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Restaurants & Bars 1

Santi in Santa Rosa under Chef Liza Hinman

Melanie Wong | Dec 28, 201006:34 PM

Santi in Santa Rosa announced this month that Executive Chef Liza Hinman (ex-Delfina and Bizou) will be leaving in January to become a mom. I’ve had two lunches at the new venue in Santa Rosa and enjoyed three meals at the original in Geyserville last year under her tenure in the months before the move.

Andrew “LikeFrogButOOOH” and I were the very last customers served lunch at Geyserville before it closed those doors. We had ordered the old favorites: salt cod with flat bread, tripe, spaghettini with Thomas’s long-simmered sugo calabrese, and a hearty pasta al forno. And I shared the 1994 Ridge “Geyserville” with the staff to say good-bye.

Natch, I invited Andrew to join me for lunch when Santi reopened last spring in the Fountaingrove neighborhood in Santa Rosa. In a much more high traffic area, the restaurant now remains open between lunch and dinner serving a mid-day happy hour menu. The place was buzzing during our visit. Santi attracts so much business, the parking lot was restriped to squeeze in more spaces.

While the décor and atmosphere at the new site cannot approach the rustic warmth of the old venue, Santi now has a wood burning oven.

We started with a couple appetizers: shrimp and English pea fritelle (fritters) with green goddess aioli on the left, and grilled calamari, arugula, prosciutto and currant salad on the right. (Apologies for the terrible color from the interior lighting.) The fritelle were a bit too greasy but both dishes were fine.

For a taste of tradition, we ordered the oven-baked tripe. But unfortunately, the tripe not cooked long enough and turned out excessively chewy. But I did like the crispy bits of charred bread crumbs dotting the surface.

The tripe was topped with a runny-yolked farm egg, but it didn't really add that much to the dish, in my opinion.

A new addition, spicy coppa and rapini pesto focaccia, thanks to the wood-burning oven turned out to be our mutual favorite. On the lunch menu, the toppings change daily. Wonderfully dense, chewy, smoky, yeasty crust enhanced with spare but very flavorful toppings. This flatbread was a welcome change of pace from the Italianate pizzas springing up all over the county. Another nice surprise was the tricolor salad on the side, not mentioned in the menu description, that Delfina fans will recognize. I made a mental note to return for the focaccia.

We splurged on two desserts. First, brown butter crepes with Bing cherries and almonds, filled with Bellwether ricotta. Pleasant enough but too timid with the browning of the butter. This would have been more interesting and characterful with a heavier toasting.

Then Sebastopol strawberry semifreddo, made with local berries. This was a little too sweet for my tastes. Plating for both was rather dated.

Then in October I returned by myself for a late lunch with the baked-to-order foccacia in mind. A warm and sunny afternoon, this was the perfect time to take a seat on the patio overlooking the parking lot.

To my disappointment, the focaccia lunch special was no longer on the menu, my server explained, now that the complimentary house bread has settled in as homemade herb focaccia. However, this a very different style, soft, well-oiled, and cake-like with a sprinkling of salt crystals and fresh Italian herbs.

Instead Santi has entered the pizza wars with a Margherita and a pizza of the day, baked in the wood-fired oven. I lobbied for a return of the focaccia lunch, and was advised to call ahead with a request.

We’d admired the good-looking burgers at the earlier lunch, so that was an easy diversion. The Santi Burger sports some pretty garnishes: tomato slices, butter lettuce, pickled red onons, and housemade pickles.

The airy housebaked brioche bun was terrific, toasted and spread with aioli. I added the gorgonzola option to the houseground Niman Ranch beef chuck. But this one was sent back as overdone --- closer to well than the medium-rare I'd ordered.

Here's the cross-section of the re-do. The meat has a grayish cast, but the center was quite rare and soft, rather than hard like the first one. Delicious and juicy with almost too much gorgonzola dolcelatte in proportion to the meat . . . but that’s not a real complaint.

All Santi photos

2097 Stagecoach Road, Suite 100, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

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