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World Wise

101 Main
Michael Amsler

Main Course: Laura Crettol of Sebastopol's 101 Main tends to the wines and other libations.

Grateful food at 101 Main

By Steve Bjerklie

THE ROAD from Switzerland to Sebastopol trucks across mountains, oceans, cultures, and time no matter how you travel. In the case of Swiss native Volodia Crettol, chef and proprietor of 101 Main Bistro & Wine Bar in Sebastopol, the journey had a number of spurs--his years following the Grateful Dead, for example.

The trips into Deadland turned out to be productive: Volodia met his future wife, Laura, beneath the tie-dye sky. She now manages the front of 101 Main and oversees the wine list. Just as fortuitously, Volodia also made a stop at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

The result of Volodia's training, his partnership with Laura, his Swiss heritage and California sensibilities, and, yes, his continuing devotion to the Dead (there are carrot bits in the fish cakes) is a menu of surprises and joys nearly flawlessly executed.

Risking sacrilege, we proffer that Volodia cooks a lot better than the Dead often played.

The fish-cake appetizer, for example. Rather than dally with the stubborn flavor and mushy texture of Dungeness crab, Crettol blends rock shrimp and white fish into a moist, delicate patty; the carrot bits add just the right amount of structure. Dabbed with dill aioli and tasted after a bite of the plate's lime-tinged jicama-carrot salad, the appetizer is a delight: flavorful, tender, complex. A house-made ravioli appetizer provides another delicate harmony. The slightly doughy texture and flavor of the portobello-and-fontina-filled ravioli blends beautifully with a sorrel cream sauce's smooth tanginess. The greenish ravioli, dusted with paprika, look like peppered leaves of kelp bobbing in a white sea.

Somewhere in there is a Robert Hunter lyric.

Dusting, whether inspired by Mickey Hart's high-hat cymbals or Switzerland's proximity to the spice-rich Mediterranean countries, seems to be a Crettol trademark. A filet of fresh Atlantic salmon on the entrée menu is dusted with cornmeal; pork tenderloin is served in a whole grain-mustard crust; crumbled feta cheese tops baked polenta. The cornmeal-salmon combination is one that works a tad better on the plate than in the mouth, but I prefer juicier salmon than most.

Presented as an abstract of parallel lines like a bamboo fence, the fingers of lamb tenderloin were exceedingly tender and harbored none of the mustiness that sometimes flaws otherwise well-prepared lamb. A plum reduction sauce reminded me of Japanese cherries, while a vegetable combination of red bell peppers and snow peas tasted of the mandarins. The accompanying, and delicious, ginger, lemongrass, coconut milk, and shiitake orzo echoed--what?--Thailand? Tibet? Sugar magnolia?

Desserts, alas, are not so consistently excellent. A sensual, nearly erotic chocolate cake was offset by a disappointing "crème brûlée of the day," an espresso-flavored sweet goo topped with a filmy skin of caramelized sugar rather than a glaze.

And the impressive, well-priced wine list was also disappointing in one regard: not enough wines offered by the glass. Any restaurant calling itself a "bistro & wine bar" as does 101 Main should emphasize individual sampling. A number of the listings encourage lust--the Williams-Selyem pinot noirs, for example, which are very rare, and Sean Thackery's "Orion" syrah--but few of the list's superstars are available for a taste.

101 Main's experiments with combinations, textures, and creativity extend, with great and welcome subtlety, even to the house music, though no Dead tunes were in evidence. At one point, in a solo on the Duke Ellington/Louis Armstrong collaboration "C-Jam Blues," the Duke riffs on a quote from "Rockin' in Rhythm"--a clever, satisfying moment requiring experience, knowledge, creativity, and sheer joy.

Just the way 101 Main prepares its food.

Dinner for two with appetizers, entrées, desserts, and three wines each cost a buck over a C-note, an equitable total for a meal that, it lately occurs to me, fell short of wondrous by a mere dessert. Truck on over right now.


101 Main Bistro & Wine Bar

101 S. Main St., Sebastopol; 829-3212
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 5:30 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; reservations recommended on weekends
Food: Creative combos of fresh meats, seafoods, and vegetables
Service: Thoughtful
Ambience: Salvador Dali in a French castle
Price: Moderately expensive
Wine list: Impressive, with well-priced rarities
Overall: ***


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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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