Petaluma’s Drawing Board redefining healthy cuisine

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The Drawing Board can almost be classified as a comeback kid, much like its founder, Rosie Wiggins. Although construction delays gave Wiggins the opportunity to fine-tune the décor and menu, its length ran the risk of turning off potential Petaluma diners. However, the combination of phenomenal food, creative cocktails and a crew that truly cares about the communal space they have nurtured into existence, the Drawing Board appears to be an instant success.

The downtown space is clean, open and airy, with sunlight flowing in through the huge windows in the afternoon and evening. Suspended garden boxes and antique lighting fixtures hang from heavy beams to help the Drawing Board retain a sense of warmth and community.

The table rounds were sourced locally from the stumps of fallen trees, while the bench seating came from racehorse legend Seabiscuit’s stable, through Petaluma’s Heritage Salvage.

Wiggins met chef and co-owner Ariel Nadelberg while Nadelberg was creating culinary masterpieces at Seed & Salt, which is a gluten-free, sugar-free vegan restaurant in San Francisco.

“I couldn’t believe how good the food was,” says Wiggins of Seed & Salt. “And once we started to talk about how health is about more than just what we consume, we knew our philosophies were aligned.”

With a group of seven, we ordered just about everything on the small plates, snacks, and sweets menus. Although some of the descriptions left us wondering, our servers were forthcoming with simple explanations, like, “the Smoked Allium Dashi is like French Onion meets Miso soup,” which by the way was one of the most delicious, yet most simple dishes. I say “servers” because the entire staff serves the entire restaurant at the Drawing Board. “I prefer our ‘pooled tip’ method,” says Wiggins, “because I’m finding it helps foster a greater sense of teamwork.”

Meat-eaters should not despair. What Nadelberg does for veggies is nothing compared to what she does for carnivores. From our first taste of her Duck Cassoulet at Drawing Board’s soft opening, through the Grilled Chicken, with market panzanella and lemon caper noisette, and all the way to her braised lamb shank with white beans, fennel salad and salsa verde, Nadelberg’s mastery of meat is unsurpassed.

The Drawing Board has an intangible that will keep it from feeling like a hipster hangout, even though it is truly hip. Oddly enough, this ethereal characteristic stems from Wiggins’ inner beauty, coupled with the fact that she is a first time restaurateur. She truly has no ego, and along with being wise beyond her years, knows how to manage the team.

“We lean on and learn from each other,” says Wiggins of her highly capable staff, which includes team members such as mixologist Jennifer Grossbard and bar manager Garrecht Metzger, both of which put their heart and soul into getting the most out of the liquor license that came with the space. “Originally, the idea was to offer breakfast,” continues Wiggins. “But with all the great craft brewers, distillers, and vintners at our fingertips, we couldn’t resist expanding on the bar idea.” Readers have made it a point to let me know that the Drawing Board stocks top shelf makers, even for their well drinks.

We ordered several libations, including specialty cocktails with names like Dreamweaver, Westucky and Saturn Returns, which contained local and uber-seasonal ingredients like yarrow, dill and spruce. We also had some classic cocktails with updated ingredients such as the French 75, Hemingway Daquiri and Petaluma Boulevardier.

A rarity, I actually enjoyed the cocktails, and would not hesitate to order any one of them again. The underlying theme across all the cocktails was a sense of freshness. This comes in large part because of the high quality liquor but can also be attributed to the botanical nature of the rest of the ingredients. And although a $12 price tag may cause a bit of sticker shock, this is actually a bargain when compared to other bars that are creating run-of-the-mill drinks, from low quality national brand liquors.

As the restaurant filled up, just about every other group that entered included people we know. Wiggins’ idea of a communal space is certainly coming to fruition, illustrated by the fact that on the night we visited, we saw so many people we knew that we lost count.

Drawing Board has quickly attracted a wonderful cross section of Petaluma, from young to old, and from veggie to carnivore. In just one visit, we ran into work associates, old friends and acquaintances we had not seen in years. The ambiance and elegantly rustic bar may bring them in, but the food will certainly have customers returning for more. In fact, more than one friend has liked the food so much on their first visit, that they returned the very next evening to make a go at more of the menu.

The Drawing Board has just opened their coffee bar, conveniently offering top quality Flying Goat Coffee and homemade, local teas directly to passersby through a large window on Kentucky Street. Customers are loving that they do not have to go into a coffee shop in order to grab a quick cup of Joe.

The Drawing Board is set to start serving brunch on April 15, with a menu that will get any vegan, paleo, gluten-free or meat-eater more than excited. And early an preview shows dishes like sweet potato pancakes with maple ginger cashew butter, sweet and savory Moroccan quinoa porridge, and shakshouka, which is an Middle-Eastern dish of eggs pouched in tomatoes, chili peppers, onions and spices.

“As with all our food, we are more interested in discovering what we’ve already known than inventing something synthetic and sterile,” says Wiggins of all Drawing Board’s menu items.

Wiggins seems to understand that true success is more about everyone feeling like they are contributing to something substantive than mere dollars and cents. It is about fulfillment and community, above profits. Regardless, I believe Drawing Board will be a financial success too, based in part, on how busy they are, but also because they are in a class of restaurant where the quality of food, drink and sense of community override any concern about pricing.

That being said, we found every item we tried to be well worth the bill and the staff to be so thoughtful and accommodating that we look forward to future visits. Guests will naturally be drawn back to the Drawing Board again and again because it is a healthy place to be for body, mind and soul.

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