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First Bite


By Heather Irwin

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. 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. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

"What are you looking at?" I asked my date, who had been gazing at me for an unusually long time across the candlelit table.

"You," he said in absolute earnestness. "You look so beautiful tonight." He smiled, then reached for my hand with that romantic look in his eyes.

"Oh, please," I broke through the mist of the moment. "You just want the last bite of my strawberry shortcake."

"OK, guilty," he admitted. "But I have to say, you look totally hot with that chocolate dripping down your shirt." Looking down, I realized I had dribbled half my dinner--including some chocolatey whipped cream--down the front of me, as usual. In my distraction, he took the opportunity to snitch the last bite of berries and shortcake. Fink.

Somehow, it didn't matter. The night had been too perfect already. We'd nestled ourselves into the corner of a tiny jewel box of a restaurant just off the Healdsburg Plaza. Dimly lit, with a cheery staff, tables full of locals and nobody in a particular hurry to get anywhere, Ravenette is that secret little bistro you look for all your life: a combination of great food (but nothing too fancy), friendly service and a cozy ambiance that you never want to tell anyone else about. Why ruin it?

But our little secret was bound to get out anyway. Nestled next to Healdsburg's Raven Theater, the spot was previously home to another popular hotspot, Ravenous. When space constraints started limiting service, Ravenous moved across the street, leaving the spot empty until this spring, when Ravenette opened.

Drawing more and more fans, locals saw a safe haven from the gourmet interlopers waving their $800 bottles of wine and AmEx cards elsewhere around the plaza.

The menu changes weekly, depending on the whims of the chef and what's available and in season, so don't plan on getting your heart set on anything. The order of the day is small plates, done tapas-style with just a nibble here and there to whet your appetite. But at Ravenette, simplicity reigns supreme. Greens are wilted and seasoned to perfection. The cheese plate offers up simple, rustic artisan selections that are both hearty and elegant.

Entrées range from simple chicken dishes and hand-tossed mini pizzas (you can actually watch the chef tossing the dough) to savory meats, like our recent favorite: braised short ribs with celery-root purée. (We were coerced into ordering it after a neighboring table insisted we try it.) If you're wavering on anything, ask the server for suggestions (ours was brutally honest and dead-right), or just look at what your neighbors are ordering. Chances are they've been there before.

Desserts are all handmade and equally simple. Rough, biscuitlike chocolate shortcake is the perfect match to drippingly sweet strawberries and real whipped cream oozing over the whole thing. Just be on the lookout for overly complimentary dates.

Ravenette, 117 North St., Healdsburg. Open Thursday-Saturday from 6pm to 10pm and for brunch on Sunday from 10am. 707.431.1770.

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From the June 15-21, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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