Blue Ridge Kitchen combines fine dining with comfort

As the server poured silky gazpacho over a chunk of lobster in the bowl before me, I suddenly realized how much I’ve been missing fine dining. After so many months of take-out meals or eating on casual patios, it was so nice to enjoy the upscale service offered at the new Blue Ridge Kitchen at the Barlow in Sebastopol.

After my first spoonful of the refreshing soup, I knew chef Matt D’Ambrosi is putting a lot of thought into his Cal-Creole-Cajun recipes. The chilled gazpacho is marvelous on its own, in a sweet-tart, peach-colored puree of melon and tomato dotted with radish, a round of chopped avocado and shiny drops of basil oil ($9). With the generous chunk of seafood (add $7) and the elegant tableside presentation, it’s luxurious.

All the details line up so well at this classy spot, which took over the former Zazu Farm + Restaurant space that was vacated in 2018. For now, we eat on the patio, a pretty area set with wood tables and European-style bistro chairs, all shaded by sailcloth and flanked by trees, herb gardens and flowers. I’m looking forward to when we can eat inside, too, and admire the centerpiece cocktail bar and the open kitchen.

D’Ambrosi was known for his creative cooking at Healdsburg’s Spoonbar, Harmon Guest House and Pizzando. Here, he comes up with inventive dishes like carrot cake pancakes. The brunch specialty makes a delicious statement; it’s a sweet but not sugary hybrid of carrot and apple soufflé cakes on a pond of cream cheese-poppy seed glaze and topped with golden raisins, candied pecans and smoked maple syrup ($18).

Overall, though, there’s nothing weird on this expansive, all-day menu. You can get something as simple as a perfect smash burger with secret sauce ($9.50) or as indulgent as a nicely charred New York steak served in a metal pan with grilled asparagus, sauce béarnaise, crispy ham fingerling potatoes, cowboy steak sauce and roasted tomato ($39). The constant theme is the kitchen’s skill, making this my new favorite place to dine.

You can eat affordably, filling up on a first-rate rigatoni sugo dressed with braised pork cheek, San Marzano tomatoes, basil, Parmesan and breadcrumbs ($22). Or you can splurge, with a monster-size Tomahawk steak that feeds several people ($95), embellished with a whole lobster for a surf and turf ($58).

Some items are classics, such as the ahi tartare on a round bed of smashed avocado with cucumber, spicy aioli and big, puffy rice chips that melt in the mouth ($18). Yet an Asian pear coulis adds modern brightness to the dish, crispy quinoa adds crunch and a cute bouquet of daikon sprouts peeking out of the tartare’s middle adds peppery bite.

Another classic, the “raw platter” (daily market price), brings two tiers of iced seafood: a whole Maine lobster tail, sumac-spiced jumbo prawns, ceviche, oysters, horseradish cocktail sauce, smoky apple mignonette and a scoop of refreshing Meyer lemon hibiscus granita. Arranged with sea greens, edible flowers and lemon

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