Satur Wine Bar and Bistro
By Heather Irwin
Editor'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.
William Azevedo is a brave man. The Santa Rosa chef has twice opened restaurants in well-loved spaces of former local dining institutions, first taking over the Café des Croissants space on Fourth Street to open Bistro Allure, and now in the former Café Lolo space on Fifth Street.
It's not easy to completely reinvent something that everyone remembers as something else. The whole thing smacks of Ricky Schroeder debuting on NYPD Blue: interesting and somehow familiar but oddly disconcerting. (Wait, isn't that the dude from Silver Spoons?) In fact, it's hard not to be a little protective of favorite restaurants. I still think of long, lingering Sunday mornings over coffee and walnut croissants each time I pass the old Café des Croissants.
That's generally bad juju for chefs. I'm not naming any names here, but I've heard rumors of psychic cleansings and sage burnings (along with a good Clorox wipe down) before a chef will even lay foot into a new-old restaurant--especially if the former restaurant went out of business.
But Azevedo seems unfazed by such silliness. His new wine bar and bistro, Satur, has been open nearly three months and seems to be doing just fine. Weekends are reportedly packed with former Lolo-ites, the curious and, according to the waitstaff, lost people looking for another wine/cocktail bar that recently opened up just around the corner. Most of them tend to stay for at least a drink or two.
It's worth getting over your nostalgia. Azevedo and his staff have created a unique, tapas-style dining experience at Satur. With delicate precision, Azevedo's small plates escape the clumsiness of putting too much food on too tiny a plate. Using ingredients like salmon, quail and baby artichokes, the portions are appropriately scaled down--almost miniaturized--without ever feeling stingy. After all, in Latin, satur means "well fed."
We started out with a trio of soups ($6)--mushroom, butternut squash and chard--which come in petite mugs meant to be sipped rather than spooned from bowls. Though none had exactly the flavors we expected, the trinity of winter veggies worked beautifully together. Fried black olives and artichokes topped with aioli ($8) was a welcome change from the usual tapas standby of fried potatoes, and this was lighter and sexier than the somewhat obtuse tater.
The night's favorite was a marinated hangar steak with sweet corn tamale pancakes, wild mushrooms and fried shallots ($11). Though the tamale pancakes were slightly dry, they were a good companion to the warm, earthy flavors of the steak and mushrooms. Also nice was a grilled quail on risotto ($10).
What works well with the small-plate theme in Azevedo's wine bar are the many by-the-glass wines that make pairing with individual dishes a lot of fun (most wines by the glass are about $6). We spanned the globe and the vineyards with everything from a light rosé to a fruity Portuguese red to a surprisingly complex (yet inexpensive) Pinot Noir.
Finishing the night, the Vermont maple-pumpkin crème brûlée ($6) was a perfect size for sharing. Like the night, it was warm and familiar, yet a little unknown--not altogether a bad thing to be.
Satur Wine Bar and Bistro. Lunch, Monday-Friday; dinner, Monday-Saturday. 620 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 707.576.7822.
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