Cocktail hour at Rosen’s

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The Art & Garden festival has become a downtown staple in mid-July over the past decade and a half. A fundraiser for the Petaluma Downtown Association, it is a fun mix of house and garden wares, live music and great local food and drink.

This year we arrived early so we could visit the many restaurant and catering friends who were setting up, which included Stockhome, Preferred Sonoma Caters, War Wagon BBQ, Penngrove Market, Gator’s, Brasil BBQ, Sonoma Spice Queen, Mariposa Ice Creamery and Wine by the Slice, just to name a few. Once the event is up and running, these folks have no time to visit but in the early morning hours, it is a great time for me to visit with them and find out anything new that might be coming down the pike.

We also wanted to buy our food tickets before the line got long and due to the event’s growing popularity, we were glad we did.

Once the event started, we visited with the multiples of friends we ran into while meandering around and traded our tickets in for ridiculously good ribs, smoked beans and summer corn from War Wagon BBQ, spectacular sausage paella from Gerard’s Paella of Santa Rosa and savory beef and lamb kebab “tacos” from Stockhome, where recent Michelin Bib Gourmand winner Chef Roberth Sundell was front and center to meet, greet and serve his customers.

Speaking of paella, we recently returned from Spain, where each of the half-dozen times we tried paella, I would proclaim that either I must not be much of a paella guy or else “that stuff I had in Petaluma a while back was truly spectacular.”

After devouring a steaming bowl of paella from Garard’s, I know it is the latter. I am a huge fan of paella but find our Northern California version more to my liking than what we came across in Spain, as crazy as that might seem.

For drinks we enjoyed a couple beers from HenHouse and 101 North, plus cocktail samples from Sonoma Coast Spirits and Griffo. However, the heat was starting to get to us and because we were visiting with friends and wanted to sit down and chat, we decided to head elsewhere for a tall cool one or two.

Although we did not have a chance to stop in to visit Billie from Rosen’s 256 North, after an hour of walking around, Rosen’s seemed like the perfect choice for a cocktail, so we headed over to 256 Petaluma Boulevard North to see what they could throw together for us.

Although “closed” for a private event, Rosen’s is large enough that owner Jan let us sit at the end of the bar closest to the door. The cocktails we were treated to at Rosen’s really blew us all away, even those of us who prefer a cold beer to a mixed libation.

However, to start, two of us went simple – one with a pint of beer and other a glass of port. The beer was HenHouse’s current “Stoked on…”, their single hop series, which is a great way to learn which hops you like and do not like. This iteration was Stoked on Belma, which is a hop with mild citrus, melon and grapefruit notes, but is especially well known for the aroma of strawberries.

The other went with a glass of Norton port from Sonoma Portworks. Norton is America’s first grape, cultivated in the early 1830s, first in Virginia and then in Missouri, where it is the official state grape.

In 1873, a Norton wine from Missouri won gold at the Vienna World Exposition and was hailed by some critics as the first U.S. grape to give European wines a run for their money and would someday rival the best that Europe had to offer.

However, Prohibition saw most of the Norton vineyards uprooted and it was only rediscovered and revived recently. As far as using it for a port wine, I had never seen it done in modern times, until we visit Sonoma Portworks a few years ago.

It creates a very unique port with a very punchy grapey flavor, unlike any other port I have experienced, and with three trips to Portugal already under my belt, port wine is something I have quite a bit of experience with.

Both of us were quite happy with our selections until we realized just how special the two cocktails were that our dates ordered. One was a Sidecar while the other was something called Strawberry Fields Forever.

Sidecars are seeing a resurgence, as are many other classic cocktails like Manhattan’s, Old Fashion’s and Negroni’s, thanks in large part to the emergence of locally produced high quality spirits.

The Sidecar is said to have been invented at Harry’s New York Bar on Paris’ Right Bank. Known as one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts, the bar was actually dismantled and shipped straight from New York, hence the name, and claims to have invented the Bloody Mary and the Paris 75 (made with gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar.)

A Sidecar is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur (often Grand Marnier) and lemon juice. It is a fairly simple drink but the flavors are perfectly balanced and elevated with the addition of a lemon or orange peel and a sugared rim. As this was my first taste of a Sidecar, I have nothing to compare it to but generally am not a fan of mixed drinks. Others in our group confirmed that this was a particularly good sidecar and one worth returning for.

The standard Strawberry Fields Forever often adds strawberry puree along with a heavy dose of mint to a cognac base. That sounds fine, but Rosen’s was truly spectacular.

Theirs consisted of fresh strawberries, muddled before our eyes, mixed with high quality vodka, basil and a balsamic reduction. The flavor was refreshingly simple even though those ingredients are more likely to be found in a dessert than a cocktail.

With one of the biggest and best appointed bars in Sonoma County, Rosen’s offers plenty of room to spread out. Even on a busy night, the bar never feels crowded and the staff, managers and owner are always welcoming.

We look forward to returning to try more cocktails, although we will be hard pressed to pass up on enjoying at least one more Sidecar and Strawberry Fields Forever.

Thankfully Petaluma now has a respectable number of cabs and Ubers that we can enjoy more than one cocktail without putting the public at risk.

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