July 27, 2012

July 27, 2012
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The original neon Fagiani’s sign will be back in service at The Thomas (courtesy of The Thomas).

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Petite Syrah in Santa Rosa (courtesy of Petite Syrah).

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Basque Cafe Boulangerie (courtesy of Basque Boulangerie).

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

For nearly a generation, the building at 813 Main Street in downtown Napa stood as silent witness to a sad chapter in the town’s history. Owned since 1945 by the Fagiani family, the building was a bustling bar and popular hangout until a fateful July night in 1974, when a young woman was murdered inside. Soon after, Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge & Liquor Store was locked tight—some say with drinks still sitting on the bar—as the decades rolled by and her killer eluded police.

Now it’s facing a brighter future as New York-based design and hospitality group AvroKO readies the rehabbed 100-year-old property to open this August as a three-story restaurant and cocktail lounge called ~THE THOMAS~.

“We wanted to bring back the original character and keep with the history of the building,” says chef Brad Farmerie, walking through the construction site earlier this month. Farmerie is executive chef of the critically acclaimed PUBLIC and Saxon + Parole in New York City. He, along with the The Thomas’s sommelier and other executive staff, moved to Napa several months ago to open the restaurant and plan opening menus. Farmerie will stick around after the opening, but expect announcement of a chef de cuisine shortly.

“We’d be mistaken to think that we could impose our will on this historic venue,” he said. So during the last several months, they’ve consulted with locals, area chefs, ranchers, winemakers, and Facebook fans for input on the name and feel of the restaurant as well as learning about the best way to use and feature local ingredients. Which, we’ll just say, is a refreshing change from other out-of-towners.

The three-level restaurant will include a large retro-inspired bar, slated to be called Fagiani’s Bar at The Thomas (there has been some wrangling over the name with the family), and the original neon Fagiani’s sign will hang out front. The Thomas, which is what they’ll call the upstairs dining room, a reference to the building’s time as a boardinghouse called The Thomas, features an open-kitchen dining room and a floating wine rack with about 1,300 bottles. On the third floor, more dining space and an open-walled deck area overlooks the Napa riverfront.

The menu is still in development, but Farmerie is especially excited about two things: an aged beef burger and lots of local produce. ”The more I eat here I realize the less I want to do with the food—the food and vegetables are insane here. The purveyors want you to try things while they are standing there. It was an epiphany just to eat an heirloom tomato,” Farmerie said. His staff have planted two small garden plots outside the former Copia and are using the Julia’s Kitchen space to test their dishes.

The crew plans to introduce a hopping mixology program as well, with cocktails served until the wee hours. Media preview dinners start in early August, followed by an anticipated opening soon after. 

In Sonoma County, chef Josh Silvers will close ~PETITE SYRAH~ (formerly known as Syrah) for good this fall. And at least part of the decision is based on Silvers’ own recent 40-pound weight loss.

“I decided Petite Syrah had run its course and it was time for a complete change. I used to love cooking and eating foie gras and pork belly and very rich foods, but I put on a lot of weight and I got high blood pressure,” said Silvers. He’s among a number of local chefs who’ve lost a significant amount of weight recently (Mark Stark of Stark’s Steakhouse and Sondra Bernstein of the girl & the fig among them) in order to improve their health.

“Last year, I started working out and eating healthier food; granted I still indulge in rich food but with a lot more moderation. My whole lifestyle changed and is more balanced. I am very happy and much healthier. High-end food takes a lot of time and is expensive. I eat much healthier now, and I want to share with the public how much better we all can feel by eating better and spending less,” said Silvers.

In 1999, Silvers opened Syrah in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, becoming the go-to restaurant for Wine Country classics like foie gras, Liberty duck, and Dungeness crab cakes. Two years ago, after opening nearby Jackson’s (a more casual eatery focused on pizzas, burgers, and cocktails), Silvers reinvented the restaurant as Petite Syrah. The tweezer-perfect small plates that included 63 degree eggs, pork belly, and speck ravioli garnered critical approval, but failed to gain a widespread audience.

After several changes, Silvers has decided to close the Syrah chapter, but he isn’t done with the location. “At this time and in this country, I think our health and our budgets are extremely important to us. I want to open a place where I can take my family and have everyday delicious comfort food. My lifestyle has changed radically this last year, and I want to reflect that in my restaurant. I have a family and I think Santa Rosa could use a restaurant where you can take your family and have everyday delicious comfort food with some options for special occasions (what I call my ‘cheat days’),” said Silvers.

He’s mum on exactly what the new concept will entail or when it will open, but knowing Silvers, something is definitely in the works. Until the closure, he’ll be featuring a number of “best of” menus. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-568-4002.

Big news on the Sonoma Square: Longtime owners of Sonoma’s ~BASQUE BOULANGERIE~ have confirmed plans to sell their 20-year-old bakery later this summer. Familiar to many in the Bay Area, the small café has become the town’s gathering spot—where locals meet for coffee and fresh pastries or a sandwich, and tourists make pilgrimages for their bread. A number of area restaurants and groceries also stock their baguettes.

Though the sale is still pending, Ron and Francoise Hodges along with co-owner and baker Jack Montaldo hope to transfer ownership to Harman “Sunny” Bajwa of San Ramon in August. Tired of long hours and needing to care for family, 20 years seemed like the right time to pass the baguette to a new generation. Several months ago, they started entertaining offers to buy the business. “We turned down several people who wanted to change everything,” she said. Bajwa, a district manager for Noah’s Bagels, told owners he wanted to keep the bakery, the staff, and the product exactly the same. “He wants to make it a family tradition, like it’s been a family tradition for us,” Francoise said. 460 First St. East at E. Spain St., Sonoma, 707-935-7687.

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