–In honor of my upcoming trip to Italy, I have to give props to my favorite Italian place in town.  It goes without saying that the cuisine in Italy is going to blow me away…but Petaluma’s Sugo Trattoria has set the bar pretty high.–

As you walk the streets of Ptown this summer, attending the farmers market, admiring the boats in the turning basin, or checking out the various art exhibits, you will need to eat.  Whether for lunch or dinner, as you already know from my many blog reference, I am Sugo Trattoria’s number one fan. (I’m not a stalker; just a huge fan.)

Sugo’s food is always excellent, with a constantly updated menu and the freshest ingredients.  Thankfully, my favorites seem to stick around, although when it comes to Sugo’s menu, I don’t rule anything out and have even tried their eggplant bruschetta and squash ravioli.  Don’t tell anyone, but I loved them both and those are two veggies I generally dislike with a passion. 

We desserted at Sugo last night and I was reminded just how much I enjoy every aspect of every meal I have had there.  I have been to all the other Italian places in town and have rarely had a bad meal, but none of them can touch Sugo for food quality, affordability, wine list, innovative menu, and friendly and attentive staff and owners.

Last week I had what I call my “last supper” at Sugo — If I were to only have one meal for the rest of my life or prior to the rest of my life, this is the meal I would pick.  I start with the Bruschetta Trio.  With a great selection of innovative combinations, and a price tag of only $7 for any three, this is a no-brainer at Sugo.  Order a bruschetta trio, even at the risk of taking some of your dinner home as leftovers.  With choices like gorgonzola, honey, and walnut or pesto, salami, and mozzarella, you can’t go wrong.  

My personal favorite is the prosciutto, fig and brie, and after trying all the other choices I get all three of my trios in that format, unless I am dining with someone who is new to Sugo at which point I want them to experience variety of flavors offered.  Sending, bringing, or accompanying a new diner to Sugo is one of my guilty pleasure.  It usually means I get to eat at Sugo again and it confirms that I am not that far off base in my desire to always eat there.  Whether I am there alone or with others, one of the Bruschetta trios will always be the prosciutto.  The lean Italian prosciutto sweetened with fig jam and the pungency of melted brie on crispy grilled bread is one of the best flavors of any Petaluma eatery.

Although the Sausage Risotto and Housemade Pappardelle are two of my three favorite Sugo entrees, it is the gnocchi that wins out every time. Luckily, I can usually talk one of my fellow diners into ordering the other two, so I get to have my savory cake and eat it too.  I order gnocchi at every restaurant I can and have had Sugo’s on many occasions.  Several months ago I noticed that Sugo’s gnocchi ascended from great to heavenly.  The gnocchi pillows were light, yet firm, and the taste was out of this world. They felt as if they were on the brink of melting in my mouth, but held their shape until bitten into.  According to Wikipedia, “Gnocchi is the Italian name for a variety of thick, soft noodles or dumplings. They may be made from semolina, ordinary wheat flour, potato, bread crumbs, or similar ingredients.”  Apparently, Sugo is creating their current run of gnocchi from ricotta cheese.  I cannot stress enough that if regular potato gnocchi strikes your fancy, you are going to love the ricotta variety. 

Sugo is the Italian word for “sauce” and Sugo does its namesake justice — although all the sauces are incredible, the wonderfully modest pesto is choice.  At most restaurants I find pesto sauces to be overdone.  Many chefs think that merely adding more garlic will make for a better garlic dish; the same goes for pesto, often with disastrous effect.  Sugo’s pesto sauce is the best I have ever had, with a light cream base and delicate overtones of garlic, basil and pine nut. It is so good that I ask for additional bread to sop up the extra, in fine Italian style.

With friends coming to visit Ptown for the first time I was torn on where to take them. There are a lot of great places in town and my favorites all have their own unique vibe. Two of my friends are students, so taste and affordability were the main requests.  Nice Italian restaurants are not usually known for modest pricing.  Even on a tight budget, you can order the most expensive thing on Sugo’s menu and still have room on the check for a bruschetta trio, a glass of wine, and (de)Zert.  The bill was under $100 for two appetizers, four main dishes, several glasses of wine, two Zerts and a glass of Port.  Surprised?   That’s Sugo for you; full of surprises and all of them flavorful and affordable.

I’m certain you won’t be surprised that we started with the Bruschetta Trio. For our main course we ordered Angel Hair w/ meatballs, Gnocchi with pesto sauce, Sausage Risotto, and Housemade Pappardelle. Everything was outstanding.

The Sausage Risotto itself is stand alone incredible. Usually, I find risotto to have little flavor, relying on spices and creams for their taste but rarely holding the flavor of its accompanying meat.  The sausage in Sugo’s Risotto added the perfect amount of flavor.  Even forkfuls of risotto without sausage had a wonderful hint of sausage flavor.  And the sausage was the perfect size and had a sophisticated flavor; not subtle but not overpowering.

As always the Angel Hair with meatballs was excellent.  I am surprised at how many eateries get this dish wrong but the meatballs were cooked to perfection, as was the pasta.  I have since seen someone add meatballs to their gnocchi order – I will try that the next time I dine at Sugo.

 I had never heard of pappardelle, but after tasting this dish I may never look at brothy, mushroomy dishes quite the same.  The dish is full of complex flavors I am not accustomed to in your typical Italian fare – aromatic porcini and wild mushrooms, a hint of spice, textury pistachio nuts, and chicken served with broad papardelle noodles and a nice spicy overtone. Although quite a hearty dish, it won’t leave you overstuffed.  I have a hard time passing it up when I dine at Sugo because I enjoy how it surprises me with every bite.  Thankfully, it is the GF’s favorite so that frees me up to order the gnocchi without remorse.

I am more inclined to enjoy a small, but informed wine list than a two-page menu with random selections, and Sugo’s continues to impress – not only with its diversity but with its quality and cost.  Don’t worry that the wines listed on the big caulk board have no prices; the most expensive glass is $10, with most running in the $6-$8 range.  A lot of restaurants serve select wines only in the bottle but all of Sugo’s wines are available by the glass or the bottle. The wait staff knows how to pair their wines, and didn’t hesitate to suggest a red, by request, for a dish that would normally be complemented with a white.  According to Annette, one of the owners, the white/red thing is way over done.  There are great wines of both colors that compliment many meals.  It is no longer a matter of red versus white; it is a matter of how you want your dinner and drink to complement each other.  You can have two completely different experiences with the same dish by pairing it with even a slightly different wine.  I have since started to try each entrée with a red on one night followed by a white wine on my subsequent visit.  It is almost as if I have discovered a whole new favorite restaurant in some sort of alternate non-conventional wine universe.

We finished up with Zert, and as a huge fan of Zert I have found my new favorite. Although Sugo’s chocolate mousse with hazelnut whipped cream is amazing, we also tried the panna cotta, which is a ricotta cheese Zert. It is a white, thick, whipped mousse of sorts, this one with hints of lemon and topped with a raspberry jam with fresh blueberries. UNBELIEVABLE!!! (I have been back since just for this Zert.)

Sugo has a weekly Tuesday night special (5pm – 9pm) with $5 tapas and $5 glasses of wine as well as the everyday special of all wines by the glass priced at $5 (11am – 3pm.)  They also offer catering; check their website for more details:  www.sugopetaluma.com

Cinnabar Theater's 4th Annual Taste of Petaluma

Part of what makes Petaluma such a great place to live is its small, hometown feel.  Patronizing a restaurant and knowing that they contribute to community organizations and participate in community events is important to me.  It is also nice when the owners are long time locals and the tables are filled with familiar faces.  In these tough times it is nice to know that I can dine affordably and with Sugo, there is the added bonus of knowing that some of my family’s hard earned dollars go back into the community.  As a member of the Board of Directors of Cinnabar Theater, I can attest that we rarely have an event that Sugo is not generously involved in.  More importantly, walking into a restaurant where the owners greet you by name gives Sugo that hometown feeling while offering world class cuisine which is one of the things that makes Petaluma so special.

Sugo has become quite popular in its many years across the street from the Petaluma Mill, so head in a little early in order to make sure you can get a table, although even on a busy Friday or Saturday night I rarely wait more than a few minutes to be seated.  

Bruschetta Trio – $7

Gnocchi, ricotta dumplings, choice of cream, pesto, red sauce or gorgonzola – $13

Italian sausage risotto, crimini, spinach, spicy tomato cream sauce – $12

Housemade pappardelle, rotisserie chicken, wild mushrooms, pistachios, spicy broth – $13

Angel hair, basil, garlic, parmesan, red sauce – $10 (meatballs or prawns add $5, chicken add $4)

Zert – $5-$6

Can anyone guess where I am heading for lunch today?  After uploading all these photos there is no way I can pass on having a triple prosciutto bruschetta trio before leaving for Italy.  Viva Italia!!!