By Clark Wolf
Journalists love to declare certain restaurant locations “jinxed” when a couple of enterprises try a spot and fail – usually for very good reasons that may be entirely invisible to even the most well trained investigative eye and blog.
The rent structure may be completely unreasonable. The street may need to be dug up for two years. Scaffolding may be about inhabit the land. Partners may hate each other and – with landlords- may be embroiled in on-going conflicts that none can safely reveal but that hamper urgently needed action.
In fact, we saw just such a spot in Sebastopol that didn’t work out for a few good reasons; it wasn’t the spot that was jinxed, it was the fundamentals (cost of the building, debt load requiring outsized rent and ownership that really had little idea what the local community would sustain). It’s currently up and buzzing and in the middle of things in many new good ways.
But sometimes an odd little spot can be blessed, imbued with magical charm and draw, even if it sits in the corner of a parking lot, overlooking a busy intersection, in one of the less attractive areas of an often funkified town.
Enter Bartavelle. Slipped right into the spot that housed the beloved Café Fanny for many years, there are many conventional reasons why this spot might not be considered ideal. Besides the stated obvious, there is no exhaust hood, no conventional cooking line and no big name chef associated with what is essentially a rather perfect food and drink bar.
It is, however, wedged between two beloved Bay Area institutions – Acme Bread and Kermit Lynch Wines (KL is the landlord) that help put it on the local, regional and even national radar (ok, maybe international too). It also comes of, you should excuse me, organic evolution. Suzanne Drexhage is the owner, operator, chief cook and bottle washer, as they used to say. She’s worked at Chez Panisse and at Kermit Lynch. She shares an aesthetic and perhaps even a vision of food and wine in our lives with those other food families – in fact we’re vaguely related ourselves. At 19 she was a cashier at the San Francisco Oakville Grocery that I helped open and run in the very earliest of the 1980’s. She’s joined by her own son Sam, and the legacy moves along.
Here’s a situation where much of the good will build by the simple joys of Café Fanny – which too many of us had not visited in a very long while before it closed last year – was warmly passed along to a freshened location that seems to meet even more of our wants and needs than it precursor. The food is delicious and the service so thoughtful and unpretentious it feels like you know every one of the folks working there, or that they somehow know you, or want to. This is a little slice of the very best of why many of us do what we do. Simply delicious food and drink in a thoughtful, pleasant spot, for all the right reasons.