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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Food to make you purr Chef Arthur Perkins offers a chicken dish at the Cellar Cat Cafe.

The Cat's Meow

Glen Ellen's Cellar Cat Cafe is a cozy find

By Paula Harris

Very quietly, without roar or fanfare, Cellar Cat Cafe has slunk onto the dining scene like an inky feline at nightfall and made its cozy home in that picturesque little gourmet gulch known as Glen Ellen.

And it's a cool addition to Jack London Village, a complex of ramshackle redwood buildings among the oak trees next to Sonoma Creek that houses small shops and artisan's studios.

The restaurant is fairly modest right now, but owners Holly Evans-White, Jim Evans-White, and Greg Burtt have big plans for Cellar Cat, a small cafe cum wine-beer-and-cider bar with a rotating menu that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner using mostly organic fare.

In the summertime, the Cellar Cat crew envisions late night alfresco dining (until 11 p.m. during warm weather), which will surely be received with open arms by night owls trapped in a county where restaurateurs tend to lock up and go home by 9 p.m.

Next spring, Cellar Cat owners plan to open a nightclub in the nearby current Carmenet winery tasting room, where they'll offer live music, dance, and other entertainment.

Right now the cafe is located in a small, long, and fairly narrow rural building with a slanted roof in the midst of a variety of artist workshops. The owners have made good use of their resources, employing a graphic artist to design one wall. The result is a gray silhouette design of bons vivants decked out in top hats and bonnets brandishing wine glasses and bottles.

The decor is white and brown, with splashes of wine-inspired reds and burgundies. There's a wine bar area at one end with bar stools, and a prominent refrigerated display case exhibiting today's goodies in the front. Most of the food is already prepared, ready to take out for home or picnic, or else is quickly zapped in the microwave for on-site eating.

Wicker baskets, chairs with cane seats and wrought iron backs, and soft glowing candles in old-fashioned lamps give an old-time bistro feel. The sound system emits nostalgic crooner melodies by the likes of Judy Garland, mixed with a bit of Argentine tango. The one jarring part of the decor is a lighted, glass-fronted refrigerator stocked with bottles and some food, which looks garish.

We snack on slices of warm artisan baguettes served with an extremely fruity olive oil--a great opener. The vegan leek and potato soup ($3 for a cup, $5 for a bowl) is a consommé containing chunks of sunken potatoes. It's so light that it's on the verge of being watery. I prefer the simple, fresh fall greens salad ($3.50), which has a slight crunch and is dressed with a subtle herb vinaigrette.

An unusual concoction that looks blah but tastes good is the cucumber, almond, and grape salad ($8.50 a pound). It contains thick, peeled cucumber slices, red onion slices, almond pieces, and red grape halves bound together with a dab of mayonnaise. The effect is cool and creamy, with a pleasing bite.

Roast Rosie range hen ($12) is a great piece of chicken--moist and snowy white inside and perfumed with a hint of lemon, with brown caramelized skin outside. It's served with good homemade potatoes, fluffy but with a few honest lumps, and green beans (slightly withered from the microwave) studded with pinenuts and pancetta.

Vegetarians can choose from various side dishes, such as a delicate, homemade macaroni and cheese, roasted red potatoes, or roasted fall vegetables, that cost between $2 and $4 per item.

The pineapple upside-down cake ($3.50) is spongy and airy with a vanilla angel food cake flavor. But it's the outrageous homemade brownies ($2 each)--owner Holly Evans-White describes them as "Death!"--that leave us swooning. These are deeply chocolate and intense and warmed just enough so that the sinfully rich inside is starting to melt a little. Absolute decadence!

The proprietors make you feel right at home, swinging by each table to chat and, if you're lucky, to offer a taste of wine. Holly Evans-White, who worked at Ravenswood Winery for a decade, favors small, local family wineries on the wine list and keeps prices as close to cost as possible. She plans to offer future wine seminars in the restaurant--which gives you yet another reason to check out Cellar Cat Cafe.

Cellar Cat Cafe
Address: 14301 Arnold Drive; Glen Ellen; 707.933.1465
Hours: Winter hours: Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (in the summer they plan to stay open 'til 11 p.m.)
Food: Eclectic mix of local, mostly organic fare
Service: Laid-back and friendly
Ambiance: Cozy wine bar/deli atmosphere
Price: Inexpensive to moderate
Wine list: Nicely chosen selection
Overall: Three stars (out of four stars)

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From the November 29-December 5, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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