The Social Club in Petaluma is a welcoming place. The d?or is simple and rustic, with lots of natural wood. There's comfy seating inside and out. And the food is pretty good, too. It's a natural place for folks to get together and schmooze.

The room, which used to be an Italian restaurant called Pazzo, has been updated and the d?or simplified. A free-standing bar in the center of the room has 26 stools around its sides and hexagonal black and white tiles on the two feet of floor closest to the bar. Two flat-screen TVs tuned to sports can be viewed from the bar stools. Tall windows on the south and west walls give a light, bright, airy feeling to the place. Dining is casual at bare wood tables set with captain's chairs.

If you're hungry when you arrive, make sure you've read the bottom of the menu: "Bread available upon request." There you'll also find that Bob Simontacchi is the chef, and Joseph Zobel his sous chef.

Socializing at the Social Club is encouraged by an extensive beer list, meaning the targeted clientele skews young. Eleven beers on tap and 18 in the bottle offer some interesting brews that can be hard to find on the west coast: Allagash from Portland, Maine, on tap, for instance, plus Victory "Summer Love Ale" from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and Einstok Pale Ale from Iceland in the bottle.

Wine takes a back seat, with two sparklers, five whites and five reds, all by the glass. A glass of Ameztoi txakolina (txakolina is a grape variety) from the Basque region of Spain for $11 was a crisp, refreshing, easy sipper through the whole dinner. In addition, a full bar has the ingredients for cocktails like the Sunny Side Up, made from bourbon, Petaluma egg whites, caramelized nectarines, fresh citrus juice and bitters for $10.

The service was excellent, even with a trainee in tow taking some of the waiter's attention.

The food is international California, meaning fresh ingredients fixed up with touches from this and that cuisine. Curried Cauliflower Soup ($6 *?) had a watery consistency and not much flavor of either curry or cauliflower, but its adornments of green apple chutney and a spoonful of cilantro-mint yogurt saved the day.

It's hard to beat the quality of the Penn Cove Shellfish Company's mussels, grown near Coupeville, Washington, so it was a pleasure to see Penn Cove Mussels ($10 ***) on the menu. Mussels are not at their plumpest right now, but these were acceptable and were very enjoyable, pulled glistening from their tomatoey broth. By poking around in the broth, you can find chorizo, cilantro, sliced jalape? and tomato. Several slices of good grilled olive bread stood upright among the mussels.

The arugula for the Wild Arugula Salad ($8 ***) isn't really foraged from the wild. Besides true arugula, there is a species of a similar herb sold as "wild arugula." The tender, young, slightly peppery leaves in this salad were what the Cook's Garden catalog of organic seeds lists as "Selvatica Arugula," or wild arugula. They tasted wonderful dressed in toasted hazelnut vinaigrette, dotted with goat cheese, and paired with thin slices of green apple.

Marinated Red Beets ($6 ***) dressed in a sherry vinaigrette stole the show. Flavor grenades of blue cheese and crunchy toasted walnuts completed the plate.

Another winner: Yukon Potato Gnocchi ($7 ***) in tomato-saffron sauce with Bellwether ricotta cheese and wilted baby spinach leaves was simply yummy.

This is Petaluma chicken country, so don't miss the Fried Chicken ($15 ***) with mashed potatoes, chicken sage gravy, and jalape?-cabbage cole slaw, all excellent. The breast and leg are fried southern style.

For dessert, Warm Chocolate Fudge Cake ($7 ***) was more fudge than cake and came with a scoop of mocha ice cream and whipped cream.

To sum up: At the Social Club, if you schmooze, you don't lose — the food's too good.

(Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.)