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April 4-10, 2007

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First Bite

Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar

By Carey Sweet

What a difference nine months makes. When I first sampled the tapas at (the then-brand new) Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar in Santa Rosa, I really liked the food. It was very nice California cuisine, and appropriately elegant for the sleek wine bar setting of leather couches and walls lined with rare boutique wines.

What I wasn't so fond of were the prices. While understandably tapas, these little bites were truly teeny tiny, bringing mere canapés of relatively ordinary ingredients for double-digit charges. I left hungry and feeling a bit ripped-off.

That was last July. Since then, I've received a couple of e-mails from Spectrum's owner and the chef, telling me that changes have been made and, um, urging me to return and give the place another try. (That's a polite summary of the missives, anyway.)

Well, fine. A recent shopping foray into downtown found my mother and me walking past the shop, and so, feeling a bit starved, we went in.

Well, hallelujah. Wine Spectrum has revamped and spun me into a 180. This is now a terrific spot in Railroad Square to get that same first-rate California cuisine, but in such ample portions that the prices seem almost cheap.

When I graciously allowed my mother to order the cream of wild mushroom soup ($7) instead of getting it myself, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to filch more than a bite or two. But it took the both of us to work to the bottom of this oblong tureen of gorgeous stuff. It was thick, like hot, silky baby food, intensely earthy and dolloped with a touch of cream and juicy chopped shiitake.

My spinach salad ($11) crowded the edges of its dinner plate. The mountain of crisp, fresh leaves was studded with smoky diced duck (warm, beefy, with some of the fat still on, yes!), capers, Point Reyes blue cheese and bits of red onion with a touch of sweet balsamic.

And there was so much Matos São Jorge cheese in our panino ($8) that it overflowed the bread, making a lovely crisp-edged puddle dotted with roasted red pepper and onion alongside handfuls of delicately dressed mesclun.

In fear of not being full, I had also ordered a "bread and spread" plate ($10). It arrived, and there was no space left on our low-slung coffee table. The Artisan Bakers basket brimmed with crispy crostini, lavosh and soft crusty loaf; the dips were whipped white bean hummus, warm spinach-chèvre and chunky sundried tomato-olive tapenade.

To finish, we shared a big, beautiful slab of grilled pound cake ($9), the gently sweet dessert capped with orange zest mascarpone and sitting on a pool of rhubarb-Cabernet coulis. Very refined; very delicious.

Even the wine pours seem to have ballooned, as a bonus to the already exciting 40-or-so interesting selections available. I swear there was at least seven ounces in my five-ounce Zind Humbrecht Alsace Riesling ($7), while mom's two-ounce Phaedrus Wolf Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($5) looked like double.

So there you have it, Wine Spectrum masters. There will be no more complaints from me.


Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar, 123 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Open from 3pm for snacks and dinner, Tuesday-Sunday. 707.636.1064.


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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.