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Tabletop Talent

Local chefs offer deals with Sonoma County Restaurant Week

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If you're like us, you've combed the couch for change at least twice in the last month. You eye your shelves looking for books or records to sell, you scour the Craigslist "free" section and you save all those 15 percent–off coupons that show up in the mail.

You also like to go out to dinner every once in a while.

Enter Sonoma County Restaurant Week, which annually provides the more economically minded among us an excuse to splurge on a nice night out. With over a hundred restaurants taking part, local diners have plenty of choices for special prix fixe menus at one of three discounted price tiers—just $19, $29 and $39—with each level buying a three-course dinner.

Running from March 18–24, Sonoma County Restaurant Week has a full restaurant list up at sonomacountyrestaurantweek.org. For us, it's a chance to shine a light on some of our local chefs participating in Restaurant Week: John Franchetti from Rosso, Tim Bodell from Rustic, Jack Mitchell from Jack & Tony's, Arturo Cardenas from Caffe Portofino and Claudio Capetta from Cafe Claudio.

Read on and eat away—because this week, you might not even have to raid the couch for it."—Gabe Meline

CURDLED CURIOSITY

John Franchetti, Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

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Quick, think of pizza. The first things that come to mind are dough and cheese, right? Since they've already perfected the dough, when Santa Rosa's Rosso Pizzeria opened a second location in Petaluma, it was time to get cheesy. Inspired by a visit to a cheese bar in Rome, Rosso chef and owner John Franchetti has now brought a little piece of Italy back to Sonoma County.

"I was tasting the different burratas available for purchase, and being the chef that I am, I said, 'I could make this,'" says Franchetti. So, with little training outside of YouTube, and with a lot of curd from water buffalos in Two Rock, Franchetti crafted his own buffalo burrata. The result is an extremely creamy, spreadable cheese with flavor that lingers and teases the tongue long after it's been devoured—a staple of Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar in Petaluma.

A recent special of buffalo burrata with a poached egg and black truffle shavings was almost too good, making the trio of traditional burrata, stracciatella and goat cheese with mint ($9) seem almost pedestrian in comparison. Like a big, meaty red wine, it's best to work up to the buffalo flavor monster.

There's nothing wrong with eating only cheese for dinner—especially this cheese. But it would behoove hungry diners to try the new additions to Rosso, which opened its Petaluma location about a year ago. Dinner entrées, formerly rotating specials, are now menu staples. Hearty plates like fried chicken with smashed potatoes ($15) and forever roasted pig with pappardelle ($13.50) are satisfying with or without appetizers.

Rosso shines brightest, of course, with its pizza. "I really try to emulate what happens in Naples," says Franchetti. "The difference is, Naples is really rustic; they just throw their ingredients on there. Americans are used to placed ingredients." It is difficult to find anything wrong with the traditional margherita, made with red sauce, mozzarella, basil and olive oil. More adventurous diners might lean toward the Moto Guzzi, made with smoked mozzarella, Caggiano Italian sausage, smoked olive oil, Swiss chard and slow roasted onions. After a few tries and a little advice, Franchetti started smoking the water used to make the cheese instead of just cold-smoking the cheese itself; the result is a strong flavor that's not overpowering but definitely in charge.

But for a chef who can make just about anything he sets his mind to, Franchetti keeps things fairly simple when it comes to his own preference. "If I need to eat a pizza," he says, "I'm having the pepperoni pizza."—Nicolas Grizzle

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