Risibisi Restaurant in Petaluma
By Ashok Khanna
Historic downtown Petaluma has a clutch of interesting restaurants.
Notable among them is Risibisi, which fronts on the town’s main street with the Petaluma River flowing behind it. The dining room is cozy with exposed brick and wood paneling and a small bar at the end, its colors conveying the ambiance of a Tuscan ristorante. The restaurant’s name is derived from “Risi e bisi” (rice and peas) a classic and historic Venetian dish prepared for the Doge, its ruler, only on St. Mark’s Day. Now it can be served anytime, especially to children in Italy. The dish really shines with freshly harvested baby peas.
Owner Marco Palmieri, a Trieste native, subscribes to the “slow food” movement and sources ingredients locally to enhance a community connection. Risibisi is affiliated with FEED Sonoma and its cuisine is labeled as Sonoma-Italian.
Executive Chef Brian West trained in San Francisco and San Diego and worked under the tutelage of John Toulze and Sondra Bernstein at Estate Restaurant, a part of the Girl and the Fig group. West is also an adherent to the slow food approach. He took over the kitchen two years ago, updating the menu to feature even more locally sourced ingredients. Although he is no longer full-time at the restaurant, he retains the title and consults on menu changes.
My two companions and I were able to taste dishes from most sections of the menu, but we were too full for dessert. The mushroom bruschetta, bursting with flavor, had hillocks of fresh local mushrooms on house-ricotta and toasted house-ciabatta with an abstract drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. The carrot-ginger soup had a creamy consistency, but its taste was dominated by the freshness of the carrots with just a hint of ginger. The lightly dressed Caesar salad’s romaine hearts, focaccia croutons, and shaved, mild grano padano cheese nicely cleansed the palate for the main courses.
For our main dishes, we ordered two house specialties—eggplant parmigiana and wild boar gnocchi—and spaghetti alla carbonara. The baked layers of eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce with parmigiana on top were firm and the ingredients blended pleasingly. The tender braised wild boar separated easily with a fork and added a gamey flavor to the house-made gnocchi soaked in ragu.
The spaghetti carbonara was made with caramelized onions, local duck eggs, and a generous sprinkling of bite-sized pancetta. After sprays of parmigiano and black pepper, the complex aroma hit the nose before the curled pasta entered the mouth and brought together the combined flavors satisfyingly. My companions brought a bottle of 2007 Highwayman from Highway 12 winery, a deep, dark, medium-bodied Bordeaux blend that had spicy finish. It paired best with the wild boar ragu and carbonara.
Service staff was gracious and attentive in an unhurried way from initial seating to finish. For several years, Risibisi has been deservedly included in Michelin’s Bib Gourmands list of inspector’s favorites for good value. Street parking can be difficult, but inexpensive parking is available at the Bank of America parking lot nearby and at other garages.
154 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma, CA 94952.
Photographs by Doug Ferrarelli