Saturday night was date night, and although my intrepid dining companion is a little shorter than most and goes by the nickname of Monkey, after a hectic week for each of us, it was time to reconnect over dinner, a movie and ice cream. Tired of local pastures we decided to zip over to neighboring Sebastopol, a quick 20 minute drive through mostly pastoral scenes, to check out Zazu Kitchen & Farm‘s new home.
Sebastopol is more off the beaten path than Petaluma or Sonoma, boasting a population of under 8,000. It’s proud of its eclectic mix of residents, stores and restaurants, and eschews anything that feels corporate, polished or overly manipulated – at least that’s always been my impression. It reminds me a lot of Hanalei in Kauai, without the amazing bay and tropical weather of course, but the soul of the place beats to a similar, independent drum.
That being said, the recent completion of The Barlow, a re-imagining of an industrial apple processing plant to create a place where artisanal food and wine producers can mingle with their consumers, seems to somehow change the vibe. It’s really well done, big lofty barn-like spaces, wide sidewalks, open air spaces for eating and drinking, and it’s obviously super clean and new – which is probably the part that doesn’t feel quite like Sebastopol. Yet. Personally, I’m pretty stoked to have a place like this closer to home than Napa’s Oxbow Market or Healdsburg, and I hope Petaluma gets it act together one of these days to do something similar. Anyway, I digress, go check it out for yourself.
Zazu has long been known as a great place to eat, and was formerly located in Santa Rosa. It prides itself on organic, often home-grown food and appears to be the anchor restaurant tenant for The Barlow. It was somewhat hard to get a reservation (of course!) but not impossible. Inside the space is HUGE – the ceiling reaches so high I couldn’t calculate how tall it is, and while there’s a danger of it feeling cold and unwelcoming, especially with the concrete floors, the bright yellow bar stools and blue water glasses help to add a sense of warmth. There’s an open kitchen in the back, a big open bar with plenty of seating in the center of the room, and a dining patio. The place feels busy without being jam-packed.
One thing you should know is that this is a meat-lover’s paradise, and more specifically a pig-lover’s haven. Too bad I am on a (mostly) vegan and gluten-free stint right now, but I like to challenge a menu! Anyway, point is, snout to tail pig is their specialty so go hungry for pork and you won’t be disappointed. I broke my 12 day meat-free run to taste a date wrapped in their house-cured bacon – we call those devils on horseback back home – and it was darn tasty.
Monkey opted for the kid classic of tomato soup (in this case spicy) with grilled cheese. The bread was particularly buttery (almost too much so) and the soup was fine enough, dairy-free and a thickish puree. I ordered turmeric seasoned cauliflower and wasn’t expecting it to be cold, which would have been fine, except it was ‘just out of the fridge‘ cold and it was impossible to notice anything other than how cold it was in my mouth. We also ordered a jar of pickles – I love me a pickle – but these weren’t subtle. The vinegar was really strong and kind of ruined my palate for anything else. (Darn, I seem not to be liking this place, but I want to!).
I also ordered a salad of freshly picked leaves with marcona almonds and feta cheese (I reason that goat cheese somehow counts as staying vegan, I know, f’ed up reasoning, but there you go). At $13 I was expecting a rather bigger plate of salad than the one I got. The flavors were good, the dressing was just right and I enjoyed it and I would have liked more. Just sayin’.
At this point we felt fairly full and realized that we had time to squeeze in a movie at the Rialto which is literally two skips away, so we hurried the bill and headed off to see The Way, Way Back, which wasn’t like the best movie ever, but a fun way to spend 90 minutes. After eating the gross, icky, movie popcorn (why?!), we decided to swing by Screaming Mimi’s on our way home. They make their own waffle cones and the minute you walk through the door you’re assailed by the warm, sweet smell of batter being poured into a waffle iron and brought to a high, toasty temperature. Very comforting.
I’m one of those really annoying people who never order their own ice cream or sorbet, but gets a spoon and keeps begging for “just a taste!”. It drives Monkey bonkers. He ordered lemon sorbet and strawberry ice cream. He seemed to like the ice cream and I sampled the sorbet and while it was very tart (a good thing) I got an after taste of artificial sweetener which was weird and I could have been wrong, but that’s how it tasted.
All in all, we had a fun date night and will be back to check out The Barlow in a less hurried manner soon.
Monkey’s rating for Zazu: 3.5 out of 5
Alice Dishes’ rating for Zazu: 3 out of 5
Side-note: all around us folks who had ordered main dishes were receiving profuse apologies from the waitstaff for the delay in their meals and offered LOTS of bread to keep the wolf from the door. Another friend who dined there recently experienced the same problem. Only a month in since opening, it seems they are still working out the kinks.