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The Best of the North Bay 2004

Writer's Choice

Best Extra-Virgin Experience
After a pretty drive out where Petaluma starts flirting with rural Marin, walk among McEvoy Ranch's organically grown olive trees, see the herd of sheep responsible for mowing and fertilizing the orchards, gawk at hulking, shiny European machinery (the frantoio, or olive mill, came all the way from Italy) and eventually taste the oozy, golden- and emerald-hued olive oils (including the sensory-awakening Olio Nuovo) that make McEvoy a favorite among chefs and food geeks. The catch: McEvoy offers a very limited number of tours each year, and at $15 a pop, they fill up quickly. www.mcevoyranch.com. --S.B.

Best Move Across Town
It's bigger, there's more parking, the neighborhood taquerias are better and Santa Rosa Junior College is just a Frisbee toss away. Since Doug Jayne and Hoyt Wilhelm opened the Last Record Store in 1983, it's become an institution. The overall character of downtown Santa Rosa took a hit when they vacated their longtime Fourth Street location last year, but the good news is that the Last Record Store's spacious new digs allow more room for displaying actual vinyl, which has always been one of the store's primary missions, anyway. Now that they're next to both Video Droid and Community Market, you can easily buy a new album, rent The Two Towers DVD, and pick up some smoked tofu to go with it. That's enough keep you entertained for a whole weekend! 1899-A Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.525.1963.--S.B.


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[ Writer's Choice | Readers' Choice ]


Best Place to Get a Buzz
The buzz cut is perhaps the simplest of all hairdos. Yet no matter which style of this military standard you prefer--flattop, butch or crew--finding a hair technician who is both qualified and courageous enough to mow right down to the bone is a chore in this Supercuts era. In fact, I've found only two people in the North Bay whom I can trust with the delicate duty of shearing my skull: the father-and-son team of Dick and Randy Wooldridge, owners and operators of the Barber Shop in beautiful remodeled downtown Cloverdale. Dick or Randy will chop and channel your noggin to the specified parameters and keep you informed on important current events, such as the sorry state of the Oakland Raiders and the trouble with kids these days. All this for a mere $12? We're talking a bargain, mate. 118 E. First St., Cloverdale. 707.894.5884.--R.V.S.

Best End of the Line
Remember that scene in the first Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston finds the broken Statue of Liberty sticking up out of the sand? That's what the Cloverdale Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit station is like. In the future, assuming our oil-depleting culture actually makes it that far, throngs of commuters will flock one day to such stations, strategically situated on the publicly owned rail line that runs from Cloverdale to Sausalito, that stand idle of trains. For the financially strapped present, the empty station at night, brightly lit up to ward off skateboarders and vandals, serves as a cautionary metaphor that could very well be our epitaph: The lights are on, but nobody is home.--R.V.S.

Best Place to Get a Handle on Your Henkel
Brush elbows with TV chefs, cookbook writers and restaurant bigwigs at Ramekins Sonoma Valley Culinary School, where the instructors--including people you've probably heard of (Ming Tsai, John Ash, Paula Wolfert) and people you may not have (Craig Ponsford of Sonoma's Artisan Bakers, Meritâge Restaurant chef Carlo Cavallo)--really are worth their salt. Class sizes typically range from 16 to 30 students, so there's plenty of time for the chef du jour to answer your involved questions about prosciutto production or the difference between Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans. Bonus: you often get a glass of wine to sip during lectures, which most schools (culinary or non) heavily discourage. 450 West Spain St., Sonoma. 707.933.0450. www.ramekins.com.--S.B.

Best Place to Spend Four Bucks on Beauty
Right down on Bloomfield Road in Sebastopol, beauty rests. It rests in the form of stunning dahlias, picked and bundled in perfect bunches and left for flower lovers to enrapture themselves with. Stop at the table, choose a bunch, leave $4 in the jar and go along your merry way. It's so easy and so rewarding, and it just feels so good that people still employ honor jars and trust and community spirit. The dahlia stand on Bloomfield Road isn't just about dahlias--colorful, delightful and fresh though they may be--it's about community.--D.B.

Best Up-and-Coming Neighborhood
Joe Davidson, owner of Mojo Mens Clothing at 320 S. A St., likes to refer to the neighborhood delineated by South A Street, Sebastopol Avenue, Santa Rosa Avenue and Highway 101 as the "Gallery District." So far, the name doesn't appear to have caught on, but if you squint a little bit, you can see things are happening in this forgotten section of Santa Rosa. At Mojo, you'll find designer duds for dudes, such as rare Seven jeans and limited edition silk-screened T-shirts. For those on a tighter clothing budget, there's an excellent selection of used and vintage clothing next door at Moxie. Birkenstocks falling apart? South A Leather and Shoe Alteration can fix 'em up special. If peace, love, understanding and vegan food are your bag, the Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center and Chai Baba Chai are around the corner on Sebastopol Avenue. And what would a Gallery District be without some galleries? Here there are several, including A Street Gallery, which has developed a reputation as the place to view the work of the best area artists. So, can we call this definitely up-and-coming neighborhood the Gallery District? If the shoe fits . . .--R.V.S.

Best Place To Tromp Around Wearing Galoshes
Galosh, galosh, galosh. That's the onomatopoeiac sound of the rainy season in West County, at least for those who've retained enough childlike joie de vivre to relish the disarray of Mother Nature. She's out there, in all her sloppy splendor, on the back trails of Ragle Ranch Regional Park in Sebastopol. Park your vehicle in the civilized upper section, near the soccer fields and volleyball courts, and pull on your wellies before descending into the swampy wilderness that comprises the majority of Ragle's 160 acres. There you'll find wooden footbridges, rampant blackberry thickets, wild roses, rabbits, hawks and lots of glorious mud. 500 Ragle Road, Sebastopol. 707.823.7262 or 707.565.2041.--Y.B.

Best Place to Pop Out a Baby
For women with low-risk pregnancy, the licensed nurse midwives at the Women's Health and Birth Center facilitate a comfortable event in a cozy house. Want to give birth in a bed? No problem. There are two! How 'bout the tub? There is a regular bathtub with handles for hefting yourself around, plus a birthing tub, a big soft-sided round tub. Just want to do it standing up? Go ahead. There are pieces of squishy furniture to lounge about on, and the medical equipment is hidden away. Friends are welcome. Postbirth meal is provided. 583 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.539.1544.--A.H.

Best Place to Relive the Days of Frogger and Pong
From food to culture to shopping, downtown San Rafael is clearly trying to stay ahead of the pack, and that's what Marinites expect. It's surprising, lucky and downright strange, then, that the dark, dank video-game alley still sits there down at the end of the Fourth Street corridor, as it's likely sat for a couple of decades. A throwback to the years before Xbox and Playstation colonized the brains of today's youth, when entertainment had to be found outside the house, the small space is decidedly old-school. It's populated with familiar joystick-and-steering-wheel-operated machines, electronic pings and pongs and gunfire bursts emanating from tinny speakers. The pimply denizens meet their friends for a few hours of precious freedom (perhaps while mom and dad take in a film at the Rafael or stroll the farmers market), and the walls practically drip teenage angst--or maybe that's just a spilled Dr. Pepper. Star Base Arcade, 1545 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.459.7665.--D.B.

Best Indication of the (Interior-Design) Apocalypse
OK, so it wasn't even that great the first time around, but wallpaper is making a comeback. Seems chic designers are flocking back to flocks, chintz and other seemingly tacky wall coverings after years of squealing about the need for stark white (or at least monochromatic) walls. The catch is that you're only supposed to paste the stuff on one wall and paint the other three a complementary color. Or something. In any case, we'll try to comply if they promise not to bring back avocado-colored appliances anytime soon. Wallpaper Plus, 506 Lewis Road, Santa Rosa. 707.579.4423.--H.I.

Best Way to Keep the Doctor Away
Sonoma County apple talk is all too often dominated by the Gravenstein. Now, the Gravenstein is a delicious apple--not too tart, not too sweet, with just the right amount of crunch--and its early spot on the apple-season calendar guarantees it high visibility. But what of the Pink Lady? What of the Arkansas Black or the Black Twig? These are the things that apple dreams are made of. Walker Apple Farm, which lies at the end of a long, winding country road between Sebastopol and Graton, does the panoply of apple varieties justice. From late summer to midwinter, the varieties blossom and fruit and plump up into deliciousness. The proprietors (the Walkers, one would assume) man the stand and will slice endless chunks of apple varieties until you find the apple of your eye. 10955 Upp Road, Sebastopol. 707.823.4310.--D.B.

Best Place to Unexpectedly Find Yourself Facing a Mammoth Tiki God
The Mill Valley Film Festival opened somewhat whimsically last October, with a gala party held largely on a soccer field. Actually, the main event was held in a tent on the soccer field--with jungle-animal-print patterns projected onto the ceiling--a tent to which cinema-sated revelers were led by an eerie little path adorned here and there with enormous, spookily lit plaster tiki statues. Big ones. Inexplicable, but kinda cool, the faux gods were the brainstorm of event planner David Tureaud, who, when asked what they had to do with film or the film festival, gleefully explained, "They're bigger than life, like the Mill Valley Film Festival," further adding, "I saw them in a warehouse and I thought, 'Hey! I can do something with those.'" Though Rafael Film Center programmer Richard Peterson and an unnamed reporter (ahem, cough, cough) did hatch a lighthearted plan to carry one of the massive tiki men away just for the hell of it, the plot was only theoretical, and every last one of those surprisingly light decorations remain to be so employed at other bigger-than-life events of future years. Find information on the Mill Valley Film Festival at http://cafilm.org.--D.T.

Best Place Where Time Has Stood Still
"When I'm not soaked in Wesson Oil from head to toe, I'm shopping at Gravenstone's." Florence Henderson never said this, and it's wrong --wrong!--to imply that she did. The proprietors of Sonoma County's best head shop learned this lesson after Henderson took them to court in 1999; unlike Wesson, Gravenstone's hadn't paid for her endorsement. Scandalous! Apart from pulling the offending ad, though, little about this charming hole in the wall has changed since then. The chessboard tables out front are still regularly occupied by genteel smokers, and the aroma of incense and the strains of reggae still waft from inside, where you can still buy single cigarettes for a quarter apiece. Why mess with a good thing? 8246 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707.795.8498.--Y.B.

Place Most Likely to Be a Portal to Another Dimension
To say this place is, well, odd would be an understatement. Rather, a cross between kids' resale, a knickknack and curio purveyor, an Ozark flea market and crazy Aunt Sallie the Cat Lady's attic would begin to approximate the experience. It starts out simply enough as you enter--toys, games and used clothing--but as you venture deeper into the labyrinth of rooms . . . let's just say you might want to bring some bread crumbs. There's bound to be a pirate's booty of treasure among the old Barbie dolls, used lingerie and dusty Christmas decorations. It's up to you to find it. Wampady Kids, 4349 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.538.2581.--H.I.

Best Place to Supplement Your Health That Comes With Its Own Dr. Phil
The '70s-born co-ops are gone, and with them, the science of hands-on vitamin advice has also fled. Now there are uppity vitamin stores and bank-account-draining "health food" stores. These retail opportunists offer hefty discounts on their supplements, but leave you to flounder in the aisles deciding between herbs with names like the characters in a fantasy novel. At Vitamin Planet, Petaluma's own Dr. Phil--Phil Lieb--is the last bastion of independent vitamin retail offering personal, one-on-one advice about everything from your regularity to not-so-regular occurrences, protrusions, icky rashes and more. Check your fears and your shame at the door. Though rumor has it that Dr. Phil knows the bodily secrets of half the town, your boils and mucous secretions are safe with him. Vitamin Planet, 135 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707.765.0975.--J.R.

Best Place to Exhale
Ever since Hollywood types started bowing namaste at the audience each time there is applause, or Nike showed a dreadlocked fellow wearing his shoes standing in tree-pose on some sidewalk, we can be pretty certain that yoga has hit Western culture by storm. Thank Shiva for teachers like Mark Dennis at the Yoga Company in Sonoma. A one-man union on strike against the rigors of "Jane Fonda yoga," he espouses deep work with lots of breathing, work that is more likely to make you supple than sweaty. But his true genius is the humor he brings to yoga, something almost taboo, peppering the class with the occasional shout of "If you all don't stop looking so pious, I'm going to have to jump out a window" or "Make sure to look at your neighbor to see that you're doing it better than them, because that's what yoga is about." Clearly, what yoga is about is people of all ability levels doing their practice together with a teacher as well-versed in anatomy, as enthusiastic and as attentive as Mark Dennis. And if you're able to smile in the middle of your downward-facing-dog, so much the better. 670 West Napa St., Sonoma. 707.935.8600.--J.K.

Best Place to Find the Perfect New-to-You Computer
Looking for a new monitor? Parts to an old machine? A 1984 IBM Model "M" keyboard with extra clicky keys? Check out the Computer Recycling Center in Santa Rosa. Every Saturday, the Recycling Center opens its doors to the discerning eyes and geeky hearts of computer lovers everywhere. The center resells recycled equipment and also gets deliveries from other parts of the Bay Area, which means a fresh selection every week. It's good for the environment and nice on the pocketbook. But go early--the Computer Recycling Center is only open between 9am and 1pm. 3249 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.570.1600.--J.L.

Best Place to Dry Out
Every day at the Salvation Army's huge regional compound in Lytton, dozens of trucks loaded with donations--furniture, clothing, bicycles, stereo equipment, books, computers, bric-a-brac, you name it--pull up to the loading dock. There, the trucks are unloaded by residents of the Salvation Army's substance abuse program at Lytton. Some of these men have come here from prison; all of them have come from lives broken by drugs or alcohol. Yet even as they unload the trucks, they're putting their lives back together, with the help of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army's recovery program is strict and unabashedly religious, but it has shown the way to many men seeking the straight and narrow path. That's something worth remembering next holiday season, when you pass those bell ringers on the way into the mall. 200 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg. 707.433.3334.--R.V.S.

Best Place for Highly Discounted Retail Therapy
The Salvation Army at Lytton Springs station has multiple shops with cheaply priced clothes, jewelry, furniture and stuff. Ask the friendly staff about their weekly discount schedule. Some days, most items in all shops are 50 percent off the already ridiculously low prices, and other days, select categories are specially priced (such as, all shoes 50 cents; men's pants, a buck). There is also an outdoor yard sale six days a week, with giant stacks of books for two bucks and furniture for five. Much sorting required. Just a reminder: the Salvation Army is not the dump. Do not "donate" actual trash; it slows down my shopping. 200 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg. 707.433.3334.--A.H.

Best Scrappy Value Hunting
Though its official name is the Goodwill As-Is Store, aficionados more aptly call it the Dig. That's because you quite literally dig through deep bins of the North Bay's junkiest junk in search of treasure. My friend outfits his toddler with Fisher-Price toys from the Dig. "I just run 'em through the dishwasher to sanitize them," he says. "She's two, she can't tell the difference." The Dig sells clothing by the pound, so if you find a snazzy 25-cent cowboy shirt or two to sell on eBay, you can, in extreme cases, make a 500 percent profit. Not too shabby for an as-is store. 651 Yolanda Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.523.0550.--S.B.

Best Place to Prep For a Hayride
Once upon a time, when Sonoma County was not a monoculture of grapes, there were horse ranches and poultry farms, and people had to find things to feed the critters. Twenty-five years ago, Mike and Rich Brocco started Brocco's Old Barn on Arnold Drive in Sonoma, and birds, cats, dogs, chickens, horses, trout, camels, emus, sheep, catfish, gerbils and even the occasional illegal ferret are glad they did. Oat hay, alfalfa, orchard grass, wheat, rye--the barn is filled to the rafters with the sweet-smelling stuff. Since dogs and cats are the beasts of choice now, they stock 90 types of dog and cat food, as well as monkey chow, should the need arise. I am glad they are there for their wide array of bird seed, as one morning years ago I woke up early and there were no fewer than 20 quail pecking at the ground under my pine tree in bewilderment, as if to say, "Where's the grub?" Four birdfeeders, numerous 40-pound bags of black sunflower seeds and countless bags of Dove and Quail Mix later, I am glad places like Brocco's exist. 19660 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 707.996.7643.--J.K.

Best News You Can Use
Such small-town scandals as someone reporting mysterious paint drips on their doorstep, two feuding neighbors placing each other under citizen's arrest or a young kid selling pot from a fast-food joint's drive-through window are funny and yet not funny, and can all be had by reading the weekly edition of the 12,000 circulation Mill Valley Herald. What better way to temporarily block out harrowing news events of greater scope, such as the Bush administration's methodical destruction of the entire planet? Mill Valley's miniscule doses of crime-scene reality bring news to a much more digestible level, which we all need. 415.339.8510.--S.B.

Best Two-for-the-Money
Here's a fun fact that you won't find in the Sonoma County visitors' guide: we currently generate more wastewater than we know what to do with. While some tertiary-treated water (read: sewage) was and is used to irrigate fields and lawns, the excess, given stricter environmental regulations on the disposing of wastewater, was simply too toxic to dump into the Russian River. The question was, what to do with it? The answer was pure science fiction: build a 41-mile-long underground pipeline and pump 11 million gallons daily of the tainted water to the Geysers geothermal steam field. Science fiction has become science fact, and the water now sent to the Geysers Recharge Project has prolonged the life of the steam field by 20 years and helps generate enough additional electricity to supply 85,000 homes in the North Bay. Chalk it up as a win-win for consumers and the environment--less wastewater going into the river, more energy going into our homes.--R.V.S.

Best Place to Pretend to Star in a Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Film
Rat droppings, rusty beer cans, lewd graffiti--why does this stuff always crop up in abandoned concrete structures? And why, once imposed upon the rolling yet rugged Sausalito coastline, is it suddenly so cool? Currently including over 40 national registered historic buildings and structures, Fort Baker (established in 1890 and now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area) plays host to a handful of crumbling military installations, now retired, that were used off and on until the end of the Cold War. So yes, they are historic. They are also dark, damp, creepy and hella cool. Go to /nps.gov/goga/mahe/foba for directions.--S.B.

Best Place to Accidentally Run Over a Big Tabby Cat That Dashes Beneath the Minivan's Tires Without Warning, Dispatching the Poor Thing Almost Instantly, After Which the Police Are Called (The Woman Says That Most People Don't Call, They Just Drive On), Who Soon Come and Take the Still-Warm Remains to the Animal Shelter, Sadly and With Reverence.
The corner of Holly and Madison streets in Petaluma. Sorry about that.--D.T.

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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