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Ashley and I are coming up on our two year anniversary since we left Rome and moved back to California. We both can’t believe it has been this long already; it seems just like yesterday that we were enjoying our lives in the eternal city of Rome. So to say the least, we are missing Rome and all our adventures there. One of the things that we miss the most is the cuisine and we have noticed that we have become very picky on the Italian cuisine that we eat. To sum it up we have become snobs about Italian food. We have high standards when it comes to Italian food and that is just a fact that we are going to have to accept. We have spent these last two years looking for that Italian restaurant that would remind us of Rome and I believe that we actually found the restaurant hiding in the small California town of Healdsburg.
Baci is a small town Italian restaurant that does things right. They keep the meal simple and stick to what makes Italian cuisine so fantastic: the simplicity of fresh ingredients and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.
Now one thing to know about Healdsburg, Ca is that there is no shortage of good restaurants up here. We are in the heart of wine country, so good food is in abundance. Baci though, stands out in our minds because it reminds us of our past life in Italy. As you enter the restaurant you are welcomed with the pleasant sound of dinner conversations coming from other diners; then the smell of cooked tomatoes and and freshly roasting garlic whips through the air and grabs your nose and puts it at attention.
Baci is a medium size restaurant, it is not the size of your local ma and pop place but it is not the size of your local chain restaurant. As you walk into the main room you see their clay wood burning oven in the back and someone is baking their fresh bread or pizza as the dining room is laid out before it. Even when the place is packed you feel like you have space. It does get loud but that fits right in with an Italian restaurant. Locals and tourist alike sit side by side eating and drinking local wines. The first person you will see is probably one of the owners, Lisbeth Holmefjord, who is in charge of the front of the house and the wine selection. She welcomes you with a big smile and greets every customer with the same upbeat attitude. Coming in out of the kitchen are busy serves and the chef greets locals at the tables, asking them how they are. He is the man making sure the food comes out to you just right from the kitchen. His name is Chef Shari Sarabi and just like his wife Lisbeth he always greets people with a smile. One feels like they are at a family get together and are apart of the family when they dine at Baci. I have been to Baci now ten times and I have received this type of greeting every time.
At the table I felt like I was truly a part of the party. Baci has a great wine list highlighting some of the local Sonoma County wines and great Italian wines and if you decide to bring your own wine also buy a bottle of their’s as well because you will get free corkage. Take your time looking through the menu because they are many excellent options. When Ashley and I eat out we like to go big especially when it is an Italian style restaurant. I’m talking a couple of bottles of wine, a few appetizers, a couple of main courses, and desserts with a couple of after dinner drinks. Last but not least, to keep it real Italian, some espresso to wash it all down.
We will start with one of the most basic starters done in almost all Italian restaurants, Bruschetta all’aglio, pomodoro e basilico: Grilled rustic bread, tomato, onion, garlic, basil, parsley & extra virgin olive oil. The crunch and the softness of the bread with the sweet tomato, the bite of the garlic and how all the ingredients work together show what Italian food is all about; balance and fresh ingredients. It might be eight dollars but the portion is a decent size and worth it. If you are looking for Italian style prices just remember you’re not in Italy.
The next appetizers on the menu for us always is, Burrata: Fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream on grilled bread, sauteed leeks, pancetta, topped with roasted tomato, pesto, and extra virgin olive oil. This is comes in at fourteen dollars but well worth the price. Three great sized pieces of creamy burrata that just melts in your mouth. Now if you do not know what burrata is then this is the only thing you need to worry about getting it because it is cheese sent down from the heavens. Once you have a bite you will never be satisfied with any cheese again. Baci has extremely fresh burrata which is important. Another very traditional appetizer is Prosciutto e Melone: Thinly sliced Parma Prosciutto with local summer melon. This is a must mention since it is still summer. It is a very simple dish with fresh juicy cantaloupe and salty prosciutto which work really well together and eating this dish is pure joy. It will cost you fourteen dollars for the dish but hey you are eating out so splurge a little.
It is time for the main dishes and this is what Baci does so well. We are going to start with our favorite. I think Ashley would go to the end of the world for this dish, luckily it is a five minute walk from our house; Gnocchi alla bolognese: Traditional slow-cooked meat sauce made from American kobe beef, veal, and pork ribs , tossed with house made gnocchi. I think the the description says enough but I do not believe words can describe it except that it is like eating soft sweet little pillows of homemade pasta with sauce that just makes your mouth salivate. Ashley and I both agree that this might be the best dish in the restaurant. This dish however, is more on the expensive side going for twenty dollars but lets blame it on the homemade gnocchi and the Kobe Beef!
When we can agree that only one of should order the gnocchi the other often orders the Rigatoni Con Salsiccia: Short tubes, Italian pork fennel sausage, fresh tomato, garlic, tomato sauce, and basil chiffonade. Again Baci shows how simple well sourced ingredients work together. The pasta cooked in the traditional method of al dente. The plate is not drowned in sauce but perfectly proportioned to the pasta. The sauce has a sweetness of the tomatoes but the a nice balance of savory and salty from the sausage and other ingredients. The sausage is amazing and mixes well with the sauce. This dish comes in at eighteen on their menu.
If you are looking for traditional Italian try the Tagliatelle alla Carbonara: Flat long pasta, pancetta, chicken broth, black pepper, egg yolk, and parmesan. This is a dish that I know very well from living in Rome which is where this dish started. I tend to be very picky about it because so many people mess it up but of course not Baci. The sauce was done right and not over eggy and the pasta is again done in the al dente style. The presentation is done nicely as it comes on a plate in a little ball. During the winter this is the perfect dish to keep one warm and full. This dish comes in on the cheaper side going for sixteen dollars.
I judge Italian places a lot by the quality of their pasta.They are the most simplistic dishes and if they can’t do the simple things right how else are they supposed to do the complex things right? Baci knows how to make a good bowl of pasta, it is that simple.
The good food does not stop there, it is time for desert and of course an espresso. I like to go with the tiramisu or occasionally even simpler with the freshly made biscotti with coffee, or even the affogato which is a wonderful blend of gelato and coffee.
Now there is a lot on the menu I did not hit. The have an eclectic menu with a mixture of dishes; I did not go into the carne e polo. I tend to stick to the pasta which is so good. If you you are a little more hungry they have pasta and meat combinations for the big appetites. Baci is one of the better Italian restaurants that I have been to since I have been back home. I believe it is because they focus on making Italian cuisine the right way with fresh ingredients and keeping it simple. Baci overall gets an 9/10 out of ten from me. The only negative thing I have to say is that it can be a little expensive. The food itself gets a 10/10 and I highly recommend this place for a good night out in Healdsburg Ca.