After cooking in the cramped kitchen of their old frame building at the corner of Guerneville and Willowside roads in Santa Rosa, John Stewart and Duskie Estes, the chef-owners of Zazu, can spread their wings in the beautiful, spacious kitchen and dining room they now occupy in The Barlow in Sebastopol.
This husband-and-wife team has built up an enormous amount of good will in Sonoma County (and beyond). Stewart's hand-made salumi and his Black Pig Meat Co. have helped fuel the fashion for bacon, turning it from a fatty, smoky, salty food best avoided, into today's indispensable indulgence.
Estes' passion is to source as many ingredients as possible from her own kitchen garden and farm, where she raises pigs, goats and chickens, along with a slew of vegetables. She espouses snout-to-tail cooking — that is, if you're going to kill an animal, you should use it all and waste nothing. Her cooking encapsulates the three tenets of sustainable eating, that ingredients should be organic, local and seasonal. She also has a national reputation through appearances on the Food Network's Iron Chef.
A lot of restaurants call themselves farm-to-table. This is one that's the real deal.
Chef Doug Richey and Estes work side by side in the expansive open kitchen. And farmer Milo Mitchel works the Macbryde farm, named for the couple's daughters, Mackenzie and Brydie.
As with most spaces this large in The Barlow, the ceilings are 30 feet above your head. The walls are painted blue-gray, with natural wood tables and banquettes. There's a huge family table that can hold 20 people, and in the center of the room a free-standing bar with a couple of dozen seats, where cocktails, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks are served.
Lambrusco, that sweetish, innocuous red wine from Italy that America drank by the truckloads in the 1960s and '70s, is back. But it's made with more class this time, and it goes well with salumi. A glass is $11.50. A glass of Italian white Orvieto is just $5. There are dozens of wines, many from the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys at prices from $33 to $199. Corkage is $25, or $12.50 if you also buy a bottle from the house.
The kitchen ferments its own cucumber pickles and veggies — very healthful — and uses the super-healthy condiment turmeric to flavor up Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower ($6.50 **), given a tangy twist with preserved lemon. It would have been better hot than cold.
For a sandwich, the "ILovePigstrami" on Rye ($7 ***) layers good toasted rye bread with pork (instead of traditional beef) that's rubbed with salt and seasonings, dry-cured, and cooked. Live-culture sauerkraut and Guinness mustard are spooned on top, and the sandwich is served with house-pickled cucumbers, cauliflower, snap beans, carrots and sweet peppers. It's yummy.
Spicy Tomato Soup ($12 ***) is a thick puree of high-season tomatoes. You get sweet, tangy-acidic and mildly spicy flavors in each spoonful and, as an added treat, it comes with a Bellwether Farms "Carmody" grilled cheese sandwich.
A new wrinkle on American comfort food is the BLT Salad ($13.50 **?), featuring a wedge of "Iceberg" lettuce drizzled with a creamy buttermilk dressing, overlaid with two slices of Black Pig bacon and accompanied by tomato and avocado.
The Black Pig Burger ($18 **?) features the three B's — bacon, beef and boar — ground together and cooked to your specification. (We chose medium.) The patty was somewhat dense from the three meats being worked into one another, but it sure was tasty. Zazu's spicy barbecue sauce, pimento cheese and ketchup helped boost the flavor.