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December 27, 2006-January 2, 2007

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First Bite

Rocker Oysterfeller's

By Molly T. Jackel

We were lured to the two-month-old Rocker Oysterfeller's in the newly renovated Valley Ford Hotel by its $9.50-pulled-pork-sandwich-plus-a-beer special. Absolutely sure the place would be dead on a weeknight, especially with that name, we were surprised to find a steady stream of customers and a lively bar in this evocative little town.

Inside, the walls are covered with local art for sale; the menu is thick with local, organic ingredients and the wine list is almost 100 percent from Sonoma County. We were greeted with a plate of warm, tender corn-jalapeño biscuits and promptly ordered the signature dish, Rockers Oysterfeller ($14 for six) with bacon, arugula, cream cheese and a cornbread crust. Unlike oysters Rockefeller, which often smothers the bivalves, in this version you could really taste the oysters--nice fresh ones too, served on a bed of rock salt. We had a green salad ($6), which was lightly dressed in a well-balanced vinaigrette with crunchy pink radishes and a sprinkle of little homemade croutons.

Next we tried the Rosie organic fried chicken ($17) with mashed potatoes and Lagunitas Ale gravy. The fried chicken was juicy and not greasy, the crust very crisp. The potatoes, nice and lumpy, had a wonderful taste, thanks to Valley Ford's own Oh! Tommy Boy potatoes. That pulled-pork sandwich (remember: $9.50 with a beer!) was served on a fresh ciabatta roll with fries. When you've had a sublime, falling-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth roast-pork-shoulder experience as I have, it can turn you into someone who has no means to control ordering it whenever it appears. Because of this affliction, I have been sorely disappointed many times: too dry, too tough, too mushy, too greasy, not salty enough. But, no. This one was tender and luscious--not mushy--and delivered that sweet-savory one-two punch. The fries were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, twice fried I'm pretty sure, salty as all get out and especially full-flavored--Oh, Tommy Boy! For dessert, we ordered a poached pear crisp ($7.00). It was simple and lovely with a light oat topping and a giant dollop of vanilla ice cream.

In addition to all the other righteous, local-supporting ways found here, Rocker Oysterfeller's corkage is a mere $10, and only $5 if you bring a Sonoma County wine. That doesn't happen every day.

The co-owners of the restaurant and inn, Shona Campbell and Brandon Gunther, moved here recently from Oakland where they ran a catering business. Campbell has been in the business for 15 years. Gunther has a long career as a chef and restaurant consultant. The Valley Ford Hotel houses the restaurant and rooms are reasonably priced, so you can stay the night if things get hairy. There's a deck in the back under giant oaks, which the owners plan to open for events and weddings in spring and for a music series on weekends.

Have you been on your way home from the beach, hungry with no place to eat? Well, now you can stop here for a cocktail and a good, homey meal with local produce and wines. And when the owners open a market, offering local breads, cheeses, wines and more, you can stop there for picnic supplies heading out to the beach, too.

Rocker Oysterfeller's at the Valley Ford Hotel, 14415 Coast Hwy. 1, Valley Ford. Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday. 707.876.1983

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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.