Eastside Road, July 20, 2010—IT ISN'T MY BIRTHDAY, but a couple of dear friends thought it was and took us out to dinner. Well, why disabuse people with such good intentions? Healdsburg and environs is hardly lacking in good restaurants, and here was a new one, way up in Geyserville, one with a long and interesting history: the Catelli family had run Catelli's the Rex in this space for years and years, then a divorce (as I understand it) moved the operation out of the space down the road to Healdsburg, keeping the name, but losing out to competition and closing after a short while.
Meanwhile a daughter of the family — granddaughter of the original, "King" Catelli — had taken up cooking in a serious way, marrying the new American professionalism to the vaunted family traditions. Her father had kept the real estate of the original restaurant, leasing it to another newer operation, Santi. Santi moved out last year, to new digs in Santa Rosa, and Domenica Catelli, the granddaughter-cook, moved in (along with her brother Nicholas, who runs the house), and that's where we had dinner, on my un-birthday.
The four of us shared three salads: tomatoes and cucumbers in a Balsamic dressing; prosciutto-wrapped figs stuffed with cheese and baked; fresh greens and herbs. Lindsey went on to the delicious house ravioli in Bolognese; I was planning to, but was seduced by a special, a grilled veal cutlet with potatoes and spinach.
This was easily the biggest dinner I've eaten since May, when we were in Italy. In fact I felt we were in Italy, and found myself now and then talking in my version of Italian to Richard Catelli, the chef's father, who joined us at the table — a fascinating man, full of stories about the family and local history, and what a fascinating family and history it is. (Read the local newspaper's backgrounder for hints.)
Big though it was, having lost a dozen pounds recently I ordered dessert: Mamma Catelli's bread pudding, involving a little rum, whipped cream, and of course cubes of bread — good old Franco-American "french bread," a local product since the late 1930s. We'd had it as "garlic bread" for an appetizer, and it was just as I remember my father making it in the late 1940s.
Catelli's uses local products, organic when possible; it marries traditional family cooking to the recently new American professionalism; it's comfortable and roomy; the service is friendly; and there is nothing pretentious or over-ambitious about the place. We'll go back.
Gewurtztraminer, "Mercury" (Clarksburg), 2009; Pinot noir, MacMurray (Sonoma Coast), 2008