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First Bite

Blu American Eatery

By Jonah Raskin

E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.

It's easy not to see Blu, which bills itself as an "American Eatery," on Second Street in Petaluma, just opposite the movie theater. It blends in with all the new buildings made of steel and glass. Inside, you might be anywhere, though on a dark, rainy day, I felt I was in Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks.

Blu has an unmistakable American ambiance, and the food couldn't be more American, either, with eggs and burgers (made of Harris Ranch beef) in abundance. Like the solitary characters in Hopper's painting, you can sit at the counter, and, like them, you can watch the short-order cook flip bacon and fry potatoes, the same way that short-order cooks have done it since Hopper's day and before.

I arrived for breakfast after a night without sleep, and the strong black coffee brought me back to life. Three cups had me wired. I looked for something different and tried the lemon ricotta pancakes ($7), which are light and fluffy and really taste like fresh ricotta cheese. But two thin pancakes weren't nearly enough to satisfy my hunger, so I had the granola ($6), with fruit and "sweet milk," as it's described on the menu, which turns out to be milk in a pitcher and honey in a jar. You mix the two yourself, and make it as sweet as you want or not at all. My early-morning breakfast companion, who hadn't slept either, had the eggs Benedict ($11) with ham on brioche toast covered with Hollandaise sauce, and pronounced it "impressive."

Lori Shea, who owned and operated the always popular Caffe Giostra in Petaluma for years, presides over Blu, and she knows what local customers like. There's mac 'n' cheese ($8) made with penne pasta and three cheeses; fish tacos made from cod ($12); milkshakes—chocolate and vanilla ($5)—thick and sweet; and grilled cheese sandwiches ($7), also with three cheeses, cheddar, Gruyère and fontina. After all, it's Petaluma: cheese, eggs, butter and milk are big.

No, it's not gourmet, and I suppose that's why Shea calls Blu an "Eatery"—not exactly a restaurant and not really a cafe, either. Something in-between where you can sit at the counter and pretend you're in an Edward Hopper painting, waiting for something to happen or nothing at all. Blu is the kind of place where you can blend in and become anonymous. Reservations aren't necessary; they're not even recommended.

Blu, An American Eatery, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Tuesday–Sunday. 140 Second St., Ste. 100, Petaluma. 707.778.6965.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.