Seventies something: Petaluma's West Side Cafe combines retro ambiance with up-to-date eating options.
West Side Cafe stays kid-friendly
By Dwight Caswell
IF YOU CAME OF AGE in the '70s, you'll feel right at home in the carefully articulated ambiance of the West Side Cafe. Nestled next to a thrift shop on the (what else?) west side of Petaluma, this restaurant is nothing if not unpretentious. I have not applied the Independent's four-star system to the West Side Cafe, which does not deserve the rating it would receive if compared to more upscale restaurants.
A simple neighborhood eating establishment, the West Side Cafe is a place where you can feed a family of four for the cost of a solo dinner at some other restaurants, and it's a place to take the kids when you want to feed them something healthy that they'll actually eat.
The extensive menu has a vast array of vegetarian and "light meat" dishes; Thursdays through Saturdays are sushi nights. We took a proper black saucer of California rolls ($4 for four) to our table.
The sushi, complete with wasabe, ginger, and soy sauce, was good, if a little heavy on the avocado, which I didn't mind at all. There is a small but adequate selection of juices, waters, and microbrews, but the wine . . . well, you don't go to the West Side Cafe for the four-bottle "wine list."
Soup or salad comes with dinner, and the salads were fresh and organic. The honey mustard dressing was on the sweet side, but the poppy seed was properly piquant. There was an odd sameness about the salads, however. The difference between the garden green and the Athenais Greek seemed to be the presence of feta cheese in the latter. All the salads had a palate-confusing number of ingredients.
The big hit of the evening was the tempeh Monterey burger, with jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts ($5.25).The texture and flavor were excellent; don't tell the kids that "tempeh" is code for soy and they'll never know the difference. The vegetarian pizzas ($2 a slice) looked delicious, but we didn't have room. Newly installed ovens and an expanded pizza selection (including dairy-free choices), make these a must-try on the next visit.
The mushroom cashew stroganoff (a special, $5.85; the most expensive entrée is $6.95) had plenty of cashews and pine nuts, and the pasta was perfect, but the overall effect was bland. Vegetarian restaurants usually depend on spices to replace meat flavors, but the food here, though substantial, was underspiced. The chicken burrito ($4.50) had big chunks of chicken, fresh tomato, and enough cheese for flavor without becoming a gooey mess, all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla generously topped with salsa--with hardly a hint of spice. Not a problem; there were three kinds of hot sauce on the condiment table.
For dessert we had espresso ($1.15) and split a blackberry cobbler ($3) that looked too good to pass up. The crust was a little tough after being nuked to warm it, but the flavor was everything we had hoped for.
The West Side Cafe is a labor of love and an exercise in honesty. The food is healthy and the portions large, though the menu tries to be too many things for too many people. Stick to the basics--Mexican, pizzas, and veggie burgers--and you'll find good value and taste.
West Side Cafe and Coffee House
Address: 316 Western Ave., Petaluma; 763-2429 (no reservations)
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekends, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Food: Eclectically semi-vegetarian
Wine list: Minimal
Service: Friendly, informal
Ambiance: Early 1970s
Price: Extremely inexpensive
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From the September 5-11, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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