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April 5-11, 2006

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First Bite

Cafe Zazzle

By Jonah Raskin

Bohemian readers have already voted Cafe Zazzle the best new restaurant of the year in our annual readers poll, and now that I've eaten there I can understand why. Owners Rick and Tara Williams have created a new, different and totally fun place to eat. Located in Petaluma, everything about the place is colorful, especially the food, which is prepared Japanese-, Mexican-, Thai- and Italian-style. The innovative combinations give this place real razzle-dazzle. Indeed, Zazzle features fusion cooking without the confusion often associated with fusion, and eclectic tastes without being hectic.

Rick and Tara wanted a restaurant that would be playful, and they've succeeded in more ways than one, from the name to the menu that proclaims, "Eat This!" Of course, I wanted to eat everything. I started with the smoky miso soup ($3.50), which came steaming hot with bite-sized tofu. Then I changed culinary gears and had the quesadilla ($8.95), made with jack cheese, and a crunchy coleslaw and spicy salsa on the side. The lettuce wrap ($8.95), made with finely chopped grilled chicken, peanuts and toasted coconut, arrived with a delicious dipping sauce that perked up my taste buds. The fish taco ($7.50) didn't need the cheese on top, and the rice had dried out, but the black beans were extraordinary good--perhaps the best black beans I've ever had.

I can also recommend the hearty, delicious portobello mushroom wrap ($9) that came with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip, as well as the "Too Much Funn" ($8.25), a large bowl of soup with snow peas, broad noodles and delicious homemade wontons. For dessert, I enjoyed the Key lime pie, made with genuine Key lime juice from Florida.

At Zazzle, everything is fresh, and everything looks attractive and inviting. Chef Rick Williams has been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, and he's learned to enjoy cooking and to prepare the kind of food he and his wife Tara like to eat. "California has so many different cultures and so many different kinds of food," he says. "I wanted Zazzle to reflect that diversity, without copying or adhering to tradition."

Despite its legendary innovation, California cooking can be awfully routine and predictable. Rick and Tara Williams deserve credit for breaking out of the crowd and for creating a restaurant that makes eating almost too much fun.


Cafe Zazzle, 121 Kentucky St., Petaluma. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. 707.762.1700


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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.