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Cox: Something different in Sebastopol

  • Seth Wood co-owner at Woodfour Brewing Company in The Barlow in Sebastopol, Tuesday, September 3, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Woodfour Brewing Co. is in the Barlow complex in Sebastopol, a center for local artisans of all kinds housed in 17 modern metal buildings on 12 acres of nicely landscaped campus. Suites range from 500 to 16,000 square feet. The popular restaurant Zazu just moved in. There's a bronzemonger's shop, with torches glowing and sparks flying. The Village Bakery will open soon. There's even an antiquarian bookseller named Ben Kinmont; a sign on his door says, "Open by chance or appointment."

Woodfour is a taste of the 21st-century future, as unique as the center that houses it. Seth Wood is the brewmaster and co-owner with Olav Vier from Germany. "Vier" is the German word for "four," hence the name of the place.

This is no ordinary brewpub. Wood's brews are full of character and utterly unique, and the food is creative and four-star delicious. Eight beers are currently on tap, along with three "guest drafts" from around the country. Half-pints of the house beers are $3.50 and pints are $5. A tasting flight of small glasses of five beers is $8. The tasting flight is a good idea, so that you can make the acquaintance of brews like the Belgian Dubbel. This rich beauty was fermented in Russian River pinot noir barrels. If you smell stone fruit, it's because Wood put some local plums in the liquid as it was brewing. The drink tastes of apples and caramelized sugar, with a mouthful of malt in the front of each sip and culinary spices on the finish.

Woodfour Brewing Company

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If you're into lacto-fermented foods, how about a glass of Berliner Weisse — a sour brew fermented with lactobacilli that yield aromas of yogurt, stone fruits and citrus, with a tangy acidic mouthfeel.

If the beers on tap don't satisfy you, 36 beers by the bottle might. They come from the Bay Area, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the Midwest, South, East Coast, Europe, and New Zealand, and you can see many of them among the 104 bottles that decorate a wall beside the pretty hardwood bar that looks into the brewing room.

To the left of the bar is the kitchen, where the ingenuity continues apace. Chef Jamil Peden, who won praise at Syrah in Santa Rosa and at Campo Fina in Healdsburg, has been given carte blanche to show what he and his sous chef, Matthew Williams, can do, and boy, can those guys do it.

The usual pub grub is greasy burgers and fries and the ubiquitous and usually poorly made Reuben sandwich. The food at Woodfour is nothing like that. Every dish we tried was four stars. Each was lovingly prepared, unusual, intriguing, visually beautiful and delicious. The menu is broken into eight "Bites" — all $6 each; six vegetarian and vegan "Plants" — all $10 each; six "Animals" — all $15 each, and four "Sweets" — all $8 each. We were astonished at the creativity and quality of these dishes.

Among the Bites, the Jar of Pickles is just that. The kitchen lacto-ferments all their pickles in-house. The jar contained pickled celery, zucchini, carrots, beets, cucumbers, white beans and more. The Raclette was a portion of lightly browned, bite-sized Yukon Gold potato chunks with Swiss raclette cheese melted over them, like nachos.

Under Plants, the creamy White Corn Soup was simply the best corn soup I've ever tasted. Its creaminess came from pureed white corn augmented by whipped goat cheese melting in its hot heart. A dish of little seedless watermelon cubes had black dots that seemed at first to be seeds, but were dabs of salty miso. Bits of radish, tofu, fennel and crushed chilies looked to the eye like modern art and tasted like heaven.

Among Animals, raw California Yellowtail fish sparkled with color from borage flowers, cilantro florets, the Japanese citrus yuzu, and tamari-soaked and dried quinoa crunchies. A plate of Pork Belly's layers of crispy fat and tender meat came with green and yellow snap beans, pear slices, apricot puree and sunflower sprouts.


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