Sebastopol’s Fern Bar features ultra-cool cocktails in trendy space
I had stopped to admire a woman’s Border Collie at the entrance of Fern Bar, and after agreeing that he was one of the most handsome dogs in the universe, she asked me if I’d ever eaten at the Sebastopol restaurant, bar and lounge.
I said I hadn’t — though I’d been meaning to venture into the chic hangout in the Barlow for small plates and cocktails since its winter opening. She mused that she’d thought of giving it a shot, but didn’t “speak the menu language.”
I was surprised — where was her adventurous spirit? Try it all, is my motto, and figure out what it is later.
But now, I get it. For the non-chef obsessed, it can be challenging to decipher ingredients like allium butter or nutritional yeast. It can be even more confusing to figure out how they’re put into such offbeat dishes like cauliflower with beluga lentil, purple barley, allium butter, coriander crème fraiche and herb vinaigrette ($18), or an Umami Bomb of mushrooms, broccoli, sticky rice, balsamic, nutritional yeast and shiitake cream that’s not really cream since there’s no dairy in the vegan recipe ($17).
You may ask yourself, do I really want to eat this stuff? Plus, it’s expensive, for what truly are small portions such as a dainty halibut fillet dressed with herbed breadcrumbs, peas and a splash of bone broth at $27.
To be honest, I would visit Fern Bar more for its crazy cocktails and groovy, retro bar mood with yes, you guessed it, lots of ferns thriving in wall and hanging planters. Drinks are nearly edible, after all, like bartender Matt Katzin’s sensational Wimbledon Pimm’s Cup (more on that later). Though if you’re up for exploring, the food is quite good, too, universally singing with the riveting flavors of top quality, ultra-fresh ingredients.
This place is on trend too, to appeal to a picky, contemporary clientele. As much as a place for fashionable folks to eat and drink, Fern Bar is answer to folks who won’t eat and drink. As in, those diners who can’t tolerate (or don’t want) gluten, meat, dairy, alcohol and other such indulgences. Appropriate dishes are labeled by what they lack (V, G, D), and mocktails are as thoughtfully prepared as the beautiful cocktails.
Fern Bar is the project of Lowell Sheldon and Natalie Goble, a dynamic duo who also own the excellent Handline and Lowell’s restaurants nearby. They partnered with Lowell’s former head chef Joe Zobel and three- Michelin-star Restaurant at Meadowood’s former bar manager Sam Levy to create the eclectic food and drink menus. And they draw produce from their nearby Two Belly Acre farm.
That pedigree alone should be enough, to saunter in and join the pretty people crowd. If you’re still unsure, perhaps wade in slowly, with familiar nibbles like crispy chicharrón spiked with espelette pepper ($5), or a few bites of karaage-style fried chicken that’s rather soft but gets welcome flavor from dipping in hot sauce crema ($15). Then move on to Butcher’s Nuggets, a weekly changing meat and dip selection that on one visit brought juicy pork and chicken bonbons on a pond of robust brassica salsa verde ($13).
Step things up, next, with something more unusual. I like the fry bread, even though this version is healthier than the decadent, traditional lard and flour bomb I grew up with in Scottsdale. Properly puffy-crisp, it sits atop crema, gets a lavish ladling of mildly spicy New Mexico chile sauce, and is crowned in aged beef, cotija and lettuce ($20).