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Restaurants & Bars 4

Ravenous Café & Lounge, Healdsburg

Melanie Wong | Aug 17, 200311:42 PM

Last weekend I made a long overdue visit to Ravenous. After its move to larger quarters and greater renown outside the ‘burg, I hadn’t made an effort to check out the new digs. But when visitors from abroad asked me to pick a Healdsburg restaurant, I didn’t hesitate to suggest Ravenous for a taste of Sonoma wine country hospitality.

We had the rustic farmhouse table in front of the fireplace, which gave our part of six plenty of room to spread out with wine glasses and bottles. Ravenous has a nice wine list, fairly priced, but tonight’s wines were my own (corkage is $10 per bottle), and we started with 2002 Joseph Swan “Saralee’s Vineyard” Russian River Valley Gewurztraminer. The aroma of this wine was big enough to fill the room, causing Bryan to comment that the ravishing bouquet alone was enough to intoxicate without needing to drink it. Full of lychee, tropical fruits, rosewater, and a backdrop of spice, the gewurz was opulent and almost oily on the palate carrying very long with intense fruitiness yet ending with a crisp, dry finish. Made in tiny quantities mostly for “friends and family”, alas, this was my only bottle.

Building on these tropical notes, we moved to our first appetizer, Vietnamese Dungeness crab cakes. Personally, I’ve not been a fan of Dungeness for crab cakes because the texture’s not right, but this version managed to minimize the stringiness and highlight the complex depth of flavor of our local crab with Asian spices.

The second appetizer, Smoked salmon with black and gold caviar and warm corn cakes with crème fraiche, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, was as luxuriant as Ken described it below. The crusty corn beignets were dressed up to the max with these opulent garnishes. We had the 1984 Joseph Swan Estate Chardonnay, but I found the boldness of the Gewurz a better match for this dish.

Ravenous’ other signature appetizer, Cabbage rolls, filled with Niman Ranch minced beef, pancetta, spinach and reggiano in a light broth were delicate and nuanced. The beef spoke with a whisper in the soft almost creamy filling. Surprisingly, the austere and minerally old Chardonnay found its best pairing here, echoing the sweetness of the vegetables and cleansing each bite with fresh acidity.

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