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September 27-October 3, 2006

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First Bite


By Therese Nicol

When you're located in a strip mall, it's difficult to shed the strip-mall ambiance, but Sugo in Petaluma manages. Sugo serves bang-up, fresh, Italian-influenced food at prices that, by the Bay Area's inflated standards, seem like a steal. Don't picture another barley and wheatgrass joint, though Sugo's fare does seem remarkably wholesome. For instance, my penne primavera ($10) was a veritable garden of tomato, basil, carrots, green beans, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and mushrooms, with perfectly cooked penne tossed in almost as an afterthought.

The chef uses a light hand with oils without a sacrifice in taste. My friend and I started with bruschetta ($5), which was by far the best version of this homely dish that I have ever had. The toasts were perfectly browned, moist and chewy inside, with a fresh and chilly tomato and basil concoction heaped aboard the little crouton canoes. A week later, we were still reminiscing about it. The house salad ($8) was another stunning array of the garden's bounty, with a few added attractions. Fresh corn off the cob, greens, cucumbers and tomatoes composed the vegetable portion, while kalamata olives, walnuts, gorgonzola and a light balsamic dressing provided the finale.

My friend had a sandwich with grilled eggplant, mozzarella and artichoke hearts on focaccia ($8). It was accompanied by lovely waves of housemade potato chips, one of which I managed to snag. Let's just say that if they were available by the pound, I'd be fatter (and happier) than I already am. Also offered are individual pizzas ($8), one of which I spied at an adjacent table. They look to be enough for two light eaters or a parent with a child in tow.

If you do nothing else, do this: Finish the meal with a dessert. We took an apple pie to split, which was worth every single one of the $6 that we paid for it. It was a homemade pie, as good as Grandma's, and that's no lie. My only complaint would be concerning service. It was rude. Maybe I just hit the server on a bad day; still, it should be noted. For my money, though, Sugo is a great little neighborhood place. And even if Jabba the Hutt was taking orders, I'd still go back for the bruschetta.

Sugo, 5 Petaluma Blvd. S. (at B Street), Petaluma. Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. 707.782.9298.

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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.