Chasing the newest, hottest restaurant openings in Sonoma County can be exciting for a writer, but it can come at a significant cost — overlooking the restaurants that succeed year after year, the chefs that perfect their dishes month after month and the dining rooms that become part of our lives day after day.
The more I think about the overall food landscape of our county, the more obvious it is that long-standing restaurants like Central Market in Petaluma (and many others) are so beloved and so iconic that it’s a serious lapse to not showcase what’s taken years to perfect. In Central Market’s case, that is 18 years of chef/owner Tony Najiola’s life.
Dressed in his chef’s coat, Najiola looms large over the dining room — watching every dish go out, visiting every table to ensure his patrons are happy — but he never imposes. The open kitchen, dining room and bar feel airy, with full views of the wood-fired oven and the line. But it’s the food, frequently sourced from Najiiola’s Muleheart Farm, that really does the talking here: Instead of foams and potions and powders, the food is just, well, food.
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