June 21-27, 2006

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First Bite

Simply Delicious

By Carey Sweet

I suppose Mom and I should be feeling a little guilty. I'm sprawled on the couch, a plate of lasagna ($8.95) balanced on my belly, hoisting greedy forkfuls of the wonderfully savory stuff to my lips. Mom's flat on the other chaise next to me, alternating bites of marvelous, pillowy-crusted margherita pizza ($10.95) with slices of briny-garlicky clam pesto pie capped with juicy Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes ($13.95). We're in our pajamas, our eyes glued to the big-screen TV in front of us, where Nate and Brenda and Claire and Billy and all the other loveable freaks of Six Feet Under are bringing the final season DVD to a lunatic crescendo.

We're a bit of a disgrace, not because of our sloth--comfort-seeking truly is an art--but because chef Rick Gernetti, the creator of our luscious feast, has worked so hard to make sure we would want to eat inside his restaurant, the divine little Simply Delicious in southwest Santa Rosa.

He moved the shop from Cotati almost a year ago, in fact, to expand the former takeout operation into a real, sit-down bistro. He set up a cozy space in the Starbucks strip-mall spot, with black-and-white-checked tablecloths on the half-dozen tables, rustic mustard-colored walls and cheerful service from his family.

And when I stopped in to snag my recent to-go order, Gernetti proudly pointed out his newest addition--another six tables kicked into former empty space next door, plus a friendly eat-in bar overlooking the tiny kitchen.

The thing is, Gernetti sends out such huge portions of impossibly good Italian/Mediterranean food that I've always had to lug out a leftovers box anyway. And I've ordered a lot of food tonight. So I'm just saving all of us some time.

It's excellent fare, no matter where it's consumed. Gernetti makes virtually all of his food from scratch; only the shaped pasta (rigatoni, penne) comes from a purveyor. My lasagna noodles are fresh, stuffed fat with spinach, tangy ricotta and Italian sausage crumbles. He gets his produce from the neighboring Imwalle Gardens organic farms, still keeping prices remarkably low (just $7.50 for the salad with chopped chicken, artichoke hearts, balsamic onions and roasted peppers in a tangy thick balsamic vinaigrette). My only complaint tonight is with a chèvre pizza ($13.95) topped with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato sauce and mozzarella, since there's hardly enough goat cheese to taste it.

Better than the chèvre are other favorites I've had before: sandwiches of plump, homemade meatballs, or what must be almost a pound of buttery chicken breast parmigiana (both $6.95). The meats are plopped in large crusty rolls, slathered with zingy marinara and mozzarella, then passed through a hot oven just long enough to crisp the roll's edges and melt the cheese.

Heaven help us if Simply Delicious ever starts delivery service. Mom and I would never have to leave our couches again. And that could be simply dangerous.

Simply Delicious, 2780 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa. Lunch and dinner served daily. 707.579.2083.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.