Petaluma cafe Della Fattoria gets some new and improved changes

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As I’m waiting for my appetizers to arrive at Della Fattoria, I’m sipping a crisp Taft Street Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($12) and watching a gentleman train a young server on how to set the restaurant’s tables.

The gentleman is detailed in his directions. The knife and fork should be spaced just-so away from the napkin in the center. The water glass and wine glass should be at an angle from each other — it’s important for aesthetics that they not sit right next to each other. The vase of fresh flowers goes here, and the votive candle goes there.

When the server admits to feeling a little nervous, the gentleman replies kindly, “That’s OK, that’s why we’re doing this.”

If the routine seems a bit fussy for a casual, downtown Petaluma café that doubles as a bakery, there’s a reason. A few months ago, after 14 years of focusing on breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and a stint with a prix fixe, single-choice Friday night dinner, Della Fattoria branched into full dinner service.

Owner Kathleen Weber knocked out some walls and expanded the petite café into three new spaces, opening a grab-n-go shop and bakery in one section, turning the former dining room into a kitchen, and morphing the former event space into a new, larger dining room.

The changes are dramatic. Formerly tight-set tables are now gracefully spread out, including the large communal table. What was formerly the bakery case area is now a sit-down wine bar backed by tall steel shelves stocked with Northern California, French and Italian labels.

And the already eclectic décor has spun even wilder. Chandeliers share the ceiling with a large embossed drum pendant light and tree branches strung with tiny white lightbulbs. Brick and concrete walls are hung with mismatched mirrors, antique portraits and a huge red heart art piece, while a mirrored mosaic cat preens on a low table in front of comfy couches. Weber’s daughter Elisa did the design, and I want my own home to look like this.

For now, Weber is keeping the dinner menu simple. Offered only Thursday through Saturday, it spans seven appetizers, seven entrées and four desserts. Chef de cuisine Stephane St. Louis and executive chef Aaron Weber plan to add a prix fixe tasting by fall for those of us who find it difficult to choose among the many delicious options, like Weber Ranch heirloom tomato and burrata ($12) or a summer squash and corn fritter ($14).

They’re both great choices, the burrata dressed with pesto, pine nuts, watercress and rosemary-Meyer lemon drizzle, and the golden fritter dolloped with crème fraiche alongside tart pickled onions and an avocado, frisée and herb salad.

Some guests may fret that Della charges for bread ($6 for focaccia with EVOO), but keep in mind that the bakery is famous for its artisanal loaves.

They’re made with fine ingredients like organic flours, Brittany sea salt, local extra virgin olive oils, and instead of commercial yeast, a natural starter featuring Weber’s own Petaluma ranch-grown grapes.

The hand-shaped loaves are baked directly on the hearth of a wood-burning oven, and it should be noted that Martha Stewart once visited the bakery for a lesson on dough shaping.

The Della chefs like bright, sparkly flavors, letting the premium seasonal ingredients sing.

Watermelon and feta are perfect pairings on their own, in a play of sweet-salty, but the kitchen amps up the combination, tossing in sweet and salty walnuts, fennel, watercress and whisper-bitter tarragon-chive oil ($12).

Havarti adds even more butter notes to polenta, too, the big, creamy, griddle-golden corn cake topped in a rainbow of nightly changing al dente vegetables ($13). Mild, flaky ling cod gets a flavor boost from a tart lemon-caper-parsley butter sauce; the sautéed fish is set atop baby leek soubise sauce with seasoned rice ($24).

There is a superb raviolo, as well, delivering a giant pasta pocket that takes up the entire plate ($22).

Lacy edges are anchored by a plump middle stuffed with braised, pulled short rib, ricotta and vegetable ragout, all doused in rib jus and finished with pine nuts, shaved Parmesan and microgreens.

My first few bites found the jus overly salty, but then it grew on me.

Chicken is more straightforward, roasted to a crispy skin and flooded in jus that laps into sides of warm couscous salad, parsnip puree and baby bok choy ($24).

And the burger is everything a burger should be — thick and beefy rich under a cap of sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onion compote, spicy pepato cheese, baby greens, green aioli and fire-roasted catsup ($19).

It’s easier for me to skip dessert now, since the new layout moved the pastry case from the dining room to the bakery.

But the olive oil cake sways me, and I savor the moist, lemon-infused slab finished with bruléed peaches and mascarpone cream ($8). A perfect finale.

As owner, Weber is the first to admit that expanding the Della space and adding dinner has put challenging demands on her already very busy team. It’s a big investment, she says. But I, for one, would reply: “That’s OK, I’m very glad you’re doing this.”

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