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Fantastic Monte Cristo at Underwood/Willow Wood in Graton!

Melanie Wong | Feb 12, 2006 11:47 PM

While Willow Wood Market Cafe is closed for remodeling, its sister restaurant across the street, Underwood Bar & Bistro is serving the weekend brunch menu. I joined my friends Rod and Lynn there on Sunday. They thought they recognized Willow Wood's line cooks bustling in the kitchen, and the food seemed identical to its perfect prep.

Even though it was a rare warm and sunny morning in the west county, Underwood wasn't serving on the outdoor patios. Seated in the dark-wood bar area at one of the copperclad tables, we enjoyed the more energetic vibe and lively modern jazz on the air in contrast to the laid-back Willow Wood. My friends were reading the Sunday paper with their warming bowls of cafe au lait while waiting for me to arrive. I soon caught up with one of the same, and added a terrific bloody Mary for good measure, one of the benefits of the liquor license in this grown-up setting.

On previous visits the challah for making the Monte Cristo, $13.75, had been long sold out. But at 10:30 in the morning, I was finally able to try this out. And, it's absolutely fantastic. I think I'll have to change my late-rising ways.

The plate depicted below actually has THREE large pieces with one hidden under the back piece. Made like the best French toast you've ever had, the light and eggy challah is sandwiched around a whisper of ham and cheese, then coated with a vanilla-scented egg batter and fried lightly in sweet butter. There's just enough ham and cheese to add a salty, savory and creamy note. The sliced strawberries strewn over and sprinkled with powder sugar and walnuts were amazingly good for this early in the season. A couple nubbins of softened sweet butter melt into more richness, and another pat is served on the side along with two kinds of wonderful homemade preserves. And, for the icing on the cake, this also comes with a little pitcher of warm and decadent maple syrup.

It was so splendiferous, I forced myself to polish off two of the pieces and the berries. But I was defeated by the prospect of the third. Best to plan on sharing.

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