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Cox: Santa Rosa's favorite Flavor

  • The sautéed dungeness crab cake is served at Flavor restaurant in Santa Rosa on Thursday, December 5, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

In the nine years that Flavor Bistro has operated in Santa Rosa, the menu has hardly changed. Maybe that proves that practice makes perfect, because the food is, if not perfect, better than ever.

The restaurant's motto is "Celebrating Sonoma County," and whenever possible, the ingredients are locally grown and organic. Chef Charles Downing, who has been the chef at Flavor since day one, shows that those qualities are just his starting point.

His real goal is to enhance the flavors of those fine ingredients so that what you get on the plate reflects the name of the restaurant.

Flavor Bistro

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Chef Downing has designed the menu around America's favorite flavors and dishes — and that means a lot of Italian food along with burgers, pizzas and the "Everyday Sandwich," which you can have on a bun or house-baked bread.

It's stuffed with sliced chicken breast, bacon, avocado, tomato and house-made mayonnaise. To accompany the sandwich, you can choose from among French fries, Italian fries, cheese fries, garlic cheese fries, sweet-potato fries and garlic Parmesan sweet-potato fries. There's a lot of pleasure on that plate, and even more pleasure when you see that it costs under 10 bucks.

The wine list would scare the pants off a wine newbie, but we in Wine Country will appreciate its vastness: 74 wines by the half glass or full pour, 10 wines in half bottles, 27 whites by the bottle, and 42 reds by the bottle — in other words, just about anything from anywhere. A few wines worth noting include a 2007 Lancaster Cabernet Sauvignon from the Chalk Hill area for $39 a half bottle, a 2012 Bonny Doon "Clos du Gilroy" Grenache for $28, a 2010 Malbec from Laura Catena's winery in Argentina for $62, and a 2010 Emeritus "Hallberg Vineyard" Pinot Noir for $62.

Many of the food items are offered in two sizes at two prices, a thoughtful practice for those looking for a lighter meal. The smaller size <b>"Caesar Traditional Style Salad"</b> ($7.95/$8.95, 2 stars), for instance, was plenty for even a hungry person. It was a snapping good salad of chopped organic romaine lettuce with a mayonnaise-enriched creamy dressing, garlic and herb croutons, halved cherry tomatoes and shavings of Parmesan cheese, but it was not a traditional Caesar.

<b>Molly's Hummus</b> ($6.95, 3 stars) just had one price, but the dish brought good and garlicky hummus topped with an olive tapenade and a whole olive, with wedges of ripe yellow tomato and fresh cucumber slices on the side. Still-warm, house-made pita bread was perfect. It only lacked a lake of good olive oil on top.

With crab season underway, it's hard to resist a saut?d <b>Crab Cake</b> ($9.95, 3 stars). It's a single cake, but it's plump with loads of crabmeat and a nicely browned surface. A swipe of green basil aioli and crispy sweet-potato shoestring fries add bold flavor to balance the subtly-flavored crab.

<b>Martin's Ragu</b> ($14.50/$15.95, 3? stars) was flat-out delicious. All the pastas at Flavor are made in-house, so in this beautiful bowl were tender ribbons of semolina pasta drenched in a boscaiola sauce. This earthy, woodsy sauce combines the basso profondo flavor of porcini mushrooms with bacon, onion, red wine, tomato, parsley, and a dab of cream.


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