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02.06.08

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First Bite

Chloe's French Café

By Jonah Raskin

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

What is it with the French? French president Nicolas Sarkozy has an affair, divorces his wife, who's also having an affair, and then takes up with a young, gorgeous actress. No one blinks an eye. Call it arrogance, self-confidence or je ne sais quoi, but it's real, and you can see it and taste it at Chloe's French Cafe, which opened just before Christmas.

The French themselves would probably say Chloe's offers "un gout de France. " The food is authentically French, though the setting, in the Landmark Executive Building, doesn't make one think of France. Off the beaten track in the northwest corner of Santa Rosa, it's worth the detour. Renee Pisan, who's originally from Cleveland and who studied French cooking in Dallas, makes the hearty French fare: soups, sandwiches and salads. Her husband, Alain, who was born and raised in St. Tropez, makes the pastries the same way his parents did in their cafe, and, as Renee says, croissants are in his DNA. Alain's brother, Marc, who has selected some of the best French and California wines, serves as the sommelier.

Chloe's is charming. The menu is in French and in English, and the people who work at the counter really like what they're doing. On the walls, there are photos of French street scenes, and the pastry counter, with its éclairs and fondants, is bound to bring back memories of French cafes.

The hot and cold sandwiches are made with slices of thick, tasty French bread, and there's lots of cheese, especially in the Croque Monsieur ($6.75), with baked ham, Gruyère and a béchamel sauce. The tarragon turkey sandwich comes with thinly sliced turkey breast, sharp cheddar cheese and mustard ($6.75). There's the soup du jour, in a cup or bowl ($3.75–$4.95) made fresh everyday. The coffee is excellent, and the desserts, especially the fondants ($1.75), are as decadent as a chocolate cake can be.

The words "local" and "organic" aren't on the menu, and the food isn't uniquely Californian, but Chloe's French Cafe is a definite addition to the local restaurant scene, and it seems likely that its reputation can only grow. Years ago, a billboard for a local winery on Highway 101 read, "Don't Leave Sonoma Without Seeing France." Now, Chloe's gives that slogan new meaning. If local chefs haven't already discovered it, you can bet they will. The French, it seems, still have a thing or two to teach us.


Chloe's French Cafe, 3883 Airway Drive, Landmark Executive Building. Open for breakfast and lunch, Monday–Friday. Happy Hour, with selected French cheeses and wines, Fridays, from 4pm to 6pm. 707.528. 3095.


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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.