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Seared Puts Spin on Steak and Seafood

Blink, and you might miss Seared, a new Sonoma County steak and seafood restaurant on Petaluma’s main drag. Hints that something good awaits within are seen via the dry aging meat case near the front door, but you’re doing well if you even see the front door, tucked away as it is to the side, amid other businesses.

But it’s worth seeking out, for what is an antidote to wonderful but sometimes dainty California cuisine. Cradled between aged brick walls are big, beefy cuts, huge flavors, and he-man portions. There are also surprises on nearly every plate, from inventive sauces, to unexpected ingredients.

Consider the poutine fries ($9). Chef Joe O'Donnell buries the medium-thick hand cut spuds in Petaluma cheese curds, cracked pepper and duck gravy studded with bits of confit. The “popcorn” shrimp ($12) puts new meaning in the word popcorn, meanwhile, with the green garlic prawns soaked in buttered popcorn puree, and mixed in with blacked, actual popped corn. Subtle, it ain’t. Even deviled eggs ($5) are for hearty appetites, arriving dolloped in Dungeness crab salad and chunks of bourbon-pickled jalapeno.

The space is welcoming, in a dramatic transformation of what used to be Graziano's Italian restaurant. Large windows overlooking Petaluma Boulevard add airiness to the dining room, while the long, full bar offers a darker, cozy warren. But the most important architectural elements are the grill for searing the steaks, and the oven, powered to 1,200 degrees for finishing the meat.

After sampling all the above appetizers, my companions and I should hardly have been hungry for prime rib (served Fridays through Sundays, 10 oz. $23- 18 oz. $38), but that’s exactly why I came here. A good prime rib is heaven, and this one is very good, properly dense and juicy.

I liked it better than one friend’s filet mignon ($28), because the 8 oz. cut was buried under so much blue cheese butter and demi-glace, alongside overly rich crème fraîche mashed potatoes, the meat flavor was lost.

Still, the best is the 9 oz. Akaushi Wagyu hanger steak ($21), an American-grown version of the famous Japanese cattle. Tender and tasting wonderfully beefy, it stood up well to the demi-glace and accompanying jalapeño chermoula sauce.

Seafood is hungry man food, too. Rice flour battered, tamarind glazed Yum Yum prawns ($14) come with a secret weapon: pork belly fried rice, while Mt. Lassen Trout ($18) is paired with an irresistible warm brussels sprout and bacon salad, alongside cauliflower puree and charred tomatoes.

To share, we dug into a wedge salad ($8), featuring what I feel is an underrated lettuce – iceberg. With its cool, crisp crunch, it was a pleasing palate cleanser for the rich beef. And the plate holds plenty of interest, piled with cherry tomatoes, watermelon radishes, Nueske's bacon and Pt. Reyes blue cheese, all in a coat of powerful blue cheese dressing.  On the other hand, a seared Caesar ($8) was too complicated, comprised of kale, chopped romaine, egg, grand Padano, foccacia croutons and a heavy Caesar dressing.

Certainly no one will fault a diner for skipping dessert and opting to waddle out with pants buttons intact. Except “coffee and doughnuts” ($8) sounded too tempting to miss, and it is indeed worth the belly stretching. Petite housemade doughnuts come with a shot of Petaluma Coffee espresso and a scoop of 3 Twins organic Madagascar vanilla ice cream. Pour the espresso shot over the ice cream, dunk the donuts, and bliss.

I can’t eat like this everyday, it’s true. My waistline would never forgive me. But for a happy indulgence now and then, count me in.

Details: Seared, 170 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma,

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