s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Speakeasy Bistro in Petaluma: Late night bites


By JEFF COX

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It's not exactly clear why Speakeasy restaurant in downtown Petaluma was given that name, but it may be because the restaurant is open nightly until 2 a.m.

Petaluma has what was once an actual speakeasy, tucked in the back of Volpi's Italian restaurant on Washington Street. It's preserved pretty much the way it looked during Prohibition, when the big butter and egg men and women came in to toss back a few. And like any honest speakeasy, it had a door leading to the alley out back, so that when the cops staged a raid, the townspeople could skedaddle.

The motto of today's Speakeasy restaurant, located on Putnam Plaza where Thai Ginger Bistro used to be, is "Live Fast. Eat Late. Speak Easy." The decorations run to photographs of folks from the late Victorian era, although Prohibition is pretty much a product of the 1920s, and the walls are painted to resemble cinder blocks. An outdoor patio has additional seating. The tables are bare until your food arrives along with paper napkin and utensils. Service is quick and friendly. Music on the sound system is as eclectic as the food.

The place has only a beer and wine license, so there's no genuine hooch. But there is a short list of 10 red wines and three whites, plus a Kenwood Cuvee Brut for $8. All the wines are offered by the glass. Six of the reds and two of the whites are from the Hook & Ladder winery, so there's not a lot of choice.

The chef is Dindo Borja, a native of Guam. That island is a United States territory and the southernmost of the Mariana Islands in Micronesia. Given Guam's position between Asia, New Guinea, Australia, and Polynesia, its colonial influence from Spain and residual culinary influence from Japan (a difficult time during WWII until the island was liberated by American soldiers in 1944), plus American influence since then, it's no wonder Chef Borja's cooking is eclectic.

The menu is broken down into four soups and salads, three appetizers, five "hand helds," seven small plates, and three desserts. The chef will make portions that are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free for customers so inclined.

On a recent night, Asparagus Soup ($6 ) featured an asparagus tip in a creamy puree of asparagus, leeks, potatoes, and a dollop of tarragon cr?e fraiche, whose bland ingredients merged into a bland whole. A Citrus Salad ($7 ?) was better. Sliced, toasty almonds dotted an arrangement of organic spring greens, in which orange and grapefruit segments hid. The salad was dressed in a shallot and thyme vinaigrette.

Edamame Hummus ($6 ) came as a pretty presentation. Three thin rounds of red radish were stuck vertically into the slightly spicy hummus and served with hot pumpernickel crostini. Despite the attempt to flavor up the soybean paste with smoked salt, olive oil, and lemon juice, the edamame weren't necessarily an improvement over the traditional garbanzos.

If you're really hungry, try the Speakeasy's Taco Trio ($12 ), one of the hand-helds. Chef Borja does his best to use organic ingredients in his dishes, and these yummy and generously proportioned tacos are no exception. On the left is a crispy pork belly taco, sweet and spicy, with the pork belly bits cooked to a tasty chewiness and paired with shredded cabbage. In the center is Mary's tomatillo chicken taco, the sweet meat offset by the tang of the tomatillo. On the right is a fish taco made with grilled, wild-caught salmon.

The pork belly taco was so good, we went back for a porcine reprise with the Sweet and Spicy Pork Belly Small Plate ($13 ?). A big, crisped cube of pork belly with fat and meat layered and given a sweet, spicy sauce, was just dripping with flavor. It sat on a spicy brown rice cake. On top, pickled shallots. Yum. A Pea and Crimini Risotto ($10 ) had a good flavor but had become gummy from an overlong stint on the stove.

To sum up: Speakeasy is an interesting restaurant with a little something for everyone.

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