Back in the early 1990s, Joe and Lori Shea owned and operated Caffe Giostra in Petaluma, a very popular trattoria in the Orchard Supply Hardware shopping center serving excellent, home-style Italian food.
"Giostra" is Italian for merry-go-round, an appropriate name for a trattoria that spun off several other restaurants that have since brightened the Petaluma food scene.
And it's all in the family.
When they left Caffe Giostra, the Sheas sold it to Lori's brother, Ed. After five years living in Arizona, they returned in 2005 to Petaluma and opened another trattoria, Sugo, at 5 Petaluma Blvd. S.
When space opened in the town's new Theater District in 2008, they gave the reins of Sugo to Lori's daughter, Annette, and her husband, Pete White, and opened Blu at 140 Second St.
Now the Sheas are moving on again, and they've turned Blu over to John Slowik, Lori's oldest son. Sonoma County residents can only hope the Sheas keep moving and sowing Petaluma's idle storefronts with such good restaurants.
But let's return to Sugo -- Italian for sauce -- where Annette is the dinner-time chef and Pete makes the lunches. How's that place doing?
The theme is good, honest Italian food. Annette's mom, Lori, was born in Tuscany, and obviously has passed her cooking skills to her daughter, who in turn claims it all comes from her Tuscan grandmother. One bite of her Ever-Changing Ravioli ($15 ****) convinced me. Each night, Annette decides what kind of ravioli she'll make from scratch. On a recent night, the filling was a mixture of prosciutto and several kinds of earthy mushrooms like shiitakes, morels and criminis, ground together with condiments and surrounded by home-made ravioli dough. These are large, 5-by-5-inch raviolis, and you get five of them in a rich cream sauce. The freshly-made dough melts in your mouth, and the creamy sauce carries the savory flavors of the filling to your taste buds on a velvet tide.
If you like home-made pasta with its melty quality rather than the firmer texture of commercial, dried pasta cooked al dente, opt for the tagliatelle, pappardelle or gnocchi dishes on Sugo's menu. They are all made in-house.
The room is decorated simply with a large open space on two levels, a black ceiling with a skylight, an open kitchen in the back of the room, cold case for beers and white wines, pictures of breeds of fancy chickens, and a large blackboard with wines chalked on it. In a fancy touch, you can spot Marilyn Monroe and other stars of bygone years dancing around above the kitchen, as old movies are projected on the wall there.
The wine list is small and modestly priced. The most expensive bottle is $36 for a 2006 Lake Sonoma "Alexander Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon. You can buy your wine by the 6-ounce glass, terzo (equal to a third of a bottle), or by the bottle. Wine glasses are generously proportioned at 16 ounces. A smooth, fruity 2008 Chianti DOCG from Tiziano in Tuscany is just $27 a bottle, as is a 2008 Septima Malbec from Argentina. Corkage is $12. On Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m., all tapas and glasses of wine are $5 each.