Petaluma’s Le Bistro chef Corey Basso heads to Seared

Editor’s Update: Seared Chef Joe O’Donnell has informed us that Seared will continue Chef Basso’s Tuesday night specials for at least the next several months, until Chef Basso leaves for vacation.

We have been regulars at Seared since they first opened back in 2013 but rarely make it past the happy hour menu, which is affordable, abundant with choices and full of excellent flavors.

Over the years we have also been both guests and hosts in the River Room, which is a great banquet room with its own private bar, small outdoor deck and view of the river. Whenever we are looking to book a special occasion dinner, Seared is always one of our top choices.

The food is what I would call “basic fancy” in that it is thoughtfully designed and excellently prepared, but steers clear of trendy buzzwords like “foam” and “deconstructed.”

The drinks are prime and the service is always spot on, from the newest member of the staff to the most veteran. Although Seared had a bit of a rocky start when it first opened, the owners quickly dialed things in and have since saved us all from the need to drive out of town for great steak and seafood dinners.

Another stellar Petaluma restaurant was Le Bistro, which closed in 2017. But as fate would have it, it had a bit of a resurrection at Seared last year. Le Bistro was run by chef Corey Basso, who for years whipped up a limited but incredible menu for the half-dozen tables of his tiny Petaluma Boulevard South eatery. After running his restaurant almost single handedly from his tiny kitchen, chef Basso decided to sell. Rumor had it that he was going to travel for a bit but after a while, nobody seemed to know where he went, yet everyone still reminisced about his excellent food.

The majority of Le Bistro’s guests had been going for years, and Basso knew most by name. Our family had been dining with him for so long that even though she insisted he call her by her first name, to the very end he always referred to my mother as Mrs. Porter because that is how he knew her when they first met. When it came time to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday, Basso was nice enough to open on his days off so that our whole family could celebrate with her at her favorite restaurant. Fast forward to the spring of 2019 and fellow chef Caro Emery announced that she had found Basso – he was working in the kitchen at Seared. There was an immediate demand from his fans, many of whom had begun salivating over thoughts of his famous halibut. Knowing Seared’s chef/co-owner Joe O’Donnell through years of friendship with his father (McNear’s owner and Seared co-owner Kenny O’Donnell), I reached out to see if Joe O’Donnell would consider allowing Basso to offer a special menu for his fans.

A St. Vincent High and Cordon Bleu grad, chef O’Donnell knows great food. Much to his credit, he jumped at the opportunity, encouraged by the clamoring on social media for Basso’s Le Bistro menu. Chef Basso’s junior by at least a couple of decades, I give chef O’Donnell major kudos for listening to what Petalumans want, and for being willing to share the spotlight.

Then again, Joe’s father, Kenny, has helped tutor many Petaluma restaurant and bar owners over the years. The major piece of advice he always gives is that to succeed in Petaluma you have to listen to Petaluma. Petalumans are well traveled, have sophisticated palates and know what we want, so it never hurts to listen.

By late spring, chef O’Donnell announced that on Tuesday nights, Seared’s specials menu would include a couple of Basso’s classic creations. The response was overwhelming. Weekly, diners were posting photos and rave reviews to social media and Tuesday nights started to attract a regular following at Seared.

Coming into the 2019 holiday season, we ourselves had yet to make into Seared for a Tuesday night dinner, even though we have dined there multiple other nights of the week. When making plans to dine out with our friend Patricia and her daughter Darlene De Bernardi, a CPA here in Petaluma, we made sure Seared was on the menu, due to our longtime shared love of Le Bistro.

When the Tuesday arrived, the skies had turned black with rain clouds and Petaluma received the first major downpour of the season. That did not dampen any of our spirits, although it did a number on our clothes, as we headed into Seared for what we anticipated would be yet another excellent meal.

The dining room was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday night, which is usually fairly dead in Petaluma. However, as those around us ordered, we could hear the name “Le Bistro” and “chef Corey” mentioned again and again. Three of us ordered Basso’s famous halibut, which is the one on the Tuesday specials menu, not the regular menu. Because Seared’s steak is also always so good, no matter what night of the week you order it, we chose the surf and turf for our fourth dish, which was a “Flannery beef 5-ounce filet, day boat scallops, crème fraîche mash, Bloomsdale spinach, shiitake jus and demi-glace.” Although we missed John Brenes giving us wine suggestions, as it was his night off, our server was excellent as always. It is interesting to note that a good portion of the staff at Seared has been there since the beginning, which says a lot for how well the restaurant is run and how well they treat their staff.

Needless to say, the halibut was as good as we all remembered. And the steak and scallops were as perfectly cooked as I have ever had, which seems to be the case no matter when we visit Seared and no matter who is working the grill. Chef O’Donnell runs a tight ship, which explains how he and his restaurant keep winning Petaluma People’s Choice Awards each year. To date, they have earned 14 awards, including everything from best restaurant, steak, seafood, American/California cuisine, cocktails and farm-to-table restaurant, not to mention the highly coveted “Best Chef” award, which O’Donnell has earned multiple times.

When it comes to drinks, I always prefer to order glass or two of port wine before, during and after my meals. Seared is one of the only restaurants where I do not hesitate to order port; too many restaurants let port sit on the shelf after it is stale. Seared also has my favorites, the Taylor Fladgate 10 and 20 years old tawnies.

For dessert, we opted for all three offerings as soon as we heard that each was served with Mariposa Creamery ice cream. Although I cannot remember the exact combos, they were all delicious with a variety of brownie sundae, bread pudding and Basso’s amazing pecan pie, paired with Mariposa’s chocolate peanut butter pretzel, salted caramel and vanilla ice cream.

Chef Basso was gracious enough to come out to our table to say hello, which made the night that much more special for both us and our guests. Basso walked the dining room like a local celebrity, waving “hellos” to his many fans.

Although Basso’s special Tuesday menu has come to an end for the season, our meal reminded us of several things. First and foremost, Seared is one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, whether we are simply visiting for happy hour, attending a banquet or ordering in the main dining room from the full menu. Second, Basso still has his chops in the kitchen and so we look forward to seeing more of him in the future. And finally, Petaluma is a community that not only loves great food, but remembers and honors our favorites.

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