Joe O'Donnell, who's doing the cooking at Seared, the steak and seafood restaurant in Petaluma, is a good chef who shows his talent and ambition in his creations. He'll be even better when he adds a little more subtlety.
One of his appetizers on a recent night was Bellwether Farms Ricotta Toast ($7 **). After Bellwether makes its famous San Andreas and Pepato sheep's milk cheeses, the leftover whey is cooked and the ricotta precipitates out. It's a delicious, lusciously textured product. O'Donnell spreads it on slices of toasted, crusty Italian bread. Stopping there would have let the ricotta take center stage. But he's added local honey, and the sweetness steps on the ricotta. Candied hazelnuts add to the confusion, as do raw vegetables. The result is complex and good, but just ricotta and toast would have been even better.
However, it's easy to understand that a young chef would want to put some extra pizzazz into his dishes. He does that successfully with The Wedge ($8 ***), his take on an Iceberg lettuce salad. For years, Iceberg lettuce has been given a bad rap — old-fashioned, boring, nutritionless, tasteless. But it's recently come back into favor because it has a satisfying crunch. And chefs like O'Donnell know how to bring a wedge to life. He does it by adding sliced cherry tomatoes, shavings of watermelon radishes, bits of Nueske's bacon, crumbles of Pt. Reyes blue cheese, and a creamy and intense blue cheese dressing.
Seared is a roomy venue, occupying the space that used to be Graziano's. There's a full bar straight ahead as you enter, and the large dining room is on the right, with big windows that look out on Petaluma Boulevard. At the back of the dining room is an oven capable of reaching 1,200 degrees F., so steaks can be seared on a grill then flash-finished in the oven to seal in the juices.
The modest wine list pretty much doubles the wines' retail price, a fairly usual practice in restaurants. But Seared takes 25 percent off every bottle on Thursday nights. Corkage is $15.