Cotati’s Gourmet Ghetto

Architects and visual artists have used the “rule of thirds” for centuries to generate balance by placing important compositional elements along imaginary lines while writers and musicians use the “rule of threes” to create emphasis. “In our language or culture, three provides a sense of the whole,” wrote Roy Peter Clark in “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.”

“The rule is thought to be derived from a mathematical formula that has been widely used by architects and artists dating back to Ancient Egypt and Greece,” states

Similarly, the rule may be applied to Cotati’s Apple Valley Plaza where three restaurants compose a triad of culinary adventure for students in search of dining options above and beyond the quality of fast food establishments. The small shopping center is located at 8492 Gravenstein Hwy (Hwy 116), one intersection west of Hwy 101.

The STAR arrived just before noon on May 1, intent on purchasing one vegetarian lunch item from each menu for $10 or less.

Com Cai Xao ($10.50) was ordered for take out at Mai Vietnamese Cuisine. The dish consisted of tofu, cilantro and mixed vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, yellow squash and zucchini with steamed rice and sauce. The veggies were favorably cooked al dente, but the light brown sauce was a bit bland.

The restaurant offers contemporary decor and a pleasant ambiance with nine traditional Vietnamese musical instruments mounted on the pale yellow walls. One hundred, sixty-six Yelpers awarded it an average of four stars.

Next, Panang Curry ($8.95 at lunch/$10.50 at dinner) was purchased for take out at Lynn’s Thai Restaurant where the atmosphere is cozy and the operation maintains a four-star rating among 63 Yelpers. 

The item is subtitled, “Thai red curry paste with vegetables and basil leaves,” but the savory white sauce with golden-red flecks tasted like it had a coconut milk base. The veggies consisted of green bell pepper, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini.

The lunch item included a salad consisting of crunchy iceberg lettuce, carrots and purple cabbage covered with a creamy dressing, and a small veggie spring roll with peanut sauce on the side. Brown rice was chosen over the white variety, complementing the curry as the waitress predicted.

Ruthy’s Real Meals is the newest of the trio, and replaces Trattoria Due Amici, an Italian eatery that had a four-star Yelp rating from 49 reviews. The Star had to return later in the day because Ruthy’s does not open until 3 p.m.

Garnishing a five-star rating from six Yelpers, Ruthy’s only offers take out and home delivery. It specializes in meeting “the needs of busy working people, retired seniors and others too busy or unable to cook” per

The Mushroom Pecan Burger ($11.00) was cooked, packaged and awaiting purchase in the refrigerator case next to the front counter. Subtitled, “savory vegetarian burger made with organic crimini mushrooms, tahini and ground pecans, with lettuce and cherry tomatoes,” the item was actually served on a colorful bed of arugula and diced red bell peppers. 

The three small patties were properly browned and very tasty with the mushrooms taking center stage, but adding a side of slaw or potatoes and upgrading to a fresh-baked ciabatta roll in lieu of the seeded soft bun would make it worth ordering a second time. The rustic basil-pignoli pesto sauce served on the side was fresh and immensely flavorful without being overpowered by too much garlic.

The items mentioned above hardly represent a fair comparison. All three restaurants offer a variety of menu options including meat and seafood, so there is a good chance of finding something satisfying without “breaking the bank.” 

The Apple Valley Plaza has other shops of interest to college students including Johnny’s Java, Buffalo Billiards and Electric Monk Tattoo where the business cards alone are a work of art.