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Cox: Subtle class in Petaluma

  • A berry and rhubarb crisp with Three Twins vanilla ice cream at Luma restaurant in Petaluma. (BETH SCHLANKER / PD)

True class almost always has an element of understatement. To show off isn't classy. To show style by choosing impeccable details is very classy indeed. And so Luma, the restaurant in Petaluma's Riverfront Warehouse District, might not appear to be a temple of good taste until you start noticing the details.

It starts as you approach the entrance and see the illuminated letters of the restaurant's name on the corner of the building at G and First streets. It's a simple but beautiful sign designed by Tim Tatum who, with his wife, Kate, owns the place.

Then, as you enter, you may notice some quality content on the sound system. Amy Winehouse singing “Back to Black” accompanied our party through the front door. Several times during dinner there was comment on the tasteful music. There's a small amount of artwork on the walls, and it, too, reveals the owners' discernment.

Luma Restaurant

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That the Tatums are responsible for the subtle sophistication of Luma is apparent. And yet, at first glance, you could mistake this restaurant for a lunchroom.

The colors are warm, earthy but unassuming yellows, beiges and browns. There's a service bar with 10 stools. The tables are bare Formica. Booths and banquettes are comfy but not luxurious.

But as we come to the culinary meaning of the word taste, luxury rears its welcome head. Not luxury in its sense of opulence or extravagance — that would be showing off — but luxury as giving great pleasure.

Here chef Frank Dodd perfectly renders the understated classiness of the place through his contemporary American food. For example, the Vegetarian Delight ($22, 4 stars) is exactly that, a long ceramic dish laden with a head of roasted garlic for squeezing out its fragrant paste; sweet and luscious figs with tops sliced open to reveal the seedy sweetness within, set on a base of caramelized onions; butternut squash cooked, but with enough integrity that it was shaved into squiggly little matchsticks and piled into a hayrick of nutty flavor; chili cornbread so good we fought over the last piece; sautéed broccoli florets and zucchini rounds; fuchsia-colored tangy onions fermented in brine colored with beet juice; whole cherry tomatoes, and braised Chinese greens dipped in a smoky oyster sauce. Incomparable.

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