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Ukiah restaurant blends comfort, elegance, commitment to delicious locavore dishes

  • Alsatian chicken at Patrona, Ukiah. February 2, 2011.

Lots of restaurants in the Wine Country claim to seek out locally grown, organic ingredients, "whenever possible." And you can be sure many do make the effort. But that claim carries extra weight in Mendocino County, arguably the beating heart of the organic movement in the United States, where voters in 2004 made it the first county in the nation to outlaw the sale or use of genetically modified crops.

All this dedication to the locavore lifestyle is fully realized at Patrona, a stylish but not swank restaurant in downtown Ukiah, whose name means "patron saint." Chef and owner Craig Strattman is in contact with local farmers and growers who plant vegetables expressly for his restaurant. He doesn't use local, organic products "whenever possible." He makes sure it is possible.

"Local" doesn't have to mean right down the street, however. For instance, his Fried Calamari ($12, 4 stars) is sourced from Monterey Bay, but what he does with it is all his own and a fabulously different take on the batter-dipped fried calamari that is such a clich?at Italian restaurants. These calamari rings are fried to tender perfection and glazed with an orange-chili sauce that's sweet and sour and spicy all at the same time. What a treat.

Patrona

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Vegetarians will love this place, for Strattman lavishes his talents on the meatless dishes as much as plates for his carnivorous patrons. Do vegan tofu and quinoa enchiladas with a green chili cashew cream sound good? Or vegetarian crepes with kale, onions, mushrooms, and cotija cream? Or butternut squash ravioli with smoked ricotta, walnut brown butter, and balsamic? They and more await you.

With the d?or, Strattman has achieved what many restaurants strive for but few obtain: an exceptionally comfortable, pleasant and yet sophisticated style that welcomes you as it promises you'll be expertly cared for.

The east and west walls are exposed brick. The tables — freestanding and in booths — are natural wood. Our party sat at a four-top made from a three-foot-wide slab of California bay sawn from an ancient tree that had fallen nearby. The artwork on the walls is subtle and intriguing. The lights are low and the room cozy. A partition is topped with 10 huge cattle horns twisting upwards to form a natural sculpture. The full bar looks like the perfect place to relax and enjoy one of the restaurant's signature cocktails.

The wine list is stuffed with Mendocino's wines, but best of all, it carries Coro Mendocino wines at $60 each. Coro is Italian for chorus, and Coro Mendo is a consortium of 11 local winemakers who each year make a Zinfandel-based blend. A panel of three of the winemakers and two other experts then judge the wines on a pass/fail basis. Those that pass can label their blend as Coro Mendocino wine with their winery's name in smaller print. The 11 participants are Parducci, Pacific Star, Graziano, Golden, Eagle Point, Brutocao, Dunnewood, McDowell Valley, McNab Ridge, and Oracle Oaks. Each blend is different — although Zin dominates — and, having tasted through them all, I can vouch for their quality. Corkage is $12.

Patrona's menu is printed daily and includes specials, a nice touch as you can see the prices. Too often at too many restaurants, specials are recited tableside without prices which, when you get the check, can be steeper than you might have guessed.

On a recent night, Alsatian Chicken ($19 ?) was special in every way. There are a lot of ways to make Alsatian Chicken, usually involving Riesling wine, and here Strattman sautees a chicken breast in a pan, somehow retaining all its tenderness and juiciness, and then makes a supreme sauce of wine, chicken stock, roux, and a little lemon juice. Sauteed parsnips and carrots sounded a winter root-vegetable theme, and the plate included spaetzle to help sop up the yummy sauce.

Among the appetizers is a House Made Sausage Pizza ($7 small, $9 medium ) that could easily make a nice lunch all by itself. A thin-crust pizza is brushed with onion marmalade (what a fine idea!), then topped with olives, mushrooms, mozzarella and little morsels of sausage. There's a slight spiciness to the pie, too.


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