Petaluma French Restaurant

New Kid on the Croc: Crocodile French Cuisine’s steak and frites, duck breast and octopus.

Crocodiles have crested polo shirts and found themselves the unwitting name of rubber shoes. They’re a hearty reptile that have remained relatively unchanged for 200 million years and though there’s no crocodile (yet) on the menu of Crocodile French Cuisine, a new Petaluma French restaurant, all one has to do is Google “Crocodile Petaluma” to see the merit of the name.

The search term yields a full-page dedicated to the new brasserie – replete with enthusiastic approbations on Facebook, Yelp and the like. And, for the record, it’s pronounced Croc-a-deel.

Crocodile waited for the right moment to Bite into Local Scene

Specializing in farm-to-table French country fare, Crocodile is welcomed addition to a local restaurant scene that’s seen the passions of Gallic-minded gourmands relatively underrepresented compared to, say, our bevy of Italian eateries. The restaurant opened last month and is a collaboration of Sebastopol-based husband and wife team Michael Dotson and Moira Beveridge. Their goal? “Capture and express the quality found in favorite small neighborhood bistros found in France,” states their website.

Bay Area foodies may recall Dotson’s name from such restaurants as the gone-but-not -forgotten Heirloom in Sonoma, Plumpjack in Tahoe and most recently, Martins West, a bustling gastropub in Redwood City, for which owner Beveridge created an extensive beer and wine list – a skill she ported to the duo’s new venture.

Dotson first became acquainted with Petaluma 17 year ago while working in Sonoma.

“I came to Petaluma a few times and really liked it,” he says, adding that he was attracted to the town “because it was old – they had saved the downtown, whereas so many cities don’t. That spoke to me about Petaluma.”

The seeds were planted but when exploring early possibilities, his prospective partners didn’t feel Petaluma was quite ready yet. However, as “wine country” consciousness has reached over Sonoma Mountain and into Petaluma Valley, resident palates have greeted the concept with open arms – and mouths.

Dotson endeavors to keep his menu balanced between more familiar French fare (the steak and frites – hanger steak, hotel butter, french fries for $23) and dishes that might reach outside of some people’s comfort zones such as “escargot.” The chef sidesteps any pretension on the menu, however, by simply calling the delicacy “snails.”

“They’ve always had the food thing,” reminds Dotson of Petaluma’s culinary provenance. “Even when it was, I guess you could say, mom-and-pop restaurants.”

This, however, is not your mom and pop’s duck breast, for example, which comes served with glazed radishes and turnips, banyuls and caramelized apples. Other favorites include boeuf bourguignon (red wine braised filet mignon, pearl onions, house made egg noodles) and mushroom roasted chicken Breast with parisian gnocchi, crispy brussels sprouts, red wine jus), which can be had for $19.

“This is how I characterize my cooking style more than anything else – no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter what it is,” says Dotson.

Indeed, a veal stock takes three days to produce, the fries are done the “right way” or they’re gone. It’s this attention to detail that likely inspired San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer to call Dotson “one of the Bay Area’s brightest stars” early in the chef’s career.

“I want to say it’s perfectionism,” he smiles, “But there’s something in my moral fiber that I can’t serve something that’s not right.”

“Anything worth doing takes time,” he says. “Whether it’s one or a hundred dinners – you can put the same amount of time in as long as you organize yourself correctly, and hopefully have the same quality of experience.”

Crocodile French Cuisine, 140 2nd St., Ste 100, Petaluma, CA. (707) 981-8159, crocodilepetaluma.com