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The Drawing Board brings upscale vegan and California cuisine to downtown Petaluma

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I just spent $10 on toast. Adding tax and tip, my bill came to $12.61 for two smallish pieces of bread.

It was superb toast, certainly, enjoyed at The Drawing Board in Petaluma. The crusty levain comes from Petaluma’s own Revolution Bread, and is slathered with smashed avocado, creamy feta, a touch of preserved lemon for zing, and dukkah (an Egyptian mix of toasted nuts, seeds, herbs and spices).

But still. There’s no denying that dining at The Drawing Board can be pricey.

Chalk it up to health, and high-end ingredients for a wholesome diet. The restaurant is owner Rosie Wiggins’ dream and, as she shares, clean eating has long been a savior for her own chronic illness challenges.

That’s why this past January, she debuted her largely vegan and vegetarian eatery, working with chef Ariel Nadelberg, who came from San Francisco’s vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free restaurant Seed + Salt.

Then, in September, Nadelberg departed, and chef Kevin Katsulis, formerly of David Kinch’s Bywater in Santa Cruz, joined the team. Yet the mission remains the same — to prove that vice-free foods can be sumptuous.

During the past week of devastating wildfires in Sonoma County they used 40 pounds of ground beef donated by Marin Sun Farms in west Petaluma and produce donated by Marin Sonoma Produce to make casseroles for 200 people at evacuation centers. They also gave free grilled cheese and French onion soup to firefighters and victims, with a large table reserved for them in the dining room.

After several meals at the sophisticated spot on Kentucky and Washington streets, I’m a believer. That toast is so divinely delicious that, paired with a bowl of savory organic chicken bone broth ($7), it ended up being a full lunch. Then, on another visit, I topped the toast with a fried egg ($2), and it was a meal in itself. My server even suggested pairing it with wine, including biodynamic, organic and sulfate-free selections.

Wisely, Katsulis hasn’t changed the original concept of cooking seasonally, focusing on local purveyors, and taking bold twists on flavor. Consider his Tuscan kale salad, for example, in a symphony of grilled apricot, charred spring onion, toasted almonds, puffed buckwheat, and tart pickled plum vinaigrette ($14). The textures and earthy taste contrasts are marvelous.

Many ingredients, such as vegetables, honey and dairy come from FEED Sonoma, a hub distributor of local products, including dozens of tiny family farms. Katsulis gets his goat cheese from Laura Chenel in Sonoma, and heirloom items like Sonora wheat grown in Petaluma, or red flint polenta from Community Grains of Oakland. Lots of the greens come from Wiggins’ own backyard, and even the toast’s preserved lemons come from the restaurant GM’s Meyer fruit tree.

I can taste the freshness in every bite. Who can resist such perfect charred fingerlings and shishitos  ($15), served in an iron skillet and dressed in chunky salsa verde, peppery greens, creamy goat cheese dressing and a hint of togarashi spice?

I can even convince myself that cocktails are healthy, since here, the bartender serves up concoctions like my favorite Prescription, a bracing, spicy blend of Scotch, ginger-turmeric honey, lemon, Bilaro amaro from west Sebastopol, Fresno chili and bee pollen ($12).

While the brief lunch, dinner and weekend menus change frequently, the signature carrot lox ($15) is a constant. It’s a remarkable recipe, bringing carrots smoked, rolled in nori and smoked sea salt, then baked and sliced for an intriguing, sort of marinated flavor that sings against a thick swath of veggie-cashew cream cheese, all put on toast with a final flourish of baby greens.

The chef appreciates sweet potatoes, too. He makes them into skinny, herbed fries to go with a grilled veggie burger  moistened with mild barbecue sauce and vegetable cashew cream cheese, then wrapped, at my request, in steamed collard greens ($16). This is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had recently, slightly sweet with caramelized onions and sturdy with what tasted like lentils.

He also fashions sweet potatoes into glistening glass noodles for an inventive green curry tossed with roasted vegetables ($21) and a balanced array of spices and heat.

In fact, vegetable dishes here are so satisfying that I skipped any meat entrees after my first visit. The Marin Sun Farms-Petaluma beef burger ($16) is fine, if rather oddly topped in roasted beets, goat cheese and grilled spring onion. And the daily changing beef cut one evening looked more dramatic than it tasted, delivering a basic New York strip set atop potato chunks tossed with shallots and spring onions, and capped in grilled shisitos, a dab of spicy curry aioli, and edible flowers ($44).

Grilled Petaluma chicken was simply nice, too, the half bird crispy-skinned and served with a well-crafted panzanella alongside thin-sliced watermelon radish and grilled lemon ($30). It’s presented beautifully, though, as are most dishes here, with a drumstick splayed up like architecture next to a flower atop the salad.

In keeping with the beautiful food, the 65-seat restaurant is stylish, in a chic saloon bistro mood. I love that the benches were made by Petaluma’s Heritage Salvage of wood reclaimed from racehorse legend Seabiscuit’s stable. Hanging bulb fixtures, meanwhile, are antique warehouse lights, chairs are vintage Parisian school chairs, pillows are made of Fair Trade Turkish kilim, and walls showcase old, exposed brick.

I’m not usually a sugary dessert fan (give me the calories in more bread and butter instead), but the not-too-sweet confections here please me. Chocolate pot de crème ($9) is thick and silky, tucked in a glass jar and stabbed with dark chocolate crisps. And another dessert is impressive partly for what it doesn’t have – the gluten free, dairy free Golden Milk cheesecake ($9) is almost a flan, of cashew and coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom on a buckwheat crust naturally sweetened with dates.

So yes, it may cost a bit more to dine at The Drawing Board. But with cuisine of this caliber, and for our happy health, aren’t we all worth it?

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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