Cox: Fun scene, good fare at Bastoni

Sebastopol's Forchetta/Bastoni is two separate restaurants and a bar, all under one roof. About two years ago, this column focused on Forchetta. This time, the focus is on Bastoni — the Italian word for sticks (as in chopsticks). As the names imply, Forchetta (Italian for fork) is an Italian restaurant, while Bastoni is all about Southeast Asian food.

The bar serves customers at both places, and has two happy hours, one from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and a second one from 9 p.m. until closing on Fridays and Saturdays. These happy hours are popular, so if the bar stools are filled, there are a few tables by the bar and some seating outside on a shaded back patio where you enter the building from the downtown plaza parking lot.

Asian food goes well with beer, so choose among several draft beers or bottles from local craft breweries, or go to the wine list for a chilled white to go with your dinner. There's a Vinho Verde from Portugal for $26, a Picpoul from France for $28, and a dry Gewurztraminer by Halleck from Saralee Kunde's vineyard for $56, among many other choices. Bastoni offers a dozen of its own specialty cocktails as well.

To the right of the bar is Bastoni's open kitchen and a marble counter with eight stools where you can watch your dinner being put together. More Bastoni seating is up a flight of stairs on a landing, while Forchetta's tables and wood-burning oven are farther back in the building.

Bastoni is where you can finally land that <b>Banh Mi sandwich</b> ($12, 3 stars) sandwich you've been hankering for. It's a goodie: sloppy with two sauces and a swath of mayonnaise, toothsome with shreds of house-pickled daikon radish and carrots, stuffed with marinated chicken (or you can choose among tofu, meatballs, seared steak, or prawns), all served on a rustic ciabatta roll.

It's possible to load up your banh mi with so many extras you won't be able to fit it into your mouth, so you can also order them on the side. They include fried curry rice balls, a six-minute farm egg, cucumbers, fried chicken skin, crispy jalape?s, crispy green beans, Spam, or one of four Asian salads.

Street food is an art in Southeast Asia, and at Bastoni, too. A classic Thai street dish is a plate of <b>Chicken and Rice</b> ($14, 3 stars), and it makes a satisfying meal. Poached chicken breast pieces sit side by side with a scoop of white jasmine rice, topped with a ladle of fiery hot, tangy sauce made with chilies, ginger, garlic and soy sauce. A small bowl of chicken broth on the side will help quench the fire.

Folks on a budget are accommodated. A two-course tasting menu for $19 lets you choose two starters and one main course. Starters include pickled vegetables — mostly cauliflower florets and inedibly hard raw beets — that could have used more time in the pickle jar to soften, papaya salad, cucumber salad, fried curry rice balls with a sweet chili dipping sauce, and the Bastoni salad. Main courses include chicken and rice; a wet noodle plate with either chicken, meatballs, or tofu; a dry noodle plate with vegetables, roasted peanuts, and fried shallots with a nuoc chom sauce; or a classic larb salad with minced, spiced chicken.

The <b>Bastoni Salad</b> ($12 with tofu, $13 with chicken, $14 with prawns, 2 stars) ordered a la carte is a plentiful m?ange of shredded cabbage, herbs, carrots, pickled vegetables, crispy mai fun noodles, and, oddly because they are difficult to chew, cucumber rinds ("So that we don't waste anything," the cook said), dressed with your choice of peanut or citrus-and-wine sauces. A lot of crunching is required.

A <b>Prawn and Pineapple Curry</b> ($15, 1? stars) was a disappointment. The pineapple chunks had the life cooked out of them and the curry sauce lacked vigor. But the <b>Meatballs</b> ($12, 3 stars) made up for the curry. Six of these meatballs — crisp on the outside, tender on the inside — came with a sweet, spicy chili dipping sauce and a small salad. Dinner ended with a well-made <b>Chocolate Nemesis</b> ($10, 2? stars) flourless chocolate cake.

<b>To sum up:</b> A fun bar scene and good Southeast Asian food means, "Let the party begin."

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