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Petaluma's Trattoria Roma offers an Italian comfort-food hug

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During this time of wildfires, evacuations, power outages and stress, we could all use a retreat, great friends, and a beautiful home-cooked meal. Frankly, we appreciate the above anytime, and we can find it at the new Trattoria Roma Italian restaurant in Petaluma.

The soothing aromas of garlic, oregano, basil and slow simmering marinara greet us as we enter the airy space at Petaluma Theatre Square, and the 1,642-square-foot restaurant is usually busy in a warm backdrop of clinking cutlery and loud conversation. The large windows and sidewalk tables offer more happy people watching along Petaluma Boulevard and D Street, and it’s easy to relax and savor the moment.

Immediately, I know what I want for dinner: burrata, Caesar salad, and chicken parmigiana. It’s a classic comfort food kind of evening, and this restaurant specializes in those mouthwatering favorites that wrap you in a culinary hug.

Opened in June, Roma is the work of patriarch Edward Pizzuti, matriarch Josephine Pizzuti, and their two children, AnnMarie and Tony, plus Tony’s wife Rosa. Edward was born in the Molise region of Italy, while Josephine was born in Sicily; the two both grew up in Tuscany, then settled together in the U.S. in 1958.

And you may recognize the Pizzuti name from the family’s previous Caffe Giostra on McDowell and Petaluma boulevards; over the past four decades, they also owned La Trattoria in San Rafael, followed by Baci Café in Mill Valley, Chianti in Novato, and Don Antonio Trattoria in Tiburon.

Seven years ago, Edward and Josephine moved to Sarasota, Fla., and opened Chianti Cucina there, but by 2018, they missed Wine Country and returned. So now we’re back enjoying the familiar menu the Pizzutis introduced at Caffe Giostra before selling to new owners. Interestingly, too, Roma occupies Petaluma’s former Blu space, another Italian restaurant that was within the extended Pizzuti family.

It can be said that there are so many excellent Italian restaurants in Petaluma that Roma isn’t really a standout. Yet it’s easy to love this salute to honest, well-priced and flavorful cooking, paired with thoughtful service, including table stop-bys from Tony and Rosa.

Sauces, many pastas, meatballs, soups, desserts and signatures like lasagna are made in-house. The wine list is thoughtful, as well, the Sonoma County picks flanked by a wide selection of Italian labels such as a retro-chic, easygoing Banfi Bell’Agio Chianti presented in a straw bottle ($8/$30).

And do look at the daily specials, such as one evening’s five, jumbo size handcrafted ravioli, the silky pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach and smothered in enough brightly herbed marinara to blanket every bite ($19.95). Yes, light sauce applications are more fine dining and traditional Italian, but in a casual spot like this, I want it ample enough to sop up with the complimentary warm bread served in a napkin-lined wicker basket.

In the same vein, Roma loads its bruschetta to overflowing with pesto, shredded mozzarella, juicy chopped tomato and basil — the three large toasted country bread slabs are enough for two diners ($8.95).

The burrata I was craving is first-rate as well as the creamy mozzarella paired with prosciutto and arugula drizzled in roasted red pepper oil ($13.95), while the Caesar salad is thankfully straightforward. No grilled or odd lettuces here, just a long, oval platter piled with crunchy romaine hearts, a few torn romaine leaves, lots of shaved fresh Parmesan, crisp herbed croutons and ribbons of creamy, garlicky dressing ($8.95).

The Romana salad is another good starter, the romaine hearts tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, a snowstorm of robust gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts and a bit too much creamy vinaigrette ($8.95). Again, think jumbo portion.

There is nothing dainty about the chicken parmigiana, either, from the breaded breast to layers of mozzarella and ladlefuls of marinara, all oven baked and plated with marinara penne finished with shredded parmesan ($22.95). The crust wasn’t as crispy as I like, and the still-wet penne watered down the sauce, but flavors were satisfying.

If you like Manila clams, meanwhile, get the linguine vongole ($17.95). I counted ten of the briny, tender critters, served in-shell with so much garlic amid the buttery white wine-E.V.O.O. sauce that I caught the fragrance even before the bowl hit the table.

Desserts should be shared affairs, since after so much food for dinner, the thought can be daunting. But bread pudding, in particular, is worth the indulgence, for its recipe from Josephine Pizzuti herself. A big, moist chunk is topped in vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce for a sweet but not sticky finale ($6.95).

At the heart of this trattoria is a giant mural of a Roman city, its people packed at courtyard café tables and sharing meals in the embracing glow of street lamps and community. Doesn’t that sound so delicious right now?

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com.

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