The Drawing Board, 190 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707.774.6689.
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GOOD LOOKS, GOOD FOOD Petaluma’s dining scene continues to grow, and newcomer the Drawing Board is one of the leading attractions.
Petaluma's new Drawing Board offers plenty of fashion-forward design elements.
There's an open kitchen, mismatched vintage lamps above the cozy bar, greenery in ceiling-mounted planters and a bookshelf packed with cookbooks that serve as cues to the restaurant's inspirations:
Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California; Momofoku Milk Bar; and Deborah Madison's obligatory Vegetable Literacy.
Sometimes those style points and references don't add up to substance, but chef Ariel Nadelberg has created a winner in Petaluma's increasingly delicious restaurant scene.
The menu is small; vegetables play a prominent role, and there are a number of vegan dishes. They're not highlighted as such, but simply embedded into the menu among the meat and fish. From the small plates section, it was interesting to sample the carrot lox ($10) and the smoked trout rillette ($13) side by side. The "lox" are made with smoked carrots, nori and cashew cream cheese, while the trout mixes the fish with crème fraîche, pickled fennel and salmon roe.
The trout delivered a rich, balanced mouthful of creamy fish and briny pickles, an elegant shout-out to breakfast for dinner. The lox were a revelation. The sweet, delicate carrots happily embraced the nori's fishiness, a perfect match for the vegan cream cheese that was as tangy and rich as Greek yogurt. Vegan food often disappoints because of what it lacks—not the case with this standout dish.
A third appetizer, the whole grain arancini ($8), was more conventional, but still very good. A fried rice ball rested on a dollop of goat cheese and refreshing romesco sauce. A sprinkling of charred kale showed a lighter, brighter side of the Italian classic.
The menu had only four entrées, two of them vegetarian. We opted for the cassoulet ($15) and shepherd's pie ($16). Both were indulgent and light at the same time. The cassoulet—made with Liberty Farm's duck, small cubes of lamb belly, smoked beans, crunchy kale and thyme-spiced sourdough crumbs—had a great array of flavors, successfully merging the savory fowl, the smoky-salty beans and the herby, uplifting aroma of the topping. The lamb belly was a nice addition but got lost in the mix.
Braised lamb, however, made a glorious appearance in the shepherd's pie. Made with cubed root vegetables and a top layer of creamy, puréed potatoes, it was a hit with its comforting, humble flavors.
The only stumbles came from the dessert menu. At $8 each, the three offered sweets could have been so much more, given Drawing Board's affinity for fresh and bright flavors, but most were too austere, too homey. They revealed what might be a challenge for the Drawing Board: delivering just the right amount of "healthful" without losing any fine-dining appeal.
On the whole, the restaurant delivers on its "notion that healthy living isn't about foregoing delicious foods but about eating nutrient dense fare." It will be interesting to go back to see how this stylish newcomer navigates the two.