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Jul 7, 2008 06:53 AM

Dinner @ Zazu (Santa Rosa)

I looked forward to dinner with my wife at Zazu with great anticipation. The concept of a restaurant on a working farm held a great deal of appeal. The menu looked ambitious but accessible.

We arrived a few minutes early for our 8:00 reservation. The eager hostess brought us halfway into the dining room only to find the table was not yet set. She wheeled around and led us back to the entrance, to wait about 30 seconds. When our table was ready, we were led into the back. I got a nice view of the traffic going by. The frontage is narrow, so you really have the feel of a roadside establishment, not necessarily an added bonus.

I ordered a flight of pinot. I was somewhat dismayed to find that one of the wines (15 was an ok price for a flight, by the way) was not pinot noir, but a chilled rose'. Strike one. If I wanted rose', I'd order rose'. Many minutes passed before we even received bread, water, or had our dinner order taken.

We decided to share the veggie antipasto. About twenty minutes later, a small plate arrived, with some roasted peppers and eggplant (about 2 oz) some pretty nice beets (again 2 oz) and fragments of cheese. There were two small, quarter sized hard cheeses, a small portion of fresh mozzarella, and a thimble of herbed goat cheese. The accompaniment was burned, grilled bread that took over the flavor of anything served with it. Not a good value at $15.00. Not a good value at any price, really, given the poor representation of ingredients and the indifferent plating and presentation.

I ordered the lamb, my wife, the chicken. Forty minutes later, the entrees arrived. I received three pieces of gristly, oversalted lamb on small skewers, with some red onion, perched on some form of coconut basmati rice that had an off, sour-milk tasted. $28.00. My wife received a half-chicken, seemingly good quality, tender. Unfortunately, the dark meat quarter was still raw. It was now more than one hour and twenty minutes into this meal, with little hope of anything good happening. The room was quite noisy, which is not a mood enhancer when the culinary side of the meal isn't going very well.

This is ambitious restaurant, focused on ingredients to the point where it is almost a conceit. Perhaps we just picked a bad night. Perhaps we made poor choices. On the other hand, the kitchen had an hour to turn out a fully cooked chicken and do some quality control on the other dishes. It was busy when we ordered, but not when we were served. At those prices, plating should be a consideration, beyond portion control.

I have no doubt that this kitchen has the ability to turn out good food, they just didn't do it last night. After terrific meals at Ubuntu, Della Santina, El Dorado Kitchen, and Mustards, at roughly the same class and price, I was expecting much much more.

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  1. What a shame to have such a bad meal. Did you just give up and not get dessert? Thanks for reporting back.

    Zazu Restaurant
    3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I chose to forego dessert. I found the entire experience to be dispiriting. Noisy, poor service, poor food. Dessert should be the ending celebration of a good meal, I think, not the only sweet thing about it.


      1. re: rruben1

        Seems like you expect too much from a restaurant described as a roadhouse. Obviously it will be by the road and more casual. The view of the vineyards on Guerneville Road could be a lot worse.

        I was just there this weekend and had prompt seating, great service, and food was very good. My wife really enjoyed the fried garbanzo beans and the fresh vegetarian dish she had. I thought the salami plate and flat iron steak and blue cheese ravioli were great. I haven't tried the chicken or lamb you had. For the price, variety, and casual atmosphere this is one of my favorite restaurants.

        1. re: stannman

          For the same price, I dined at Santi in Geyserville tonight. The vegetable antipasto was absolutely fantastic. On a scale of 1-10, a 9, as compared to ZaZu's 3, at best. Our pasta with pesto was absolutely delicious. Our entrees were also portioned, cooked, and plated beautifully. The room was lovely.

          I'm sure you have had good dinners at ZaZu, and others have, as well. I'm not sure what vineyards you saw across the street, however. None were apparent to my view, only a few trucks parked across the road and traffic whizzing by. If it's a roadhouse, they shouldn't charge $28 for three pieces of lamb, though, right?

          1. re: rruben1

            Honestly I've never thought Santi was worth the extra trip to Geyserville and back but maybe should give it another look. Thanks for the tip.

    2. My experiences at Zazu and Santi are exactly the same as the OP. We must have the same tastes. My wife and I have returned time after time to Santi, besides taking friends there, and have never been disappointed.

      4 Replies
      1. re: BN1

        In case you haven't heard, Santi is opening a pizza restaurant next door, and the grand opening is tonight!

        1. re: rruben1

          Any updates on the pizza restaurant?

          What's the name and is it napoletana style? THANKS

          1. re: EnderWiggin

            I like BOTH Santi and Zazu. Saw a July press release that Zoe from Top Chef is at Zazu now. Maybe that accounts for some of the recent disarray.

            Chef Dino's new pizza place is Diavola and here's my post from Day 4,

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Zoi Antonitsas was the original Executive Chef at Bovolo, Zazu's sister restaurant in Healdsburg. She left when her partner Jen (also from Top Chef) decided that commuting from Healdsburg to SF wasn't working out. But Zoi has maintained her relationship with John and Duskie (she of Food Network's Mac & Cheese Challenge), and has been filling in at Zazu while the regular Exec is on maternity leave.

      2. FWIW: I've been to Zazu several times and have had only awesome experiences. I'm sorry yours was not as good. The undercooked chicken is truly unfortunately and completely unacceptable. I hope this was just an off night for them and not a sign of changes in their qulity. Zazu has always been my go-to place after a day of wine tasting in RRV/SC

        1 Reply
        1. re: whiner

          The pizza place is called Diavola, and will feature wood-oven pizza, roasted meats, and antipasti, by all accounts. I have not heard about how the opening went, but I'm having a hard time imagining it not being wonderful.
          I can't wait for my next trip out there.