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Columnist: Karen Hart
August, 2017 Issue

Karen Hart
All articles by columnist


140 2nd Street, Suite 100
Petaluma, Calif. 94952
(707) 981-8159

French Cuisine
Open Daily
Happy Hour Monday-Friday
2:30-5:30 p.m.
Entrees $19-$27
Wine & Beer

Photos courtesy of the Crocodile
Husband-wife team Moira Beveridge and Michael Dotson with their daughter, Isla.

The French get a lot of flak for acting pretentious, and displaying feelings of superiority, but the truth is they have plenty of reason for being the envy of the world. France has a rich culinary history. And when it comes to food—whether it’s rustic peasant dishes or hauté cuisine—it’s all about fresh ingredients, culinary technique and attention to detail. If you’re in the mood for authentic French cuisine in a restaurant where you can melt into the experience and lose track of time, try the Crocodile in Petaluma.
The Crocodile opened for business in September last year and is a popular stop with a casual neighborhood restaurant feel, located in the theatre district. The proprietors are husband-wife team, Michael Dotson and Moira Beveridge, who are passionate about French cuisine. Dotson is the head chef, trained in classic French technique in Strausberg, France (amongst other regions of France). Beveridge is general manager, and though she’s originally from Scotland, she often traveled to France with her family for the holidays as a young girl and fell in love with the cuisine. The name of their restaurant was inspired by Au Crocodile, a formerly Michelin Guide-starred French restaurant in Strasbourg where Dotson once worked.
Though Au Crocodile offers a fine dining experience complete with white linens, the Crocodile offers a casual, low-key experience. “We wanted a place that offered country French food with new world techniques and fresh ingredients,” says Beveridge. “French food can be amazing without being pretentious.”
My dinner companion, Alex, and I arrived on a cool summer evening and our server suggested we begin with a glass of bubbly, Donkey & Goat ‘Lily’s Cuvee’ Pet Nat 2015, a light, refreshing sparkling wine. We enjoyed that along with the featured appetizer of the day, panko-crusted fried green tomatoes with bone-marrow butter escargot, which was elegantly plated and served with a chiote squash rémoulade.

Next, we tried the octopus a la plancha, which is served with rice and fava bean salad and pickled cherries. The octopus had a great char and offered a rich smoky flavor. We enjoyed the octopus with a French Chenin Blanc, the Manoir de la Tete, which is smooth and velvety and offers hints of honey and an exquisite dry finish.
Alex appreciates a good steak, and enjoyed the steak frites—a hangar steak, served with a generous dollop of hotel butter and French fries—which was hearty and satisfying. The California sea bass was cooked to perfection and served topped with butter poached prawns on a bed of quinoa, fava beans and buerra blanc.
Dining at the Crocodile is an experience to savor at a leisurely pace, and what sets it apart is their hospitality and attention to detail. The wine list is spectacular, and offers a selection of French and California wines. In fact, according to Beveridge, the restaurant is a popular stop for local winemakers. But they also offer a house-made lemonade and either filtered water or sparkling water in a carafe. Dotson, who’s been cooking for nearly 30 years, frequently changes the menu. “I’m constantly tinkering with it,” he says. “The goal is to make sure patrons feel a sense of hospitality and to feel taken care of and nourished.”
For dessert, we shared the buttermilk chocolate cake with chocolate mouse, coconut crème anglaise and chocolate ganache, a rich decadent confection.
The Crocodile is a great place to relax and lose track of time, which is easy to do. The clock above the kitchen is stopped at 10:06, a whimsical nod to Dotson’s wife, Moira, who shares the same name as the fictional character, Wendy Moira Angela Darling, in Peter Pan. The crocodile that swallows the clock represents time in Peter Pan, and if you’re dining at the Crocodile, you’ll note that none of their clocks are working. “We want people to focus on the food, the wine and the people,” says Beveridge with a smile.
Next time you’re in the mood for French cuisine or making a date for dinner and a movie, stop at the Crocodile, where you can savor the exquisite creations of Chef Dotson and enjoy great food like the French who believe food is an art form and dining should be a leisurely endeavor.

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