True class almost always has an element of understatement. To show off isn't classy. To show style by choosing impeccable details is very classy indeed. And so Luma, the restaurant in Petaluma's Riverfront Warehouse District, might not appear to be a temple of good taste until you start noticing the details.
It starts as you approach the entrance and see the illuminated letters of the restaurant's name on the corner of the building at G and First streets. It's a simple but beautiful sign designed by Tim Tatum who, with his wife, Kate, owns the place.
Then, as you enter, you may notice some quality content on the sound system. Amy Winehouse singing "Back to Black" accompanied our party through the front door. Several times during dinner there was comment on the tasteful music. There's a small amount of artwork on the walls, and it, too, reveals the owners' discernment.
That the Tatums are responsible for the subtle sophistication of Luma is apparent. And yet, at first glance, you could mistake this restaurant for a lunchroom.
The colors are warm, earthy but unassuming yellows, beiges and browns. There's a service bar with 10 stools. The tables are bare Formica. Booths and banquettes are comfy but not luxurious.
But as we come to the culinary meaning of the word taste, luxury rears its welcome head. Not luxury in its sense of opulence or extravagance - that would be showing off - but luxury as giving great pleasure.
Here chef Frank Dodd perfectly renders the understated classiness of the place through his contemporary American food. For example, the Vegetarian Delight ($22, 4 stars) is exactly that, a long ceramic dish laden with a head of roasted garlic for squeezing out its fragrant paste; sweet and luscious figs with tops sliced open to reveal the seedy sweetness within, set on a base of caramelized onions; butternut squash cooked, but with enough integrity that it was shaved into squiggly little matchsticks and piled into a hayrick of nutty flavor; chili cornbread so good we fought over the last piece; saut?d broccoli florets and zucchini rounds; fuchsia-colored tangy onions fermented in brine colored with beet juice; whole cherry tomatoes, and braised Chinese greens dipped in a smoky oyster sauce. Incomparable.
The wine list is short, eclectic, global in scope and modestly priced. Among whites, a 2011 Sardinian Vermentino is $30, an icily crisp 2011 Moscofilero from Greece is $30, and a 2011 Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina, is $24. Among reds, a stunning Dusted Valley "Boomtown" Merlot from Walla Walla, Wash., is $30, a rich and chewy 2011 "Bila-Haut" Grenache-Syrah-Carignan from Chapoutier's Languedoc vineyards is $32, and a 2008 Crianza from Rioja, Spain, also is $30. Corkage is $15.
For many folks, stuffing is the best part of a Thanksgiving dinner. Get a foretaste with the Savory Bread Pudding ($5, 4 stars) side dish, made with forest mushrooms. You'll want to stuff your turducken with this glorious filling. For a salad, don't miss the Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Crottin Salad ($11, 3 stars), comprised of a lovely and nutty chevre and baby arugula leaves, with roasted beets and grapefruit segments carved out of their membranes.
There's a wood fired oven at Luma, and from its fiery hellmouth come heavenly pies, like the Wild Chanterelle Pizza ($18, 3? stars), a triumph of perfect thin crust topped with panna sauce. This sauce pre-dates the arrival of tomatoes in Italy and is made with cream, mushrooms, ham, bacon, butter, onions, garlic, herbs and spices. On top are chanterelles, roasted garlic and caramelized shallots.
North Africa gets a wink with the Chicken Picadillo ($23, 3 stars), a juicy, tender breast given a sweet, light sauce and accompanied by cous cous, olives, capers and cherry tomatoes, but no nod from the usual overwhelming spices of ras al hanout, cumin and harissa. Our table was thankful for the restraint.
Braised Pork Short Ribs ($25, 2? stars) was one of seven nightly specials, but nothing special. Two meaty braised ribs came with roasted broccoli, garlic mashed potatoes and a light gravy. Good but not great.
Things ended on a high note with another nightly special, the Rhubarb Crisp ($8, 3? stars), filled with bubbling hot rhubarb and strawberries under a crumbly browned crust with a scoop of vanilla on top. Delicious.
To sum up: Luma is quiet, unassuming and unexpectedly, gorgeously delicious.
(Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at email@example.com.)