Novato has a new barbecue joint: the casually chic Southern Pacific Smokehouse. Executive chef Ryan Barnett, most recently chef at San Francisco's Hotel Rex, is the man behind a menu of contemporary American cuisine built around an impressive, 2,000-pound wood-fueled smoker. The wood-burning beast turns out hickory-smoked food high on the guilty pleasure list, like chicken wings with roasted garlic buttermilk dip, dry-rubbed baby back ribs and pulled pork. For dessert, look for brownies with bourbon-pecan ice cream and banana pudding.
While Barnett holds down the kitchen, general manager Nick Rimedio aims to add some polish to the front of the house in the 9,000-square-foot restaurant. Rimedio previously worked for the Charlie Trotter organization in Chicago; he also oversaw service training at the new Viceroy Anguilla L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills and at Ubuntu in Napa. Mixologist Alex Bachman, who worked at Charlie Trotter's and Michel Richard's Citronelle in Washington, D.C., presides over a bar long on artisinal whiskeys. In a separate room, there's also live music five nights a week.
Southern Pacific Smokehouse, 224 Vintage Way, Novato. 415.899.9600. www.thesouthernpacific.com.