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With a few exceptions, Bodega Bay Duck Club creates tasty dishes from local sources

The Duck Club is the upscale restaurant at the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa, and is one of the most romantic -- and least-known -- dining spots in Sonoma County.

It has a new chef, Patrick Tafoya, who was formerly the sous chef at the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club. He replaces Jeffrey Reilly, a very consistent culinary artist who's moved on to the kitchen at Equus in Santa Rosa. While chef Tafoya's cooking is generally very good, it exhibited a hit-or-miss quality on a recent night that was perplexing.

For instance, the Petrale Sole Veronique ($24 ?), while not quite a total disaster, was what we might call, "meh." Chef Tafoya is proud of this dish, which the Kunde Winery has featured with a full recipe on its Web site. He calls for the sole to be cooked with its skin on -- unusual for petrale sole, but OK, it's his dish, and he contends it adds flavor. The fish is dredged in flour and sauteed skin side down in vegetable oil until the skin is crispy, then turned and finished on the other side. It was still meh, but worse, it was sauteed so hard the flour was burned and bitter, as was much of the delicate fish underneath.

Duck Club Restaurant

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Veronique is a cooking term meaning that the dish is paired with fresh grapes, and so a chutney of golden raisins, halved fresh seedless grapes, shallots, garlic, white wine, sugar, capers, chives and butter was ladled across the plate, but it did little to pick up the lifeless flavor of the fish. A couple of plops of tasteless spaghetti squash on top of the fish didn't help either.

And yet chef Tafoya can turn around and produce incredibly delicious dishes like the Pan Roasted Salmon Creek Farms Duck Breast ($32 ), a dish that puts a special shine on the restaurant's name. A well-grown duck breast is pan-roasted medium rare and cut into eight luscious slices. Instead of saucing the heck out of it, he serves the slices laid across a just-right-for-winter white bean and bacon stew underlain with mirepoix, that essential French mix of finely chopped carrots, onions, celery and herbs that elevates whatever it touches.

The Duck Club buys a whole pig each month from the nearby Gleason Ranch. This is pork grown under optimal, low-stress conditions without antibiotics or hormones. Chef Tafoya lists seven small plates using this pork on his "Tasting Menu," any of which can be ordered a la carte to go with main courses. They include bacon and egg on toast, braised pork and pear ravioli, barbecued baby back ribs, pork butt confit sandwich, grilled pork loin, and the following two small plates:

Tenderloin Pat?and Pistachio Liverwurst ($11 ) is for the liver lovers among us, as the liverwurst is quite aggressive in its pork-liver flavor. It comes in a small pot covered with roasted pistachios. By contrast, the pat?is mild and meaty. Also on the plate are small cubes of aspic, pickles, whole grain mustard and grilled slices of bread.

Plum Glazed Spare Ribs ($14 ) consists of two pork ribs that have been roasted and coated with a plum sauce mixed with cayenne and cloves to give it two kinds of spice -- the kind that warms the mouth and the kind that tastes like, um, cloves. The flavor is unusual and fun. An accompanying daikon radish slaw provides more spicy heat, and a little mound of curly fries on top is hard to eat but worth the effort.

While the food is important at The Duck Club, the atmosphere makes every visit special. On a recent night, you could hear the low moan of the Bodega Bay foghorn through the filtering fog. Light from inside the restaurant fell through the big plate-glass windows and illuminated the lawn outside, where a fat raccoon waddled by. When it's still light outside, the view across the salt marsh to the ocean is a classic seascape, complete with waterfowl winging purposefully on their way to somewhere.

Inside, the restaurant is classy. A huge stone fireplace fills one end of the room. Soft ochre-yellow table linens and napkins and thick carpeting underfoot add to the luxe feeling. Service was good, although it's been better in the past. And the wine list of Sonoma County selections is more than adequate. Some choice bottles include the 2006 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir for $85, 2006 Gary Farrell Chardonnay for $65, 2005 Longboard Syrah for $55, and 2004 Jacuzzi Sangiovese for $52.


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