It was a rainy night in Sonoma County and I really didn’t want to drive anywhere. However, I attended Pigs and Pinot on Friday night and didn’t know if I wanted to stay in town another night to eat either. I had a bit of a dilemma. I didn’t want fussy. I didn’t want Italian. But I wanted to stick with a porky theme. There was one place, but I had to drive. Zazu.
I’ve never been to Zazu. I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen Chef Duskie Estes on TV. I’ve eaten Black Pig Bacon at my house. I know pork will be involved in tonight’s meal. But how much more pork could my body deal with?
"I'll start with the house made prosciutto please."
Four slices of prosciutto are presented to me. Fantastic product. Rich fat, not overly salty. A real top-notch product and as good as any Italian product I’ve had. I would love to buy this by the pound and serve it to hard-core prosciutto lovers.
I suppose I can handle a bit more pork from this chef master after the perfect prosciutto. But I had to plan my dinner. I couldn’t just order the fresh pasta with rabbit, which was my gut reaction. Pasta would tap me out early. I needed to experience the atmosphere, the sense of place, the mood of the chefs; virtuoso performance on piano (the prosciutto) or a night of improvisational jazz? Smaller plates was my call; I wanted to eat a full performance.
The “Pigstrami” reuben speaks to me in many ways. I asked my server what the portion size was, as I’ve got a lot of eating to do. He said it’s a single reuben slider. Done deal. When my slider sandwich was presented, I was told that the Pigstrami was made with pork heart. Oh yes. My little slider came with side of potato salad. This little bite was outstanding.( I recently was forced to eat a pastrami slider at Yard House and I didn’t like it then and I really hate it now.) The side of potato salad was perfect to match up with the slider.
Next up was a single pork rib with pork hash. I eat a lot of pork ribs and this rib was underwhelming. Sure it was tender and reasonably seasoned, but it just wasn’t at the level of the Pigstrami or other more traditional BBQ places. The rib tasted more like an oven roasted rib than a rib that had been BBQ for 8 hours. The pork hash was ok, but again, nothing to write home about.
As my meal was lacking any ruffage, I decided on the frisee, bacon, egg, and asparagus salad as a "greens" course. The flavors were fine, but the dish felt and looked a bit like a list of ingredients placed into a plate, dressed, and an egg placed in the middle. Lazy? Maybe. More of an afterthought I think in the grand scheme of the menu. Sort of like my choice on greens. I should probably have greens, but I really want the farm egg and bacon that come with it.
All was forgiven when my main course of fried red rice with foie gras and roasted duck, topped with pan seared and tamarind glazed Liberty Farms duck breast was presented. Asian inspired perhaps, but French-like in its richness and execution. The whole dish came together like nothing else that evening. While the rice on its own could have been a meal, a slice of breast with each fork of rice was absolutely wonderful, along with the occasional dollop of tamarind to accent the flavors. Well done.
The staff at this point actually encouraged me to have dessert. I think they wanted to see if I could actually eat more. Or they’d taken out a term-life policy on me. I asked a few questions about the desserts and said that the “Better Butters” looked great, but that I couldn’t do a full order. “We’ll cut it in half for you.” Done deal, Better Butters it is.
Better Butter or a peanut butter cookie sandwich with peanut butter gelato and dark chocolate dipping sauce was fantastic. I have always loved Nutter Butters from my youth. Zazu’s Better Butters are certainly an improvement on the original.
There’s a sense of home cooking here, country sensibility and a sense of place about it. For comparison, Petite Syrah was refined with cleaner lines and a deliberateness about the food but with a sense of simplicity. Diavola also has a sense of choreography about it. Zazu draws outside the lines, that was evident from my first step in the door. But that’s its edge up here, a little outside of town.
So, was my experience at Zazu classic piano or a free jazz saxophone solo? Zazu is a bit more improvisational jazz than I would have expected. Not every part of the solo is brilliant, but it feels good, there is heart (pig heart) behind the cuisine and the next solo will be better than the last one as long as they keep performing night in and night out. There is a certainly a virtuoso at work.
I’d be happy to eat another performance from Zazu.