By James Knight
Editor'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.
Restaurants come and go as fast as the seasons. The best are, to borrow a punch line from Monty Python, like a jam donut: Their arrival brings us pleasure, and their departure merely leaves us hungry for more. The space formerly occupied by the beloved Cafe St. Rose has sprouted an eclectic eatery that's been as eagerly anticipated as the former is pined for. The only raw-food fine dining north of San Rafael, Seed is part of the latest resurgence of a regime that's been touted for over a hundred years. Raw-food partisans come in many stripes, from raw-meat-scarfing Paleolithics to gentle fruitarians. Vegan's the word here, both in conventional raw foods like salad and creative mimicry of traditional cooked dishes. Seed delivers artfully arranged plates that are, more often than not, as flavorful as they are interesting.
The window box of a dining room is light and airy but comfortable. Seed's style is lower-case-letter modern/urban, not what some may expect going on stereotype. Our chipper server gets a break being brand-new on the job; the personable owner and chef circulate to explain their menu and solicit our reactions.
With a permit pending for serving vegan wine (yes, there is), there's something to look forward to—with this caveat: If my experience at Berkeley's Cafe Gratitude is any guide, one bottle shared over raw food makes for a tipsy time.
The chef's tasting plate ($11) offers a broad, bite-sized overview of the appetizer selection. The "live" carrot ginger soup was served cool in a glass, like a savory smoothie spiked with ginger and allspice. Live chips, dehydrated vegetable crisps drizzled with hummus-like jalapeño "crème" were a big hit at the table. Sea salad was a nest of thin, crisp seaweed and carrot, and live caesar was topped with piquant pine nut Parmesan. The shrunken tapenade-stuffed crimini mushrooms looked as if they're cooked—finished with little fragrant sprigs of fennel, a scrumptious if tiny treat.
The barbecue burger ($12.50) was the closest thing to the image of old-school, earnest veganism on the menu. The side caesar was fresh and tasty, and I approached with an open mind the dark, compressed live nut burger and its earthy bouquet. But the live barbecue sauce ruined it for me. Although my dining companions did not pick it up, the vinegar aroma triggered a remarkable and unfortunate memory of . . . a winery at the end of harvest. I say it nicely—I mean the drains.
I didn't get near feeling full until a tasty cup of French green lentil soup in spicy cumin broth ($3.50), one of a few cooked items on the menu, arrived. The hands-down most creative and satisfying entrée were the ravioli flowers ($13). Creamy macadamia nut filling is folded into thinly sliced rutabaga "pillows" to approximate ravioli—really several times better than this description sounds.
With room for dessert, we found the brownie (all desserts, $6.50), too dry, but the Cheezcake is the new wave of New York style. Cool and creamy with hazelnut crust, drizzled with live strawberry sauce, each bite was better than the last. Our departure only left us hungry for more.
Seed, 463 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday–Saturday; brunch, Sunday. 707.546.7333.
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