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Petaluma’s Drawing Board keeps it fresh

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After parting ways with the founding chef, Drawing Board owner Rosie Wiggins literally went back to the drawing board to reshape her menu and rejuvenate her staff. However, the core values which led her to the concept for the Drawing Board since day one are ever present, which is how this barely year old restaurant can take on an ageless feel, as if it has always been, and will always be a part of Petaluma’s downtown culture.

It was serendipity that Chef Kevin Katsolis came onto the scene exactly when the Drawing Board needed him, and with precisely the attitude and chops required to maintain and grow its young, yet hard won reputation intact.

“For his interview, he prepared a faro and mussel dish that blew me away,” says Rosie. Katsolis was formerly the chef at The Bywater in Los Gatos, which is one of the restaurants run by Michelin Starred chef, David Kinch. As luck would have it, Katsolis’s wife was born and raised in Petaluma and wanted to return to her home town once their first child arrived, and local diners have been thankful ever since.

From menu changes to drink specials, everything is collaborative at the Drawing Board. “We have an actual drawing board in the kitchen,” continues Rosie. “There are no egos in our kitchen or behind the bar. If someone comes up with a good idea, the whole team is gets excited.” Simply put, everything just works, and offers guests a vibrant, yet relaxing atmosphere.

With a good portion of my food crew on hand, we were fortunate enough to try most of the menu, which included many new items, as well as old favorites.

“I never say never, but there are certain items that will always be on the menu,” says Rosie about featured elements, such as the Carrot Lox, which even as a vegan dish, is one we order every visit. Another crowd favorite is the Chickpea Fries, with serrano crema, which along with many other menu items, is gluten free.

Often a menu modification will hold more misses than hits, but each new dish that arrived at our table seemed to be better than the last. We started with the Black Garlic Ghee, which is basically the best clarified butter you have ever had. This is topped with fermented black garlic, which is all the rage right now, and for deliciously good reason. The accompanying warm sourdough, from Revolution Bakery, makes this anything but your standard bread and butter started.

In fact, along with several other dishes, we ordered a second serving of the Black Garlic Ghee because it deserved an immediate revisit. Another similarly presented, and equally exquisite bread spread was the Chicken Liver Mousse, topped with rooibos jam and spiced pickled fruit.

As we have come to expect from the Drawing Board, everything was excellent, but we returned the following night for two dishes in particular because they were truly spectacular. The firefighter in my crew proclaimed the meatballs to be the best he has ever had, and after careful consideration, with the help of an immediate second order, none of us could argue otherwise. Served over long-stewed tomatoes and covered in dandelion gremolata, this is a must-order dish.

Then came the coup d’état. “I know you aren’t a huge fan of veggies,” chuckles Rosie, “which is why I wanted you to try the Roasted Rainbow Florets.” Rosie is not shy about calling me out on my lack of enthusiasm for veggie dishes, but her Roasted Rainbow Florets, with fish sauce, mint, cilantro, and togarashi puffed rice is pure perfection. We not only took a run at an additional order that night, but also returned the following evening to savor it again. This may have been the first time I have returned to a restaurant specifically for a veggie dish, and the very next night at that.

I have so much faith in what Rosie is doing that I order the Drawing Board’s meatless dishes without hesitation. If all vegetarian fare tasted as good as their Black Garlic Ghee and Bread, Carrot Lox, Mushroom Bisque Winter Soup, and Roasted Rainbow Florets, I might seriously consider partaking in “meatless Mondays.” Although, it certainly would help if they were always held at the Drawing Board.

However, meat lovers do not despair because the Drawing Board knows their way around the ranch. The Korean spiced chicken skewers are an excellent example of this. We also relished the Three Tacos, which are available either vegetarian or in brilliant brisket, both slathered in chimichurri and topped with white cheddar, on corn tortillas. These were followed by the three Beffa Springs Ranch beef sliders, which are covered in caramelized onions, house special sauce, cheddar, and sandwiched between house-made brioche buns. Additionally, their Applewood smoked bacon and free-range organic grilled chicken are the perfect add-ons for the Benny of the Day, Breakfast Sandwich, Buckwheat Pancakes, and Brunch Tacos, offered on the weekends.

The Drawing Board has several specials that have quickly gaining recognition among downtown foodies. The first is their weekend brunch, available with a bottomless mimosa. Another is Wine Sunday, with half-off all wine by the glass from 4 P.M. until close. A third is “TDB’s Happiest Hours”, which run from 4 – 6 P.M., plus the last kitchen hour of each night, Tuesday thru Sunday. Drinks are $3 for draft beers, $4 for keg wine, and $5 for well liquor. $6 will get you any of four dishes - Chickpea Fries, Seasonal Salad, Deviled Eggs, and a pair of meat or veggie tacos. To top it off, well cocktails, including a Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned, and Classic Martini are only $8. It is little wonder that most guests come for the cocktail atmosphere.

Rosie credits the Drawing Board’s growing success to her staff. However, it is her masterful job of finding the right people for the right positions, which gives them the room and encouragement to explore their passions. Whether it the general manager Anne Choe, bar manager Jenn Moonbrick, or Chef Kevin Katsolis, they have each taken a level of ownership that is rare to see in a restaurant these days.

Everyone seems to support everyone else, which makes the service excellent. In fact, it is not unusual to see Rosie serving tables, both to back up her staff, and so she can meet her guests. This helps explain the consistently great service, and feels so natural, even when the menus are anything but constant, focused on capturing the seasons’ ever-changing moods and offerings.

In regard to the ever changing seasons, the Drawing Board will introduce a weekly ultra farm fresh prix fix dining option shortly. “Seasonal offerings change weekly, not quarterly,” says Rosie. “We want to dial in to directly what is happen on the farms and ranches here in our community today, not weeks, or even months ago.” If you want to taste the season, this will be the way to do it. In their continued move towards zero waste, there will be a limited number of dinners available each week, so the Drawing Board will allow for reservations ahead of time. In order to cut down on confusion, as well as give the entire table a chance to try the various starters, entrees, and desserts, the whole table will be required to order the prix fix dinner, if they choose to go that way. I foresee these dinners going fast, as regular customers are likely to add themselves permanently to every week’s reservation list.

No matter how many dishes we devour at the Drawing Board, we never come away feeling bloated or overstuffed. Rosie attributes this to the healthy local ingredients, as well as the care that the kitchen puts into their preparation. “You won’t find any canola oil in our kitchen,” says Rosie. More importantly, nothing is overdone, and everything is ultra-fresh. Along these lines, the Drawing Board is breaking ground on their own ½ acre farm, relying on heirloom seeds from the Seed Bank. Additionally, Rosie is attending culinary school so she is in a better position to assist with the kitchen.

In other exciting news, bar manager Moonbrick’s husband will be reopening the coffee bar at the Drawing Board’s Kentucky Street window, Tuesday thru Saturday, from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. with some of the best coffee in town, including apothecary-inspired creations.

The restaurant’s name came in a roundabout way, after every name Rosie could think of ended up being taken by others. A friend suggested the Drawing Board because that is what she would constantly be returning to in order to bring the community ever-changing seasonal offerings, through both the food and cocktail menu. “TDB” is quickly becoming a house-hold name, so clearly Rosie made the right choice.

Rosie jokes that even when people mistakenly call the restaurant “TBD”, that too is not that far from the truth. When it comes to hyper seasonal fare everything is either “to be determined” or currently on “the drawing board”, so always in a state of flux. This lends itself well to the Drawing Boards new menu, which is both simplified and easier to understand than in the past. Unlike some restaurants, where the menu is stale and goes on forever, Rosie and her staff have created a manageable menu, which shows its diversity through variations to ingredients, which are driven by the changing seasons.

The Drawing Board is an experience. Although even daily visitors will witness new menu items, both in cuisine and cocktails, the experience is constantly phenomenal both for the palette and the soul. The ambiance starts with a beautiful space, meticulously built by Rosie and her talented group of local friends, and is sustained and encouraged by the skill and attitude of a staff that treats customers like guests and guests like family.