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Good and Loud

[whitespace] Felix & Louie's.
Michael Amsler

Tingle-y feeling: Tasty Italian cuisine is the order of the day at Felix & Louie's.

Felix & Louie's serves up an earful

By Paula Harris

THE ENERGY LEVEL at new Healdsburg restaurant Felix & Louie's was tangible one recent Friday night. As we approached the generous double doors, the cacophony of exuberant diners and drinkers poured out into the quiet street in a crazy, echoing rush. Lights streaming out onto the sidewalk and thick, multicolored strips of fresh pasta hanging in the window further revealed that we'd hit our destination.

Felix & Louie's, which opened at the end of February, is the latest venture of longtime local restaurateur Ralph Tingle, who also owns Healdsburg's Bistro Ralph. Ralph--that's logical, we think, but where are Felix and Louie? (Our competent, well-informed server later informs us that "Felix" and "Louie" are pet names the Tingles gave their two sons before birth. The story goes that when the babies arrived, the Tingles didn't have the heart to saddle them with such monikers, so the names were swiftly changed. But the legend of Felix and Louie lives on--there's even a photograph of "them" on the menu cover.)

If we thought it was noisy outside the restaurant, we were almost swept away by the talking, shouting, and laughter that bounced off the high ceilings inside. "High ceilings to match the high energy," commented my companion as we settled in to wait at the bar, where a frazzled bartender barked out, "What will you have?" and "Anything else?" over the din.

The restaurant consists of a large, sprawling room that has surprisingly few dining tables. The room glows warmly with a pale lemon and cream decor, a hardwood floor, and bold artwork along the walls that hides the recessed lighting.

The long bar and Italian wood-burning oven are eye-catchers in a room reminiscent of a brew pub, with plain wooden tabletops and no fancy accoutrements. A retail section, boasting dozens of delicious-sounding pastas (roasted red bell pepper, saffron, and pecan) and various sauces to go, takes up a lot of precious dining space. There is also a semi-private dining room that accommodates large parties, and a patio is in the works.

THIS NIGHT, the restaurant was definitely an end-of-the-week celebration place packed with large groups rather than intimate couples. The few young, well-groomed couples we saw postured upon their stools in a barlike eating area near the back, nuzzling and pouting between forkfuls.

Once we were seated, our server brought us a bowl of thick pesto made with green garlic, parsley, and olive oil and served with crisp slender breadsticks. We ordered a bottle of Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Monteciano 1994 ($29), a well-balanced red that was neither light and thin nor overly fruity, but was soft, medium-bodied, and very drinkable.

Big thick slabs of roasted garlic bread ($4) were wood-oven fired with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and arrived studded with whole garlic cloves. The bread was hot and slathered with the melting cheese. It was a satisfying, chewy start to the meal.

The creamy polenta ($5.50) was an unusual appetizer. The texture was certainly creamy, but almost runny. It was served with bitter roasted radicchio leaves and napped with the bite of balsamic vinegar. Served in a bowl, the dish resembled Cream of Wheat a little too much for our taste.

Pizette ($5.25 to $7, depending on the topping) from the wood-burning oven was fresh and sizzling. Our choice was crowned with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and artichoke hearts. The crust of this mini pizza tasted light and delicate, but the twang of artichoke overpowered the flavors in the topping.

Next we sampled the rabbit braised with rosemary, olives, and lemon ($15.50). This was a hearty portion of rabbit smothered with fat black olives and strips of red pepper and accompanied by plump Tuscan beans. The whole lot was casually piled into a large bowl trattoria-style. Very tasty.

The vegetarian lasagna ($7.95) was a disappointment. Although touted on the menu as containing goat cheese, ricotta, asiago, spinach, wild mushrooms, olives, grilled vegetables, and tomato sauce, the dish lacked any real depth and complexity of flavor and bordered on being truly bland.

The affogato ($4) was simply espresso poured over vanilla ice cream in a glass coffee mug. Other than being rather messy to spoon out, it did not make a lasting impression.

However, the poached pear in red wine with mascarpone ($5), though small in portion, was pleasantly flavored with honey. The dollop of mascarpone further elevated it.

We left still trying to absorb the sensory overload that was Felix & Louie's this particular Friday night. Our ears were ringing but our stomachs were full.


Felix & Louie's

106 Matheson St., Healdsburg; 433-6999
Hours: Open daily; lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; limited menu, 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; dinner, 5:30 p.m. to around 10:30 p.m.
Food: Italian
Service: Good and knowledgeable though a bit rushed
Ambiance: Loud and intense, publike, crowded on weekends
Price: Moderate to expensive
Wine list: Inexpensive selection; several intriguing Italian offerings
Overall: **1/2 (out of 4 stars)


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From the April 16-22, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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