I am not one to fall blindly for the “try new things” school of thought. If I know something is good there are ample reasons to stick with it. I have been burned many times by eating at a restaurant and instead of ordering an old standby, I opt for something new, only to be disappointed and left feeling like I have wasted my meal. Heck, I learned at a young age that putting my pants on one leg at a time was fairly effective. Do I really need to try a new way of accomplishing THAT task? Then why mess with a good thing when I visit my favorite eateries? I admit that there is merit to the phrase “variety is the spice of life”, quite literally when we speak of food. In fact, the GF is constantly impressed with my willingness to try new things. I scoff because I think I try new things all the time but she says I am an odd duck considering what my favorites tend to be. The surprise is that a guy who likes bacon cheeseburgers and hotdogs enough to eat them on a daily basis (if allowed) would be willing to try new restaurants, cuisines, and dishes. Of course I like to tell people that I am all about trying new things – I try a bacon cheeseburger at every new locale I visit.
Before I get distracted by bacon cheeseburger talk I should get back on point. After countless meals at Sugo one might think I had tried everything. But this is not the case. Based on what I have ordered and what I have tasted off of others’ plates (who are usually sitting at my table) I conclude that everything on the menu must be good…but there were a few items I had neglected, on purpose. I am confident in Sugo’s ability to prepare these meals well, but old habits die hard and these items are ones I have avoided for a long time:
1) Salads**(see end notes). Don’t like ‘em, don’t want ‘em, don’t need ‘em. …that is unless they are covered with cheese, meat, shrimps, crab, or what-have-you, in which case I will masterfully make it appear that I have eaten a good portion of the salad when in fact I have only cleared off the toppings.
2) Fish. I avoid all fish at restaurants. People may laugh since it is well known that I love TO fish…I just don’t love to EAT fish. Oh sure, a nice FRESH Rainbow Trout, stuffed with garlic and butter and drowned in a good white wine, bundled in tinfoil and slow cooked on the grill is one of my specialties…but a good portion of the pleasure coming from the preparation of that dish resides in the fact that I am the one to catch the fish.
3) Steak. I usually refrain from getting steak at an Italian place because if it ain’t stuffed in a ravioli, mixed into risotto, baked onto a pizza, or served as “ah-spicy-ah-meat-ah-ball” chances are the meat won’t taste good. Actually, I refrain from steak no matter what the restaurant. I have had great steaks prepared by top rated chefs in critically acclaimed restaurants but when the bill comes I can’t quite reconcile the economics of paying so much for something I can make at home. Sure, it is nice to eat out and have someone else take on the duty of buying groceries, preparing and serving the meal, and washing the dirty dishes, but only up to a certain price – especially considering my at home costs for making a meal aren’t all that cheap. I have tried to make my own chorizo burrito and it doesn’t come close to the affordability or flavor of the ones I devour at Mi Pueblo. I even love to cook and will no doubt attempt to make my own ricotta gnocchi with creamy pesto sauce…someday, but I don’t think I will ever be able to match Sugo’s price of $13 for that same dish. Just the time alone that I would have to allot to shopping makes that a steal of a deal…and with no dishwasher (she is usually working) Sugo takes care of the cleanup too. Back to steaks…the best steak I ever had came from Costco and was expertly prepared by a good buddy, with nothing more than salt, pepper, heat, and a watchful eye.
Enough with the suspense…
On my most recent adventure to Sugo I was faced with the decision to try something new. No, it wasn’t a salad, although I am not above admitting that they have great salads. They are tasty, filling, and perfectly priced, and ironically one of them was the catalyst in getting me to try something outside my normal favorites.
Not that long ago I had the opportunity to taste the steak atop Sugo’s filet salad. It was so tender and reasonably priced that I figured it was time to break my “no steak” rule and give Sugo’s filet mignon dinner a try. They also had a salmon special as well as their normal salmon filet entree. I wasn’t brave enough to give either of them a full-blown try but luckily I was there with my mom and GF and we decided to do a “round table” dinner. We ordered three entrées with the intention of rotating them around the table so we could each try them all. We ordered pistachio-crusted salmon, the grilled filet mignon, and the braised short-ribs.
I can’t say that my “no fish” and “no steak” rule will be abandoned at other restaurants but when it comes to Sugo everything on the menu is fair game from here on out. (I will even admit that at the 2009 Taste of Petaluma I actually enjoyed their eggplant ravioli…although on principle alone I will always order my raviolis with meat in them.) The grilled filet was spectacular. It had the texture of butter and was easily cut with my fork. With less fat than most steaks, I usually find filets to be more about texture than flavor, so the accompanying gorgonzola butter complements this filet perfectly. The pistachio-crusted salmon was also top notch. It was cooked perfectly and the pistachio crust was an exciting flavor and texture juxtaposition to the smooth and tangy fresh salmon flavor. The menu lists these dishes as coming with “starch & fresh vegetable” but don’t be fooled into thinking these sides are mere afterthoughts. The potatoes and green beans are seasoned and cooked perfectly and end up being more than just a garnished between you and the meat. I am relatively new to Sugo’s braised short-ribs and was again surprised at how light this entrée is. It is a big plate of food that always fills but never stuffs. The melt-on-your-tongue meat is served with pappardelle pasta in a mushroom, tomato, and pea infused ragout with a hint of rosemary. Normally we would have rounded out our meal with one (or more) of their great Zerts (the panacotta is my favorite) but we had started our meal with a triple shot of their prosciutto (w/brie and fig) bruschetta, so we were pretty well stuffed.
For years I lived in San Francisco, just down the street from Firefly. Firefly was the first restaurant I ever dined at where it didn’t matter what they served me, I ate it. I didn’t just try it, I devoured it. On one fateful evening I put this practice to the ultimate test by eating the asparagus that was burdening my plate. With asparagus topping my list of “must avoid” veggies (it is a fairly extensive list), this was the final test of Firefly’s cuisine, and they passed with flying colors. The very next morning I drafted and opened for debate the “Firefly Rule.” (Firefly Rule – I will never question, scoff at, turn my nose up to, push aside, or refuse to try anything on their menu…ever…even veggies.) Needless to say the vote was unanimous and the “Firefly Rule” took effect immediately. Very few restaurants have qualified for the Firefly Rule in the fifteen years since its enactment, but Sugo now holds a coveted spot on that list. If Annette and Pete put it on the menu, I will order it without apprehension. If they put it on my plate, I will eat it without hesitation or modesty.
I just tried the Sugo burger for the first time. It very well might be the best burger in Petaluma. …stay tuned!
**********************NEWS FLASH #2**********************
The fabulous Heather Irwin is running a poll on her Bite Club site to find the 25 best restaurants in SoCo. Since there are less of us here in Ptown we need to vote more often in order to make sure our local favorites get the attention they deserve. Personally, I will be voting for Sugo (daily, which is allowed) but check out the list since you might find your favorite Ptown eatery on there too.
**Salads and “Sauce” – Ladies, in case you didn’t know, guys like “sauce.” Even if a meal is good, it can almost always be improved with sauce – BBQ sauce, cheese sauce, tartar sauce, etc. A friend’s wife refers to salads as “veggies with sauce” knowing that her hubby will be distracted by the “sauce” and raise less objections to being served salad as part of his dinner until it is already on the plate. This is a valuable lesson — If you want to make us eat something, tell us about the meaty chilly cheese “sauce” you have topped it with and we will be knocking the kids over in order to get to the table first. DO NOT tell us, with your veggie-driven unbridled enthusiasm, that the dish we are about to consume is filled with eggplant or squash.