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.
Anchoring the northern reach of Petaluma's chicken town moderne Theater District, Graffiti looks like it could be a pricey, trendy and fancy-pants kind of place with an outsized menu and preciously arranged platings. Yet on both first and second bites both indoors and out, Graffiti showed well.
Graffiti boasts a comfortably dim dining room that's partitioned from the bar with bamboo-motif glass screens. At the bar, lingering after-workers knocked back scotch and contemplated a flat-screen TV. Service is no more or less than cordial and efficient, and I like that. The selection of tapas makes Graffiti a likely rendezvous spot for light bites and drinks. With seared porcini tofu ($7) and risotto-stuffed baby pumpkin ($8), for example, it's generous to vegetarians.
I sampled a flight of three soups ($7): vibrant red, cool gazpacho; meaty and none-too-milky clam chowder; and creamy, spicy roasted artichoke. The caesar salad ($7) was a deconstructionist paean: a crostini idled on the side, a parmigiano-reggiano crisp leaned against a big romaine wedge, draped with a filleted anchovy like a trophy deer over the hood of a Buick. Sure, it's a conversation piece, but perfectly edible.
A small plate of black pepper ravioli ($9) with artichoke heart stuffing, mushroom duxelle and mascarpone cheese over buerre blanc proved to be rich and delicious. Though liquid smoke infused the stacked planks of crispy polenta ($8) with marinara and wild mushrooms, this high-end happy hour snack was addictive. The otherwise excellent cheese course ($14) could stand to lose the baby mozzarella. Crab cakes ($11) arrived on a visually appealing platter diagonally bifurcated by hues of sauce, and were heavy on crab, not filler. I tucked-in con gusto.
On Sunday, we found a more casual crowd on the riverside terrace under jiblike sunshades, enjoying a live jazz band.
Graffiti's wine list is better by the bottle than by the glass. My friend's ultradry Sangiovese was not technically flawed, just singularly inappropriate for sipping, and our server swapped it out with no fuss whatsoever.
Both soup and salad may be added to any entrée ($6), pan-seared halibut ($10) and sundry other sea creatures to any salad. We enjoyed tri-pepper seared salmon ($19) served atop a pile of impossibly long zucchini "ribbons" with forbidden rice, shoyu and shiso. The warmth of the evening was holding, so I wasn't feeling like a heavy filet mignon ($27) or, geez, stuffed pheasant ($26). I figured that pizzetta with grilled ribeye ($14) presented some risk of being overlooked, tough and dry--making for a good test. The small cubes of steak-on-a-'za were medium and tender, the smoky grilled flavor melding well with red and yellow peppers, onion, wild mushroom and Jarlsberg cheese. I don't care what they say about it on Yelp.com, Graffiti did all right by me.
Graffiti, 101 Second St., Petaluma. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 707.765.4567.
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