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May 2-8, 2007

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First Bite

Poggio

By Alastair Bland

Have you ever wondered what lies within that huge, posh-looking facade on Sausalito's Bridgeway Avenue called Poggio? I always have, and one day in early April I found out. White tablecloths, romantic interior lighting, polished wood, maroon velvet, regal arched doorways and a few more of my very favorite things are all found within.

After I was seated by the hostess, my very kind server followed with a tall crystal carafe of water. To begin, I considered the chicken liver and asparagus crostini ($9) but went instead for the Caprino baked goat cheese and flatbread ($10). The crunchy, wafer-thin flatbread was stuck with pine nuts and grappa-soaked raisins and apricots. I wasn't sure whether or not the point was to spread the creamy hot cheese over the bread and make a mini pizza, but that's what I did and I liked it just fine. A dinky pear-and-greens salad dressed in vinaigrette sat meekly beside the crostini. Meanwhile, a hitch-hiking scrap of liver had somehow found its way onto my plate and was a welcome surprise.

The vinegar and the oil, the goat cheese and the complimentary oven-fresh rolls which I lathered in smooth-whipped butter all conspired to lift me up and away to the hills of Southern France. It wasn't quite Italy, but that is no fault of Poggio. The excellent food is plainly Italian, and with it I savored a very nice Chianti Superiore ($7.25). Yet there I was in the hills of France. As a kid, I traveled with my family through much of southern Europe. I was only five and couldn't see any difference between one wine-soaked land and the next, and I think my olfactory transmitters must have gotten a little mixed up with all the baguettes and cheese and the mules and peasants scurrying in every direction.

The baby beets and arugula salad ($9) bumped me right over the Alps and into Italy. The sliced ricotta on top was fresh and cool, white as snow and pure as the River Po, and it absorbed the color and the faint sweetness of the pink and orange beets just beautifully, while the crunchy arugula cut the flavor like a knife.

We could talk on and on about the little things: how the droplets of green olive oil lingered like polka dots in the dark burgundy vinegar; how the dry Chianti reflected the Europeans' confident, no-nonsense approach to winemaking; how the foam of my espresso ($1.95) tickled my upper lip; how many of Poggio's herbs and garnishes come from the certified organic garden on the hillside out back, but the fact is my food was gone. No airplane could have taken me to Europe and back faster than the food at Poggio did, and I walked out the door and down the street as one who has really been somewhere.


Poggio has a seasonally changing menu and is open for lunch and dinner daily; the cafe opens for breakfast daily at 6:30am. 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito. 415.332.7771.


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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.