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Cox: Going beyond comfort food at Bruno's on Fourth


Bruno's on Fourth in Santa Rosa bills its cooking as "American Comfort Food," which brings to mind burgers and fries, meatloaf and fried chicken. But owner and chef Rick Bruno takes his menu far beyond home-grown clich? to pull in dishes from other countries and around the world.

It's American comfort food, if by American you mean the polyglot of nationalities and ethnicities that come together in the U.S. Here on the menu are Mexican pork quesadillas hobnobbing with Italian calamari fritti, Chinese hoisin pork ribs socializing with English fish and chips, French salmon almondine making peace with German roast pork, apples and potatoes.

Bruno's has another feature very much sought after: It serves Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with dishes like Dungeness crab benedict, huevos rancheros, buttermilk biscuits with country gravy, and corned beef hash with eggs.

That's not all. Kids eat free dinners every Tuesday through Thursday. The kids' menu starts with cheese, crackers and vegetables, and then offers a choice of salmon, calamari, chicken tenders, mac and cheese with ham, cheeseburger, or grilled cheese sandwich. Friday through Sunday, the kids' dinner is just $7.75.

Bruno's isn't a big restaurant. The building is a square box, separated in the middle by a service bar with four stools. The front dining room holds nine tables, and you can see back into the kitchen through a passage behind the bar. Reservations aren't required, but are probably a good idea, given the restaurant's cozy size.

The wine list isn't extensive, but it is nicely priced. A large wine glass with a generous pour of a sound red like Hook - Ladder's "Tillerman Red" costs $8.50. A Matanzas Creek Merlot is $28 a bottle, Twomey Russian River Pinot Noir is $58, and a Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon is $40. Corkage is $12.

Service is competent but can slow considerably when the room fills up.

Dinner started with a nod to Massachusetts for <b>Harry's New England Clam Chowder</b> ($6, 2-1/2 stars), a workmanlike bowl of thick, creamy chowder with lots of chopped clams, not too salty, and warming on a cold night. The looseleaf lettuces in the <b>Baby Greens Salad</b> ($9, 3 stars) were so fresh it makes you wonder where such fare is grown in cold January weather. A light and slightly sweet dressing gave the lettuces, goat cheese crostini, candied walnuts, and Granny Smith apple slices room to show their interlocking flavors.

It was hard to know what to make of the <b>Daily Bruschetta</b> ($7, 1-1/2 stars). It consisted of two slices of toast topped with crisply browned potato croquettes the size of ping-pong balls, topped with an intense blue cheese sauce.

An order of <b>Calamari Fritti</b> ($10, 3 stars), however, hit all the right notes. The pieces were given an elegant batter and fried at the right temperature to emerge crispy, tender and the color of good Champagne. The next dish up was <b>Coconut Curry Prawns</b> ($12, 2-1/2 stars). Three fat Gulf prawns were butterflied, dipped in a coconut batter, deep fried to a dark brown, and served in a spicy coconut curry sauce flecked with carrot and herbs. Each took three yummy, juicy bites to finish.

<b>Chicken Saltimbocca</b> ($22, 2-1/2 stars) featured a large and stringy pan-roasted chicken breast, crowned with melted jack cheese and floating on a cloud of mashed potatoes surrounded by a moat of lovely sweet sherry sauce, studded with sliced button mushrooms. A good handful of fresh green beans lay alongside. Thank goodness for the mashed potatoes, for not a drop of that good sauce should go to waste.

For dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream accompanied an <b>Apple Galette</b> ($6, 2 stars) made from commercial puff pastry filled with Granny Smith apple slices, baked and drizzled with caramel sauce.

<b>To sum up:</b> Bruno's on Fourth definitely has your comfort in mind as it fills its menu with Americans' favorite dishes from around the world.

<i>Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.</i>