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Cox: Simply masterful cuisine

  • Roma tomatoes with chevre are served at Le Bistro in Petaluma. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

The lore is that it takes 10 years of constant practice to master a craft. If that's true, then Chef Corey Basso is a master better than twice over, as he's been refining his French and Italian specialties at Le Bistro in Petaluma for the past 26 years.

His food displays that mastery. Instead of trying all sorts of new dishes, he's polished his staple recipes until you can see — and taste — the perfection. His strategy is to keep things simple, but to make what's on the plate flawless. This not only reveals the chef's art, but it makes the meal wonderfully satisfying.

For example, consider his treatment of a common dish like Fettucini with Prawns ($15.50, 4 stars). At many restaurants, a dish like this simply throws together some cooked, shelled prawns with pasta that may or may not be cooked al dente. A sauce is mixed in, and if you're lucky, a waiter comes by with a block of cheese and a grater and asks if you want some. Not so at Le Bistro. The dish leaves the kitchen in completion.

Le Bistro

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First, the fettucini defines perfect pasta texture — not mushy, not underdone. Second, the pasta is given a lovely vodka cream sauce with flecks of chopped parsley, an artifact of Chef Basso's training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where he learned his craft. He adds just the right amount of sauce; too much would make the dish gloppy.

The shrimp aren't big Gulf jumbos, either, but rather medium-sized, steamed, peeled, and butterflied. Most places that serve butterflied shrimp simply cut a line down the concave surface of the body and then turn the crustacean inside out. But each of these shrimps is butterflied in the classic way, where the head end is split and pulled apart so it really does resemble butterfly wings. A simple thing, but it all takes work, and it's lovely to see what look like butterflies landing on the pasta. Finally, piquant pecorino romano sheep's milk cheese is shredded to a fine fluff and lightly tossed over the surface of the dish, like snow. If this sounds delicious, it is.

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