls, paid parking, and hours on the road. In fact, when I want to show an out of town visitor just how impressive Petaluma’s restaurant scene is, I send them to Twisted 2.

With seating for only about a dozen people, limited hours, and an unassuming location, it is not unusual to meet even long-time Petaluma residence who have never heard of Twisted 2. However, Twisted 2 is a love at first bite experience, which helps explain how Dick and Julie have steadily built a loyal following since opening in late 2013.

Dick and Julie met while attending the Athenian School, a college preparatory school located in Danville. Their romance blossomed while attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, where they studied in the Good Earth program, learning about what would eventually become known as organic farming. Dick also learned skills like boat building, while Julie ended up apprenticing for her ceramics professor, a skill she still uses to this day. Forty-one years later, they still use these tools to bring guests a dining experience like no other.

Along the way, Dick has worked as a fisherman, piloting a 19’ commercial fishing boat that he built from scratch, as a melon farmer, and as a wine aficionado. Julie apprenticed in ceramics during college and would go on to spend thirty years selling her pieces through galleries throughout the Bay Area. But she has always loved cooking, learning from both her parents and her grandparents, and followed that passion through various ventures here in the North Bay.

Dick and Julie opened the Tomales Deli back in 1980, which is where Dick really developed his passion for wine. Without a good distribution network in the area, Dick took it upon himself to make sure the deli was well stocked with local libations. His passion for wine would eventually drive him to open various wine bars around Petaluma, including Westside Wine Company, where Applebox now resides, as well as one over the current Opera House Gallery on Kentucky Street, across from Jamison’s Roaring Donkey, as well as a wine bar inside the front entrance of Petaluma Market.

In 1996, Dick and Julie opened Twisted Vine in the space currently occupied by Brixx. As a wine shop and restaurant, Twisted Vine combined the best of both worlds; wine and food. It was a much loved spot for both locals and visitors alike, but when staffing became difficult in the early 2000’s, the Warners closed the restaurant, retained the space they currently occupy, for Dick’s wine distribution business. Julie continued creating ceramics, along with kitchen stints at the venerable Preferred Sonoma Caterers and Olive and Vine in Glen Ellen.

In 2013, with their two daughters all grown up, Dick and Julie decided to open the more intimate Twisted 2, just down the hallway from their old Twisted Vine location. Located in the heart of the Lanmart Building (29 F Petaluma Boulevard North), Twisted 2 can be reached from either Kentucky Street or Petaluma Boulevard.

Upon approaching Twisted 2’s façade, it takes little imagination to feel as if you are walking up to a back alley bistro in a rustic European village, and the interior is just as warm and inviting. And much like our friends across the pond, it is not uncommon for Twisted 2’s guests to strike up conversations with neighboring tables, often in excitement that they are either visiting Twisted 2 for the first time, or that they are back because they love it so much. However, nothing is forced and the space never feels crowded or chaotic. Diners can just as easily have a solitarily romantic evening with their significant others, as make polite conversation with fellow diners.

The prix fixe menu consists of three First, Second, and Dessert courses, and four Mains. I suggest that you dine with at least two other people so you can try everything on the menu. Although the term “buyer’s remorse” could not possibly be used to describe a single choice on the menu, you will be missing out if you do not get a chance to taste everything.

The meal always starts with an “Amuse Bouche”, which literally translates to “mouth amuser.” Because of Dick’s connection to Couture Farms in the Central Valley, he offers their pistachio nuts alongside a light wine as a started. This is an unexpected start to what appears to be such a fancy dinner, but is right in line with how the Warners run their shop. Relaxed and friendly is a great way to describe the Warners, so this starter is apropos.

Even while marveling at the incoming First Courses, we always keep the amuse bouche of pistachio close at hand, having learned during prior visits that this particular nut acts as a great palette cleanser. With three of us, and three First Course choices, we were able to taste everything, which on this night included Ahi Sashimi with Asian Slaw, Prosciutto Wrapped Seared Ahi with Olive Tapenade and Rosemary Crackers, and a delicious savory Mushroom and Artichoke Heart Flan with Kohlrabi Salad. In deference to the meatless in our midst, Julie always offers a veggie option throughout the courses.

These were paired with a 2013 De Sante Old Vine Sauvignon Blanc from Napa. Although not normally a fan of white wine, I never doubt a Dick Warner wine selection. His wine knowledge is encyclopedic, so diners can sip with confidence, knowing that his selections will always enhance Julie’s dishes. And once you get to know Dick, it is not unusual for Dick to share a rare of little known vintage from his private stash with the wine lover in your party.

Next up was a perfectly balanced Romaine Caesar salad, a mixed green salad topped with Chiogga beets, pink lady apples, cotija cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and an apple cider vinairgrette, and Twisted 2’s Hearty Mushroom and Leek Soup, paired with Napa’s HdV’s 2014 Chardonnay.

HdV is a joint venture between Hyde Family, out of Napa Valley, and the de Villaine family of Burgundy who are best known for their highly prized Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines. As an added treat, Dick poured us a glass of HdV’s highly anticipated, and instantly sold-out, Ygnacia pinot noir.

Our main courses were a Grilled Ahi served over rice noodles with Asian veggies, oyster mushrooms and Thai basil pesto, a Petaluma’s Progressive Pastures Beef cut of the day, dipped in duck fat and grilled with roasted creamer potatoes, and a tea smoked Petaluma Liberty Duck breast with hibiscus reduction sauce and jasmine brown rice. Thankfully, each one was better than the last, so sharing tastes and plates was an amazing adventure round and round our table.

Julie also treated us to a sample of the veggie entrée, which was Risotto y Fagioli with farro, black orca beans, butternut squash, arugula, leeks, and asiago cheese. The flavors and textures were so inspiring, that we have been experimenting with farro in our own kitchen ever since.

Always generous with his wine pairings, Dick chose two pinot noirs for the main courses; a Benovia pinot from the Russian River and a Hart’s Desire pinot, sourced from a tiny vineyard on Petaluma’s Eastman Lane. I have driven Eastman Lane many times but always thought that was a hobby vineyard until Dick introduced us to this excellent wine.

Last up, dessert took center stage at our table. For the fourth time in the evening, each dish seemed to taste better than the last. We start with Julie’s grandmother’s Meyer lemon pudding, followed by a Chocolate espresso torte with Crème Anglaise and red raspberry sauce, and a flourless walnut cake with caramel sauce and whipped cream. To top it all off, Dick poured us glasses of Muscat and late harvest zinfandel.

Because of what Julie creates from simple ingredients in Twisted 2’s tiny kitchen, I could never say that dinner without wine would be a waste, but the two are as perfectly matched as Dick and Julie themselves. However, you will be missing a once in a lifetime experience if you pass up on the perfect wine and food pairings that Dick and Julie work so tirelessly to create.

“Julie is the best natural chef I’ve ever seen,” says Dick. “She can throw together a gourmet meal from what I might consider an empty fridge. And when it comes to pairing wine and food, we do exactly what you think we do,” continues Dick. “We taste thousands of wines each year. We taste them, talk about them, and then try to figure out what they would go best with. It’s a combined effort.”

The prix fixe price of $110 with wine ($70 without) is a bargain based on what a comparable dinner plus wine would cost elsewhere. However, you would be hard pressed to find the rarity, complexity, or generosity that Dick offers from even the most experienced sommeliers at the fanciest city restaurant because few have the connections to, and knowledge of, the wineries they are pouring that Dick has built up over a lifetime of work within the wine industry. Nevertheless, if you do opt for wine, make sure you designate a driver, or take a cab, because you may be twisted too once you polish off all those glasses of wine.

With such a small dining room, Dick and Julie easily keep a watchful eye on our progress as we ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ our way through each course and wine pairing. Pauses between courses are perfectly timed so that guests can enjoy a few pistachios and a sip or two of what wine may remain before their glasses are refilled with something new. Service is always timely, but with roughly 2 ½ hours allotted per party, the Twisted 2 experience is always a relaxed one.

Years ago, Jeff Cox stated that, “Everything about this place is comfortable and unpretentious,” when writing about Twisted Vine for the Press Democrat. Almost two decades later, this statement still holds true for the Warner’s more intimate and profound Twisted 2.

The Warners could easily brag that they studied “organic” farming and offered “farm to table” cuisine before either became a catch phrase. Most of their produce comes from their own garden and they serve meats from Petaluma’s most respected purveyors. Their fish is line-caught in the mercury-free waters of Hawaii and flown in fresh each week. Julie even created all the pottery dishes used in the dining room and their custom “Twisted 2” steak knives were a gift from one of Dick’s longtime clients.

However, the Warners avoid pretention, which is what sets Twisted 2 apart from equally delicious choices in the big city, and what makes Dick and Julie true Petaluma treasures. This also helps explain why locals choose Twisted 2 for special occasions, as well as when they simply want a great meal, instead of trekking out of town to restaurants that often cannot match Twisted 2’s flavors, or Dick and Julies talents.

Twisted 2 is only open Thursday through Saturday, from 5 – 8:30 PM, so reservations are strongly recommended.