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July 12-18, 2006

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First Bite

Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar

By Carey Sweet

The curls of salmon on my plate are lovely. The pink-orange folds have been cured in-house at the restaurant where I'm relaxing, the new Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar in Santa Rosa. The fish is silky against cracker thin crisps of sunflower bread and salty under little dollops of thick dilled cream. The presentation is charming, on a long narrow dish scattered with black sesame seeds and cucumber carpaccio, vinegary slices of fruit so thin they look like a painted pattern on the china.

In between bites, I sip dry, tropical-toned Bokisch Albariño (Lodi, 2005), settle back on an overstuffed plush couch, and admire the walls of bottles separating the intimate bar area from the well-stocked retail wine space. It's all quite perfect, except for one thing: I'm famished.

Well, OK, two things. I'm also poor. And with these factors in combination, I unfortunately won't be fully enjoying my evening at Spectrum. Because Spectrum serves tapas, and unlike many of the ubiquitous places today that serve almost entrée-size portions under this trendy guise, these really are tapas--as in small tastes, like my three domino-size salmon canapés. Plus, Spectrum's nibbles are expensive, with my fish ringing up a remarkable $14 cha-ching.

There are only two slender bruschetta for my $10. The menu changes regularly, and tonight I've got plump, juicy wild mushrooms melting with mild sheep's milk cheese. Another plate holds a couple of tablespoons of Bellwether Farm crescenza, to be spread on whisper-thin shards of toast. It's delicious and darling, but also very dear at $12. My guest, in an effort to fill up, has ordered panini ($11), but it too is petite, with cuts of waffle grilled bread that would dwarf only a child's hand, and tucked with a few precious shaves of Serrano atop Bellwether pepato sprinkled with peppercorns.

The situation makes me uncomfortable when my server returns, politely scouting more orders. I can't complain about the food's quality--it's very nice--but priced at about, oh, double the value of the ingredients, most of which we can find in our own upscale neighborhood market.

A nubbin of Matos São Jorge cheese and a handful of cherries isn't 11 dollars' worth of adventure, and I could get a bushel of rosemary-roasted Valley Ford potatoes dipped with green chile aioli for eight bucks. Yes, I adore every bite of the charcuterie plate, speckled with veal and rabbit pate, tender suckling pig and Liberty duck, but it's gone faster than it takes me to sign the credit card slip for its $17 tariff.

Spectrum owner Glenn Siegel probably isn't going for weak-walleted customers like me, anyway; his primary business is a high quality, small production wine distributorship catering to wealthy enophiles. The restaurant's wine service reflects that, and by-the-glass choices run from $12 to $38. The difference is that most of these wines aren't bottles we could pick up at the local fancy mart.

Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar, 123 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday; until midnight, Wednesday-Saturday. 707.636.1064.

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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.