December 20-26, 2006

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First Bite


By Carey Sweet

The Slow Food movement is sweeping the nation, and I'm planning accordingly. I'm buying as much stock in olive oil as I can.

Slow Food chefs are nuts for the stuff. They treat it like fine wine, identifying the fruits' appellation and vintage, crafting meticulous tasting notes, and pairing it with food based on each oil's flavor, fragrance and even color.

If there's any chance to use a little olive oil in a recipe, a Slow Food chef will. And if it's possible to use a whole lot of olive oil, don't put it past a Slow pro to open the floodgates.

Case in point: the Slow Food temple Bovolo, set within the Plaza Farms gourmet grocery/epicurean gift shop in Healdsburg (bovolo is Italian for "snail," and the snail is the Slow Food logo). All the food at this charming restaurant is artisan, made from scratch using Northern California-sourced ingredients. Bovolo's people appreciate good olive oil, particularly that produced by Healdsburg's own DaVero, made from trees imported from Tuscany. (DaVero, in fact, shares retail space in Plaza Farms.)

Now, I adore great olive oil, and as luck would have it, my mom and I visited Bovolo in November, just in time for DaVero's "Olio Nuovo" fresh press of the year. We enjoyed a terrific lunch, leaving with olive oil coating our tongues and seeping out of our pores for days after.

Oil shimmered on the plate when I picked up my first piece of coo-coo frites, a half-dozen decadent hot pockets of pillowy Parmesan-dusted dough stuffed with explosively rich, buttery-wet mozzarella and house-cured, black pig salumi ($6.50). Oil glistened in a light green puddle atop a cup of rustic Tuscan pork stew ($4.50), thinning it into more of a porridge of kale, carrot, Parmesan and farro.

Oil perfumed the Bovolo burger, the plump ground sausage patty slicked with mustard aioli and served alongside delightfully cinnamon-y apple and onion marmelata ($9.50). Whole olives frolicked in their own happy greasiness alongside the burger and another sandwich of nicely salty proscuitto di Parma layered with nutty Bellwether Farms fontina and tangy fig jam ($8.50).

By this time, I was delighted; mom (who could last a year on just a half pat of butter) was pretty queasy. But, I promised her, every dish at Bovolo isn't so hog-wild with oil.

We returned later for a beautiful thin-crust pizza, the 12-inch funghi ($16.50) layered with fat, sweaty wild mushrooms and tart, salty Laura Chenel goat cheese (we passed on the optional spritz of white truffle oil, $2).

A sausage sandwich ($8.50) featured undoubtedly the best link I've ever had in my life, the crisp skin popping and sending juices running down my chin. On top of the crunchy muffinlike roll sat fresh peppery arugula sprinkled with lots of Parmesan, pepperoncini and caramelized onion; the trick was to get the whole thing in my mouth in one bite to experience all the flavors at once.

It was a lovely, light and lively meal. We passed on the dessert special of the day, however: olive oil pound cake.

Bovolo, 106 Matheson St., Healdsburg. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served daily. 707.431.2962.

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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.