Eating at the Bar at Scopa (Healdsburg)
Last Friday, my house guest and I got an early jump on the weekend, arriving at the plaza in Healdsburg at 4:37pm. Our prospects for the half-price sale at Downtown Bakery were still pretty good even though we were #19 in line. It’s always tense to watch the items you want bagged up and sold ahead of you, but we still had some choice buys for our weekend provisions and to stock my freezer.
Then we ambled over the John & Zeke’s bar for some attitude adjustment while we waited for Scopa to open. For a “dive bar”, John & Zeke’s seems quite tidy and presentable.
Scopa turned out to be fully booked for the evening, but as early arrivals we snagged a couple tall stools at the six-seater bar. Scopa gets extra points for hooks to hang our handbags. The restaurant is cramped, and perched up high on the stool, I felt like we had more room around us. We liked our vantage point on the bar operations and the lady barkeep was in total command of her station. She had good recs, coursed our order for us and gave us great service.
In order of service, we shared:
Puntarelle salad with anchovy and egg – One of the day’s specials, the chunks of puntarelle chicory were just slightly bitter. I liked that this dish was served room temperature for full flavor enjoyment. Nice, but could have been better with a bit more acidity.
Polpette Calabrese – Seriously good appetizer portion of tender, juicy meatballs in a piquant tomato sauce with smoked mozz.
Larry Pacini’s housemade ciabatta bread – At first I resisted ordering the bread for $2, but the meatballs tomato sauce was too tasty to leave on the plate. The first slice I tried was quite damp in the middle, which we asked our server about, though we liked the crust. She explained that it’s a tender and moist bread, but when I said that it tasted uncooked and then squeezed a lump of wet dough, she whisked it away. An apology from the kitchen that something had gone wrong with that loaf came out with the replacement. The second order was INCREDIBLE. Scorched and pebbly thin crust that shattered to the bite, great yeasty flavor, and the interior had a chewy, moist texture with many voids in the dense crumb. Be sure to buy the bread here.
Garbanzo, cabbage and beef soup – Delicious and warming, but now we were getting full (from polishing off the bread!), and had the rest packed to take home.
Pappardelle with duck ragu – Floppy, more than an inch-wide homemade noodles, were quite fascinating in texture. They had the slightest bit of resistance to the bite and the surface seemed abraded so that they felt more like fine suede rather than satin in the mouth. The ragu featured thick shreds of braised duck with carrots and other savories. With a white wine base, the overall effect was more delicate and finessed than I expected and was just the right finish for this meal.
Her first taste of Russian River Brewing Co’s Pliny the Elder ($6 bottle) was an epiphany for my friend. One of the IPAs is on tap. Some of the wines served by the glass are also available in half-bottle carafes.
No room for dessert, besides we had our bag of baked goodies waiting in the car. But I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy when a chocolate soufflé was served to our countermates. It made the perfect little airy sigh, before receiving its measured pour of crème anglaise and needs to be ordered 20 minutes in advance. Next time, for sure.
Our tab including tax and tip came to $30 apiece, which is a terrific value for the quality of food and service. Dinner at Scopa should be high on anyone's list.
Downtown Bakery & Creamery
308 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
109 Plaza St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
John & Zeke's Bar
111 Plaza St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
I am so jealous. I was suppossed to have dinner there with a group of eight while I was there a week ago. For whatever reason, they couldn't accomodate us. We moved to Willi's and did end up having a delectable tapas assortment there instead. A hundred times better than anything we ate out of the Dry Creek Kitchen, thats for sure.
Aw, too bad! I'll say it again, I'm glad we were seated at the bar, as the other seating is wedged in like sardines. We actually thought the best table might be the one for six that is outside the front door. The small breezeway has been encased with heavy plastic for wintertime.
With barrel tasting coming up the next two weekends, I'm sure that reservations will be at a premium here. Scopa's owner/chef used to be with Santi in Geyserville, another very authentic regional Italian place. If you can't get into Scopa next time, you might want to head up to Geyserville to Santi or for a more casual spin, it's new sister restaurant, Diavola. Visiting with friends this weekend, one mentioned that she has lunch at Diavola every week and adores the place. I posted about it shortly after opening, and should try to make a return visit.