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New Vignette Restaurant Brings Gourmet Pizzas to Sebastopol

When chef Mark Hopper debuted his new Vignette at The Barlow in Sebastopol, a great cheer was heard from west Sonoma County and beyond. Lovers of Neapolitan-style pizzas now have a close, convenient destination for the specialty wood-fired pies.

It’s the first restaurant of his own for the talent who became known as executive chef of casual dining for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, then, most recently, as executive chef at Farmshop Marin. 

Set in a 60-seat, freestanding, industrial-modern barn building, Vignette features a patio overlooking the lawns and gardens of the Barlow culinary arts center on Highway 12 downtown. It’s across the street from the new MacPhail Winery tasting room, next to Zazu Kitchen + Farm, and just in front of the SubZero liquid nitrogen ice cream shop.

But there’s no competition for food or drink. Vignette’s brief wine list focuses on most Italian labels, plus some Italian-style bottlings from Sonoma County, like a Barbera from Unti in Dry Creek Valley. Zazu also crafts pizza, but theirs is a single, daily special recipe. And rather than just ice cream, a Vignette dessert is Italian affogato, drizzled in espresso.

In a friendly touch, everything on the menu is priced below $20. Starters range from peperoni cruschi (sun-dried sweet Italian peppers sprinkled in olive oil and sea salt, $8), to a daily marinated, fire roasted vegetable ($10), to a chopped kale salad tossed with peppadew peppers, smoked mozzarella, toasted walnuts, and Greek yogurt ($10 / $12 with egg).

A single pizza can feed one person easily, but it's more fun to share. Especially since the pies are served unsliced. Your server will ask if you want it sliced, but it’s fun to rip off strips with your fingers in authentic Italian style. Just grab a bit of the bubbly, chewy edge crust and pull — the inner crust is slightly wet in the middle and gives easily.

All ingredients are sourced from California farmers, noted Hopper, and also Italy, including organic flour and San Marzano tomatoes. They end up in simple but lovely combinations, like the margherita of San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Grana padano, basil, and olive oil ($16); the meatball parm with Corbari tomatoes, little housemade meatballs, Parmigiano Reggiano, mozzarella, and garlic ($19), and The Red Eye, draped in Calabrian chili pesto, sunnyside up egg, fresh mozzarella, charred mortadella chunks, and Grana padano ($17).

Some combos are fun but delicious, like the Manhattan, a clam chowder-inspired pie topped in San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, oregano, and chili oil ($18).

It takes just a minute or two to cook the pies in the Stefano Ferrara oven imported from Naples, but the meal itself should be leisurely, relaxing over wine and conversation, Hopper suggested.

Just don’t expect theatrics, like tossing dough in the air.

“I'm not at all talented at tossing the dough in the air,” Hopper said. “Because it's not what I do. It's a personal preference. When the dough is at its best, it's resting and has structure to it, so my style is to keep it on the table as much as possible.”

Details: Vignette, 6750 McKinley Street, (The Barlow), Sebastopol. Hours: noon to 10 p.m. daily.

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