By Gretchen Giles
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.
Snuggled on sheepskin throws on a couch before a fire, a disheveled couple feed one another with forks and fingers. Her hair has loosened from its tie and her face is flushed. He extends his fork, she takes a coy bite and makes a pretty moue with her mouth. She giggles. We shouldn't be watching this.
But the cozy fireside area of Sebastopol's French Garden Restaurant and Brasserie invites such intimacies. Just celebrating its first anniversary, the restaurant has a large, well-lit dining room and a nicely dim, comfortable bar where lovers may eat tucked away while musicians play.
The dining room's menu is French, which is a quaint oddity in Mediterranean-obsessed North Bay kitchens, and features such standards as escargot ($7), filet de beouf Wellington ($30) and chocolate soufflé (all desserts are $7). What makes the French Garden exceedingly different is that as much as possible, all fruit and produce come from what our server familiarly referred to as "Dan's farm."
"Dan" is co-owner Dan Smith, a community activist and former software developer. When foods come directly from an organic farm, they may be small and they may be misshapen—but they taste like real food. Those so-called baby carrots that woodenly dong out of plastic bags have nothing on Dan's baby carrots, which are truly small sweet roots pulled right from the earth and lightly sautéed.
Such poetic revelations extend hugely to that humble cruciferous known as broccoli; rarely has it been so exalted as at the French Garden. The Brit had the appetizer du jour, which on this jour consisted of perfect broccoli napped in a cheese gratin ($6). After sharing one grudging forkful begged for review purposes, he ate the whole dish silently, swiftly, greedily. Broccoli! Who knew?
I had the persimmon salad ($8) and couldn't be silent at all, a madwoman muttering to myself at table over the tiny plump huckleberries, the chopped, toasted hazelnuts, the pomegranate arils, the small lettuces and frisée, the perfect fans of perfectly ripe fuyu persimmon on the plate.
Stubbornly bent on bringing Merlot back into small favor, we chose the only bottle of California Merlot on the excellent French/American wine list, the fragrant Albini ($39).
For our large rations, the Brit had the New York steak ($27) with a shallot butter and served with tiny roasted beets, more little carrots and crisp pommes frites. My freshly caught medium-rare sea bass ($26) gleamed with a Meyer lemon sauce and sat upon salty Yukon gold mashed potatoes with its own raft of tiny perfect veg, including the storied broccoli. I shared none of it.
Too full for a bowl of Dan's berries, a slice of orange blossom cake or even an assortment of cheeses, we made our way to the bar. With a light menu that includes such as a steak sandwich, all priced at $6–$10, this is a great place to duck into without reservations.
We sat on sheepskin covers on a couch before the fire. We watched the man feed the woman. We looked at each other. We forgave all broccoli transgressions. Yes, we went home.
French Garden Restaurant and Brasserie, 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol. Open for dinner, Wednesday–Sunday, 5pm to 10pm. Brunch, Sunday only, 10am to 2pm. 707.824.2030.
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