Pullman Kitchen Opens, Foie Returns, Chalkboard Alfresco, St. Helena Pop-Up

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Roast chicken at Pullman Kitchen in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Manila clams with chorizo at Pullman Kitchen in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Crab cake po’boy at Pullman Kitchen in Santa Rosa. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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The patio at Chalkboard in Healdsburg just opened. Photo courtesy of Chalkboard.

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

Santa Rosa’s new Pullman Kitchen, Destination Delicious: I never order chicken at restaurants. Ever. Because inevitably it’s the compromise entrée, the bland and uninspired dish for cautious eaters. But when a perfect roast chicken is the specialty of the house, as it is at the newly opened ~PULLMAN KITCHEN~, I bite.

Roasting a chicken isn’t as easy as it sounds. The trick is crispy skin and juicy, tender meat (both light and dark). Pullman Kitchen’s chef, Darren McRonald, hits the mark, serving up the bird with a light pan sauce and two dreamy spinach Parmesan pancakes. It’s everything a roast chicken should be, which is comforting and hearty, homey and succulent. Consider me a convert.

After several visits, I’m a bit in love with Pullman Kitchen, housed in the former Syrah Bistro. The interior is familiar, with an open kitchen and cozy dining room, but the space now has better seating and a more open feel. The interior courtyard, always a bit exposed, noisy, and uncomfortable, has been sectioned off, giving it a more unified feeling.

The menu is brief and fairly consistent (though seasonal ingredients come and go) with plenty of rib-sticking entrées including fish tacos, cheeseburgers, skirt steak, lamb, and Manila clams with chorizo. What’s we’ve been inspired by, however, are the daily specials, such as a crab cake po’boy and fried green tomatoes. And don’t miss the bacon-wrapped dates with paprika, honey, and lemon.

Dessert is just as inspired and just as comforting. Rich carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (notice the golden raisins, a nice touch), warm rhubarb and strawberry crumbles with whipped cream, or housemade ice cream—another dish I rarely order because of its banality. Again, I’m a convert, especially when the dish comes with warm sugar cookies on the side.

A few minuses, depending on your perspective. In warmer months, the menu seems a bit wintry, and the restaurant’s lack of air conditioning makes for a bit of a sweaty visit (especially near the front windows). We were also a bit taken aback by the automatic inclusion of a 17 percent tip on the bill. Servers do explain the logic, stating that it helps the staff have a living wage, and on both visits, servers were more than accommodating, and we added another 2 percent to the tip. BiteClub is looking forward to seeing the evolution of this stellar dining car. Open Mon-Fri lunch, nightly dinner, and Sat-Sun brunch. 205 5th St. at Wilson St., Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300.

Chalkboard Goes Outdoors: In its continuing evolution, Healdsburg’s ~CHALKBOARD~ (inside the Hotel Les Mars) has expanded with a new outdoor bar and 45-seat patio. What was once a barely used swimming pool has become an inviting warm-weather patio that opens at 4pm every night. The alfresco area will serve up a bar menu, cocktails, microbrews, and several new menu items including summer squash tart, grilled corn with queso fresco and lime, and almond-crusted salmon with Black Mission figs. As a side note, the multicourse library tasting menu launched in spring has been put on hiatus.

July Fourth at LMR: Forget the warm beer and hot dogs waiting for next week’s big fireworks show. ~LONG MEADOW RANCH~ has a more civilized alternative featuring a roasted whole hog, cowboy beans, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and other summer goodies. The family-friendly lawn party also includes games of horseshoes and pétanque along with live music from the Jimi James Band. $25 per person for guests 21 and over, which includes a bottle of LMR Ranch House Red or sauvignon blanc and one Govino glass. Free admission for guests under 21. Tickets available online. Guests are encouraged to bring low-back chairs and blankets. 738 Main St., St. Helena, 707-963-4555.

After a few weeks of mystery, it turns out that former Ad Hoc chef de cuisine Dave Cruz will be taking over the former Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill space. But only temporarily. His pop-up concept, ~MQ~, opens Friday July 4th with a barbecue menu, with an official opening date of Tuesday July 15th. The pop-up is slated to run through the end of the year while Cruz works on a permanent Napa location. Owners of the restaurant space say they hope to continue to host other pop-up chefs.

UPDATE on 7/1/2014: unfortunately MQ is not longer happening. This note is from a post on Facebook by Dave Cruz: “Friends—I am saddened to announce that the planned Miles Restaurant and MQ pop-up in St. Helena is cancelled. Negotiations unfortunately fell through. The positive response I received from friends and supporters has been overwhelming and I have tried to secure an alternate location here in Napa. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I will have secured a new site by our target start date of July 4th. I want to thank everyone for their interest and support and hope to share good news in the future.”

Foie gras returns to California for one night only, Saturday July 5th, at ~LA TOQUE~ in Napa. Executive chef and owner Ken Frank has long been a vocal opponent to the law that banned the sale of foie gras in California. Running from noon to 2pm, The State of American Foie Gras includes a tasting lunch of domestically sourced foie from acclaimed Bay Area chefs Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L, Victor Scargle, Mark Dommen of One Market, David Bazirgan of Dirty Habit, and former Cyrus chef Douglas Keane. The event is free, but open to only 50 guests via a contest on the La Toque Facebook page (take a look at the most recent post on how to enter). 1314 McKinstry St., Napa, 707-257-5157.