By Ella Lawrence
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. 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. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
The reason I'd been dying to eat at Sorella Caffe since I'd first walked by is because ambiance oozes out every windowed surface of its raised, curved building. Because the restaurant is mostly round, and diners sit in the windows, Sorella gives off an impression of always being jam-packed.
When we stepped inside for the first time, I realized that's because Sorella is always jam-packed. The servers, all in T-shirts and jeans, smiled sincerely and said it would be just a moment until we were seated (we didn't have a reservation). The wooden walls and plaster sculptures of Grecian and Roman heroes looked far from kitschy--it seemed just right for this funky little spot. It was warm and felt like we were inside a yurt's wood stove, but in the best way.
We were seated next to the actual (also round) open fire, just far enough away from the live ragtime piano player to make conversation pleasant. Within seconds, our extremely friendly server bore down on us with a gigantic half-round of parmigiana regina. He deposited the delicious salty hunks on our bread plates, and milliseconds later, a bowl of olives and a half-loaf of crusty French bread appeared.
We started with a glass of excellent sparkling Prosecco wine and a clam and mussel appetizer ($6.90). The tomato sauce was chunky, fresh and spicy. The seafood was a little chewier than I'm fond of, but tasty. Our caesar salad ($6.90) was nicely split without us having to ask. The flavors combined well, bringing out the fresh delicacy of romaine lettuce, which I'd always thought flavorless until I had my first truly good caesar four years ago. We both thought the dressing could have used a little more anchovy and a little less cheese, but the classic dish was a winner.
Being Americans, not Italians, the primi course was our main meal; neither of us was hungry enough to progress from there on to a meat dish. My porcini and Gorgonzola cream raviolis ($11.90) were perfectly al dente. At first bite, the strong, salty Gorgonzola cream sauce overpowered the porcini, but as the dish progressed, the mushroom flavor came through more. The raviolis were the acknowledged favorite of the evening, with the earthiness of the mushroom serving as a perfect complement to the Gorgonzola. My date loved his spaghetti alla puttanesca ($9.90). I thought it was a little too scorching, but as a puttanesca connoisseur, he assured that it had just the right balance of tomato, garlic, capers and Kalamata olives.
Sorella Caffe is the embodiment of Fairfax-casual, with an unself-conscious and skilled staff, and delicious, high-quality food that lacked pretension. After our plates were cleared, an enormous bowl of gummy bears appeared, along with a plate of whimsically shaped animal cookies. We ordered tiramisu ($6) despite this bounty, which arrived nice and cold. It came in a hearty portion (definitely too much for just one person) that had a decidedly homemade taste. It was deliciously rummy, and, as with all the food, we enjoyed it down to the last bite.
Sorella Caffe, 107 Bolinas Road, Fairfax. Open for dinner daily, 5pm to 9:30pm. 415.258.4520.
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From the March 16-22, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.