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Living up to the Rosen family name at 256 North

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Rosen’s 256 North has gone through a plethora of changes since first opening in March 2017, including the recent addition of a new chef, a fine-tuning of the menu and a subtle but distinct rebranding. What remains the same is owner Jan Rosen’s touches, like the simple elegance of her dining room, and her old-school generosity, both with her attention and the dining experience.

Although started as simply 256 North, which is the restaurant’s address along Petaluma Boulevard North, the “Rosen” branding has become more conspicuous as of late, to the point that longtime fans are now simply referring to it as “Rosen’s.” The Rosen name is known throughout Sonoma County for great food and hospitality, whether referring to Rosen’s world-famous cheesecakes, or any of the restaurants that Jan has operated throughout Sonoma County, including Petaluma’s Rosen’s Eastside Grill, Salad Mill and J.M. Rosen’s Waterfront Grill. However, the new Rosen’s is quietly setting its sights on replacing her most popular past restaurant, the silver service icon, J.M. Rosen, which used to reside at Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.

Where other restaurants pride themselves on being fancy, at Rosen’s it is the experience, along with the great food, that makes a visit special. Jan and her crew go out of their way to make sure that new visitors and regulars alike have a great dining experience. In fact, Rosen’s has quickly become our favorite location for special events, or even just a quick dinner on the town, because we know that even the most simple of dishes is going to be excellent, and the staff is going to take care of us.

Finding good servers, especially to cover such a vast restaurant, is quite a challenge these days, but we are starting to see regular faces around Rosen’s who seem to be up to the task. Whether it is Amy at the bar, servers Teddie, Jazmin or Chris, or a quick check in from manager Billie, the staff makes everyone feel welcome.

Another thing to cherish about Rosen’s is the dining room’s multiple seating options, from the huge bar, to high-top tables, to dining room seating, to booths, to a banquet room for your business meetings and holiday lunches. Even when only half-full (equal to the same number of diners at any other restaurant in Petaluma at full capacity), or when there is a live band performing, the large site allows for the tables to be well spaced, which means even in the middle of the dining room, you have plenty of privacy with your dinner companions. Along with the benefit of not feeling claustrophobic, the size of the restaurant means that even when fully booked, you will never feel rushed to finish your meal.

It must be said that no visit to Rosen’s is complete without a sampling of J.M. Rosen’s cheesecakes. Although not a cheesecake, the one cake that always requires a reorder at our table is the Italian lemon mascarpone, along with a glass or two of port.

Rosen’s has a respectable happy hour from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 3-5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. With prices ranging from $3-$7 for food and $2-$6 for drinks, this is one of our favorite happy hours in town. Three standout items are the prime rib sliders, shrimp roll and Jan’s famous egg salad crostini. The sliders are surprisingly tender and juicy, even for prime rib. The shrimp roll is perfectly sweet, with a butter-grilled bread that takes it to the next level. The egg salad crostini’s capers complement the saltiness of the smoke salmon topping.

Although Rosen’s does not offer a brunch menu, there are a couple of brunch items on the weekend lunch menu, including an excellent eggs benedict and a rotating omelet.

Along with nightly specials, driven by local availability of fish and meat, Rosen’s also has a dedicated special each night of the week. This is a throwback to when families had a regular night they dined out. The weekly specials start on Tuesday with a stuffed chicken breast with madeira wine sauce, followed by Wednesday’s fried prawns (and no corkage fee), Thursday’s meatloaf with mashed potatoes, Friday and Saturday’s choice of either 12- or 18-ounce prime rib, and Sunday’s spaghetti and meatballs in both an adult and child size.

We started with a glass of fine Allagash White, to accompany our appetizers. A Belgian witbier, the brew’s coriander and Curacao orange peel highlights went great with the soups, salads and starters. On this night, we went with two new dishes — the Saltspring mussels and the ahi poké.

Twice the size of those from Canada’s Prince Edward Island, which is where most restaurants source their mussels, these Saltspring Island mussels are a special breed raised closer to home, in the waters of British Columbia. Often large mussels will lack flavor, but these are delicious. They are cooked with shallots and a Spanish-style chorizo, which is more flavorful than its spicy Mexican cousin, and are doused in a heavenly saffron cream sauce.

Simply put, the ahi poké is one of the best we have had in recent memory. The tuna is fresh and cubed large, and the wonton chips are big enough to handle the job, and plentiful enough to last until the end. Unlike many pokés, where all the flavors are combined into one marinade, Rosen’s uses a soy-ginger marinade and then accents the large lip of the serving bowl with wasabi aioli, so diners can add heat based on the individual’s palette.

On Jan’s recommendation, we tried a new wine she has just added to the menu from Orin Swift Cellars called Palermo. Unlike a lot of other Napa Valley cabernets, this one has more of a French flavor and went perfectly with both meat and fish dishes.

For the mains, we tried the special, a mild flavor but medium textured patrole sole, which is West Coast species of fish known for being a good source of low-fat protein and calcium. Jan tops hers with a superb white wine lemon butter sauce, and pairs it with mashed potatoes and broccolini.

That is one of the benefits of Jan’s decades of experience she brings to Rosen’s kitchen — she does not need to specialize in one type of cuisine as everything she creates comes out top notch. This is one of the things that sets Rosen’s apart from most other local restaurants. Whether in the mood for chicken, fish, steak or pasta, or something a little more exotic, like ahi poké or chicken potpie, Jan has been in the restaurant business long enough that she will not put something on the menu unless she can make it the best around.

It warrants special mention that when we asked several employees, including Rosen’s chef Jessica Knudsen (who is a Napa native and Cordon Blue graduate) about their favorite dish, they all immediately said the chicken marsala. The bed of gnocchi is a nice touch, but it was the sauce that had us dipping every carbohydrate available to us, from French fries to the happy hour pretzel we nibbled throughout dinner.

A throwback to a bygone era, it only takes a couple of visits at Rosen’s 256 North before first-timers become regulars. It is not uncommon to see Jan paying visits to tables around the restaurant, often with hugs hello and goodbye, and on special occasions, a treat from the kitchen, like last week’s distinct and delicious smoked swordfish, which is not available on the menu.

The ingredients are simple but so well balanced that the dishes are superior, and has transformed 256 North into an experience finally worthy of the Rosen name.