BiteClub: New pho spot, martinis and Reuben-flavored potato chips

Bistro Ralph becomes Bistro Martini House.


Lots of little news nibbles this week to share, my little dumplings.

Charcuterie to become Persimmon: Lots of buzzing around the Healdsburg Square as details about the new Southeast Asian fusion restaurant, Persimmon, comes into focus. Executive Chef Danny Mai, formerly of the Sheraton Tolay, is still working on the menu but told BiteClub that it will definitely include a few Vietnamese staples.

“Of course I’ll have pho on the menu. If it’s not there, people will laugh me out of town,” he said, adding that banh mi sandwiches with house made pate and “soulful” dumplings are in the works.

Mai, who was a Vietnamese refugee, has embraced a variety of cooking styles throughout his career, including a stop at La Folie in SF and most recently … Mexican. The kicker to this story is that the Diaz family, Healdsburg’s Oaxacan culinary giants(Agave, El Farolito and Casa Del Mole), are the financial backers of Persimmon.

“The only way we can grow is to diversify our cuisine,” said Octavio Diaz of Agave. “There are so many Mexican restaurants already, and we want to do something different.”

Until the restaurant opens this fall, Mai is doing menu consulting for the Diaz family restaurants. We can’t wait to hear more.

Bistro Ralph will soon transition to Ralph’s Martini House. We’ve seen the menu, which focuses on smaller plates and lots of seafood.

Yes, the chicken livers, fries and Chicken Paillard are still on the menu, but we’re jonesing for new dishes such as hand-chopped ahi tartare, sweetbreads with brown butter, foie gras with nectarines, pork tamales, cauliflower steak with salsa roja and animal sundae with vanilla gelato, caramel, chocolate, espresso, toffee and whipped cream.

“It’s more modern and more relaxed,” said owner Ralph Tingle.

“That’s the way we’re dining now, and we have to be competitive.” To boot, the restaurant will feature a full bar rather than just the classic martinis they’ve served for 23 years.

With a few odds and ends still to finish on the revamped restaurant, Tingle said they’re still in *very* soft launch mode but will have a grand opening within a couple of weeks. 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 433-1380.

Step back in the John Ash and Co. time machine for a week of menus from founding chef John Ash’s recipe archive. (Hint, there’s brie involved.)

Celebrating the restaurant’s 35th anniversary, the $35 prix fixe menu Aug. 10-15 will feature lobster, corn and wild mushroom risotto with carrot-corn broth; orecchiette pasta with tiger prawns, asparagus, brie cream sauce, sun-dried tomato pesto and deep-fried capers (I’m suddenly transported to 1986); and venison loin in blackberry sage sauce. The restaurant also will have a regular menu with dishes from the past 35 years.

Considered the father of Wine Country Cuisine, Ash’s farm-to-table philosophy was groundbreaking when he opened in 1980. John Ash & Co. recently won Best Restaurant for a Romantic Meal in the Press Democrat’s Best Of Sonoma County contest.

Details are online at, and reservations can be made by calling 527-7687.

Ramen Gaijin is alive and kicking, despite some real estate changes at Forchetta/Bastoni, the restaurant space they sublease.

Chef Matthew Williams says he will keep serving up ramen as usual in the space, despite a temporary loss of their landlord’s liquor license. Short story: Keep on slurping, ‘cause the Gaijin boys are still serving up great Japanese cuisine. 6948 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol, 827-3609.

Petaluma’s Wishbone restaurant has ended dinner service, announcing the “beginning of a more flexible food space.” And that’s no joke.

Owners Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt already have two evening events scheduled: “Bacon Basics” on Aug. 16, featuring a how-to on makin’ bacon (everyone goes home with a pound of bacon), cost is $35; and the Bon Vivant Summer Supper ($50, plus $25 for beer/wine pairing) on Aug. 29.

Ticket details are at Wishbone’s popular breakfast, lunch and brunch service continues 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 841 Petaluma Blvd. North Petaluma, 763-2663.

Reuben sandwich-flavored potato chips? Yes you can. The top four user-submitted flavors to the Lay’s Million Dollar Potato Chip Challenge have hit grocery store shelves — New York Rueben, Southern Biscuits and Gravy, Greektown Gyro and West Coast Truffle Fries.

The whole thing is, of course, a huge marketing ploy because not many people would actually want to eat a bag of potato chips flavored like sausage and cream sauce. But they’re fun as heck to try. Think of it as a sort of Veruca Salt/Willy Wonka experience.

After sampling, and sampling and sampling for the sake of research, Reuben is definitely my winner. The flavor scientists have managed to hit dead on with the essence of pastrami, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, cheese and rye bread.

How they do it, I would love to know. Does someone say, “Hmmmm, needs more Thousand Island?”

Coming in second are the ridged truffle fries, which are okay, followed by biscuits and gravy chips that taste mostly of sage, and finally Gyro, which has an odd cucumber essence.

You may have to hit a few grocers to get the complete set. I found mine at Lucky Market and Safeway, but it was totally worth the effort.

And finally, check out my adventures at Outside Lands and the Gravenstein Apple Fair this weekend at my always-updated food and dining blog,