Petaluma’s Stockhome restaurant delights with Swedish street food
When Stockhome first opened in downtown Petaluma in August, I wondered if there might be a 'lost in translation' challenge for the eatery. In a unique niche for Wine Country, the concept is Swedish food.
But not just Swedish food, which is already unfamiliar to most of us, offering dishes like fiskbullar (fish balls), janssons frestelse (potato- spelt fish casserole) and leverpalt (liver dumplings). Instead, Stockhome focuses on Swedish street food, which is more like Turkish, Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisines.
So how to explain to customers that the experience is Scandinavian, yet not really, sending out Nordic twists on döner kebabs, crunchy-crust falafel,and German wienerschnitzel?
Stockhome's owners, the husband-and-wife team of chef Roberth and Andrea Sundell, also own the Scandinavian restaurant Pläj in San Francisco, but if you've been there, this new spot isn't that, either. At Pläj, we relax on sheepskin-draped chairs and dine on upscale dishes such as grilled saddle of elk with chanterelles and lingonberries ($38).
But at Stockhome, we order at the counter, and one signature is the hard-to-grasp creation of tunnbrödsrulle, a grilled frankfurter with crispy onions, housemade mustard, ketchup, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mashed potatoes and optional shrimp salad all stuffed into lavash ($9, plus $3 for shrimp). It's delicious, trust me: the beef-pork sausage crisp-skinned, the thin lavash nicely chewy and the add-ins layering crunch and creaminess in a single bite. But I wondered what more mainstream NorCal diners would make of it.
It turns out I need not have worried. From opening day, the place was packed, with Andrea soon sharing with me that she and Roberth were counting their blessings, but also were overwhelmed. Even with just 40 seats and a brief menu of about 20 small to medium plates plus a dozen sides, the crowds were a challenge.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Sonoma County is home to 25,128 people claiming Scandinavian ancestry. So perhaps these are the folks converging for the bowls of strong-flavored pickled herring, the tangy-pungent slices tossed with baby potato and brined carrot and onion curls for scooping with rye crisps ($12). But really, most of the other dishes are quite approachable, and I recommend that cautious diners order a selection of plates to sample and share — you'll be sure to find favorites.
Shrimp skagan, for example, is a chilled salad tossed with avocado and a bit of chile with horseradish-tzatziki sauce mounded over toasted brioche ($10). I really like the sauce's heat and silkiness against the firm seafood. A pond of thick, rich, slightly smoky Icelandic yogurt is a great finishing touch, too, for a simple salad of multicolored beets sprinkled with hazelnuts ($8).
The seasonal salad ($10), meanwhile, is brilliant, boldly flavored and beautifully arranged with bitterish autumn greens tempered by a toss of tomato, cucumber, scallions, sliced candied almonds, shaved beets, radishes, citrus and generous scatterings of multicolored edible flowers, all in dill-oregano vinaigrette. It's also studded with seasonal fruit for lovely sweetness — I savored perfect peaches on a summer visit, and figs in fall.
I admit I'm not as sold on some of the entrees, since I inevitably compare them to classic versions I've enjoyed before. My wienerschnitzel was just OK, the breaded veal cutlet rather dry under its lemon cream sauce, and presented plainly on a wood board with a charred-grilled half tomato plus a small bowl of whole roasted new potatoes, English peas, capers and grilled lemon ($24). The lightly seasoned, virtually greaseless dish tasted — gasp — healthy, which OK, I do know is a good thing.
The lamb-beef kebab plate ($14) also lacked umami, the thin-sliced meat on the dry side, too, and bland under thick tomato sauce. Sides of excellent, buttery saffron-sumac basmati rice and thick, garlic-kicked yogurt added flavor, though.
Certainly it's impossible to visit a Swedish restaurant without trying Swedish meatballs, although I'm still recovering from the scandal this spring, when the Swedish government nearly disowned the tasty orbs. 'Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century,' tweeted Sweden.se, the country's official website. 'Let's stick to the facts!'
Whatever the lineage, these pork and beef meatballs are very good, in a thin but flavor-packed brown gravy with sides of sweet-sour lingonberry relish and pickled cucumber ($18).
It feels like an authentic Scandavian experience, enjoying the complementary bites amid the bright, cheerful eatery with its sleek, modern blond wood furniture, groovy Josef Frank floral wallpaper and wall of artsy Scandinavian posters in the back hall.
Desserts (all $7) keep the authentic theme in line, as well, with bites like lacy, thin, platter-sized Swedish pancakes dressed in blackberries and vanilla whipped cream, or a delight called karleksmums. In Sweden, karleksmums is known as 'love cake,' 'love treat' and 'love yummy,' among other endearing nicknames. But essentially, it's fluffy chocolate cake dusted with coconut, and at Stockhome, it's gilded with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and chocolate drizzle.
Things have quieted a bit since the opening-month rush, but it appears that the dining public is understanding, and supporting, this new-to-us message.
Still not sure? Stop in, go to the self-serve candy counter and fill a bag from the rainbow array of Swedish lördagsgodis bulk candies. You probably don't know what pastellfiskar is, for just one example, but the salty gummy fish are addictive.
As the Stockhome menu notes about its very own herring dish (and which actually can apply to the entire experience): 'Don't deny it, till you try it.'
And I'll add this: You'll like it.