It was a case of “right time, right place” that led to the opening of Zosia Café & Kitchen this past November. Polish-born Slawek and Monika Michalak had long mused about bringing their native cuisine to their Santa Rosa area, as they built up other successful retail businesses in the area over the 26 years Slawek has lived here.
Then, one day, a building came up for sale in the tiny town of Graton. Monika is also a real estate agent, working right across the street from the property, and so she and her husband immediately snatched up the space. They tapped their friend, Russian-born chef Ekaterina Zaitseva, and created a menu showcasing Polish, Hungarian, German and other Eastern European specialties.
Flash forward six months. Zaitseva and the Michalaks parted ways the other week, with new chefs Tom Adamian and Adam Norvell coming aboard. More change is underway, too, with plans to add dinner service to the current breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch offerings. And a beer and wine garden is slated to open this summer, to go with coffee counter coming to the silver Airstream parked on the patio.
Happily, the same core menu remains, including my all-time favorite, the sumptuous, soothing Siberian pelmeni ($9.95). A half dozen pork and beef stuffed dumplings nestle in a deep bowl of organic chicken broth sprinkled with fresh herbs, and I add in a dollop of smetana (sour cream) for even more richness against the lacy thin dough and firm, juicy meatball filling.
Adamian and Norvell previously worked at Woodfour Brewing Company in Sebastopol, so this is quite a different cooking style for the duo. And it’s an eclectic lineup, certainly, with Cal-American dishes on the menu, too, such as a good pulled pork sandwich topped in caramelized onions, apple cabbage slaw and a slick of spicy barbecue sauce ($12.95), or eggs Benedict ($12.95).
Then, add in free-wheeling dishes like a loco moco Hawaiian hangover breakfast of a hamburger patty on white rice with an over easy egg and gravy, plus specials like duck confit, and the chefs have their work cut out for them. Just a look at the unusual interior shows the rather disjointed ambition: décor includes a 1965 R695 BMW motorcycle behind a glass wall, a black tile backed wine bar offering Sonoma County, French and Spanish labels, and a lovely, contemporary patio brimming with manicured trees and flowers.
Still, the real reason to come is for what I hope won’t change: the authentic specialties, faithful to classic recipes like the bigos hunter’s stew ($8.95 cup/ $12.95 bowl). Rather than soupy, this is more like a pulled beef and pork braise, in a pleasing chew studded with mushrooms, soft onion, sauerkraut and smoky tomato notes that we scoop with brown bread. The recipe is secret, my server says, and I don’t find any of the traditional kielbasa added in, but it’s true that some dish preparations here do change a bit from day to day, like a home kitchen.
There are two kinds of borscht, for example. The Ukrainian style ($5.95/$7.95) brings a tomato, cabbage and potato recipe, while the Polish style is offered often as a special ($5.95/$7.95), stocked with red beets, pork rib broth, potatoes and sour cream. Both are nicely done, though I prefer the heartier, more amply seasoned Polish.
IF YOU GO
The 20th annual Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival has crane-watching tours, art for sale, informative talks and kids’ activities Nov. 4-6. cranefestival.com.
California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife tours run from October to February. wildlife.ca.gov.