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Cox: Warm and welcoming dining

  • Panna Cotta with a mélange of blueberries and raspberries is served at Baci Cafe & Wine Bar in Healdsburg. (CONNER JAY / PD)

Of all the fine restaurants in Healdsburg, the one with the warmest, most welcoming vibe is undoubtedly Baci Café & Wine Bar.

The husband and wife owners are the source of this affability. Executive Chef Shari Sarabi is originally from Iran and Lisbeth Holmefjord, who runs the front of the house, is originally from Norway. They met in Hawaii where Sarabi had an Italian restaurant, also called Baci, which Holmefjord frequented. Baci — Italian for “kisses” — were evidently shared along with the pasta, and the couple married and had three sons.

How sweet. And this warmth spills into the restaurant. You can feel it. The wood-fired oven blazing in the heart of the room sums it up.

Baci Cafe & Wine Bar

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Italian cuisine is the most popular in the world, according to John Mariani, Esquire magazine's food critic, which is reason enough for an Iranian chef to serve it, but Chef Sarabi has done Persian cooking at Baci for special occasions, and folks looking for something deliciously different might consider signing up for Baci's emails on the website for notifications of such occasions.

The wine bar features a nice selection of Italian reds. A 2003 I Saltari amarone for $59 is a bargain. Most of the list, though, is devoted to local wines, especially from the Dry Creek Valley. Gustafson, Ramazzotti, Flanagan and Mueller wineries are featured. Corkage is $15, waived for one bottle if you also order a bottle from the house.

The menu is full of Italian cuisine's greatest hits, such as the Burrata ($14, 2-1/2 stars). This one is not the traditional pouch of mozzarella filled with cream that spills out when cut, but rather the fresh mozzarella is mashed with cream and divided into three portions. Three toast rounds topped with braised leeks and pancetta get portions of the burrata. The soft, creamy cheese in turn is turbo-charged with more intense flavors by toppings of pesto and sun-dried tomato. The Italians are so lavish in the sensuousness of their food.

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