Sonoma Cty visit report

A late March 2016 visit to Sonoma Cty:
We love visiting here more than any other place we go. What terrific food! What gorgeous scenery! But of course there’s a downside: what hideous traffic on NB 101 if you’re unlucky to get caught in evening rush hour. LOL!

Willow Wood/Graton, lunch: The polenta is so good at lunch, we have a hard time getting anything else from this American comfort food café. This is our third visit and WW is as good as ever. The chicken pot pie is divine; we can’t decide which entrée is better. And of course, the gingerbread–what gingerbread should be but never is, elsewhere.

Underwood/Graton, dinner: Our first time here to WW’s sibling. Excellent food and service, like WW. Different focus, more cosmopolitan. French onion soup is just the way it should be, with a fine beef broth and soft sweet onions. Beautifully balanced without the leaden overdose of cheese and bread most chefs dump in. Beet salad with feta was lovely, as was the Serrano ham with that drizzle of fragrant, fruity EVOO. Hoisin BBQ ribs impressed us, and that’s difficult because we aren’t fans of hoisin, which we think is grossly over-used by chefs currently. Friseé salad and cauliflower gratin were okay but not to the level of the rest of the dishes. But we would come back; we like the focus of this menu and the fact they take some chances that WW doesn’t.

Bird & The Bottle/SRosa, lunch: The newest Stark Grp restaurant and a winner. Mark Stark is a great, great chef. Service is excellent, as it is at all Stark locations. We loved everything. The delicate fried oyster wraps were delightful. The mashed eggplant “Schmear” will ruin you for everybody else’s baba ganoush, especially if you love rye bread like we do. DH adored the shrimp wontons; B&TB makes their own dipping sauces and they’re terrific. The fried chicken is great, especially with the Mambo, house sweet/sour/hot sauce. Drizzle it over every bite, if you want; it comes on the side. But the real winner was the side of black-eyed pea/napa cabbage slaw–it’s magnificent. He doesn’t usually like coleslaw, but we would buy this by the quart if they sold it. That touch of sesame oil is inspired!

Bistro 100/Petaluma, dinner: We met our friends here. A good thing, too, because there were long waits between service, our waitress being more interested in chatting with the bartender and a few bar customers, than paying attention to trifles like filling water glasses or bringing clean plates. Grilled Brussels sprouts/goat cheese was a nice variant; duck confit salad nothing different but solidly executed. The potato pave is actually a gratin, super creamy/cheesy/buttery. Fried chicken hash is not a hash; it’s tasty roasted baby roots with a couple of pieces of fried chicken plunked on top. The black cod was imaginative in concept, with an avocado mousse on top, which blended into the broth to create a slightly creamy sauce that was delightful with the fresh, gently cooked fish. But deviled eggs were ordinary and overpriced; terrine was ice-cold from the frig. Stick to the big soft cookies for dessert; they’re from a good bakery and quite good with coffee. Despite the service issues, we WOULD come back; Bistro 100 is better than Central Market.

Hole In The Wall/Sebastopol, lunch: Chef Beers’ lamb burger is the best we’ve ever had, period. Any one of the three side choices is excellent. Biscuits with sausage gravy had great biscuits but gravy was a little too healthy (low salt), altho pork sausage crumbles were hi-quality. Sausage gravy is like bacon, you just can’t make it healthy but also have it taste the way it should, with fat and salt! Still, despite the refusal to take reservations, this remains one of the best places to eat. Just try to avoid weekends, though; they’re a madhouse.

The Shed/Healdsburg, dinner: Disappointing overall. We loved Perry Hoffman at Etoile, but the line staff here is barely marginal. SHED Salad was overdressed; iced tea refills were painfully tannic and overbrewed. Entrées were overpriced and underdelivered: black bass was fresh but ordinary, with poorly trimmed veggies; slow-roasted lamb was over half fat, tasty but very little real meat for the high price. The mignardises were hi-quality but again, rather ordinary.

Still, the baby leek salad, pâté, and fresh anchovy tartine reminded us of why we love Hoffman’s cooking. They were exquisite, as good as anything that came from Etoile’s kitchen. But this small-portion meal cost us far more than any other place we went, so the value of it was poor. Service was a joke except we were not amused.

Bravas/Healdsburg, lunch: We love Bravas’ patio for lunch, and the service is always excellent. Garlic/Manchego sausage was great, the beets are back to a nice balance (previous chef made them too wet and sloppy), and the crab fiduea was yummy as ever. Two dishes dropped a level from our last 2015 visit, however: the once-amazing foie gras sliders are now too bready, too sweet, and the crispy ham is a distracting texture. The poor little slice of foie gras was completely overwhelmed. Also, the hot rum balls are good but no longer great; now made in advance with a hard sugar glaze. This makes them less moist, and there’s also less rum in the glaze than was used in the original syrup. They’re still good donuts, but not the stunning fresh-from-the-fryer-with-sticky-boozy-glaze dessert it was when it first debuted.

Walter Hansel/SRosa, dinner: We’ve had two previous stunning dinners at WHB, but tonite’s was a 1/2 level lower. The double cut pork chop wasn’t as tasty as the one we had in mid-2015, and the duck breast was good but not remarkable. We appreciate WHB has foie gras, but we are not fond of cold torchon no matter who makes it; we prefer our foie gras warm as a personal preference. Service was, as always, excellent. Don’t let our minor concerns with this one dinner stop you - our previous two meals (one with friends) were 5-star all the way! One very slightly off-night is something that happens to every restaurant (even our beloved La Folie/SF).

Quickie stops/Take-out:

Pascaline Gourmet Shop/Catering
4550 N Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol, CA 95472
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pascaline-Patisserie-Cafe-Pascaline-Fine-Catering-322095087975728/photos
If you are winetasting in the Russian River, and find yourself looking for a simple quick snack in the vicinity of Dutton Winery, we suggest you consider coming here. It’s just a little café, with an unfortunately inconspicuous sign. However, it sits right next to “Mom’s Apple Pies” which does have a big gaudy sign, so look for that. Pascaline is right next to it, sharing the same parking lot. A lovely European couple make some simple croissant sandwiches and a modest but attractive selection of pastries. DH adored the pear tart!

This isn’t an earth-shaking place, but the ingredients are of good quality, and seem to be made with care. When you’re looking for a decent ham and cheese croissant, a good cup of coffee and a nice little pastry to get you through a day of wine-tasting, you should give Pascaline Gourmet Shop a try. Check out their Facebook photos and keep them in mind.

BurtoNZ Bakery
9076 Brooks Rd S, Windsor (closed on Sun; short hours on Sat!)
http://www.burtonzbakery.com/
We place made-in-advance orders at BurtoNZ for pick-up just before we leave town. The chicken is our favorite; we also like the steak and mushroom and minced beef and cheese, although the cheddar used is mild rather than sharp. A lamb stew meatpie was a special for the week. DH liked it, I thought it was a little dull.

We love these handpies. A single one makes a great, satisfying lunch. The crust is excellent, a quality product compared to the awful commercial pies. The fillings are simply seasoned but honest: steak means actual chuck steak, cooked till tender and shredded. The proportion of filling to crust is well-balanced. If you are on a budget and around Windsor’s downtown, stop in and try one. The coffee is, alas, barely average, but about what you’d expect. Placed as a large take-out order, the pies are half-baked. Also, note there is a small refrigerator case where a local farmer stashes eggs for sale!

Yanni’s Sausages
10007 Main St, Penngrove
http://www.yannissausages.com/
Yanni’s is a long-time fav with us. We pre-order DH’s favorite chili for pick-up on our way home. For those who hate beans in their chili (like him), Francesca makes a ground beef chili with a great chili kick. We asked her to chill it beforehand, making it much easier to pack into our cooler when we picked up several quarts on our last day in Sonoma Cty. I also added a pkg lamb gyro sausages, which is a very lean, slightly spicy sausage that goes great in either the traditional hot dog bun, or chopped into a rice-feta-tomato casserole.

Owners John and Francesca are delightful folks. We’re happy to report they are still very happy with their second career, started when John retired from Colombo Baking in 2009. If you’ve never stopped by their tiny but sweet little storefront, do so. His grilled sausage sandwiches are legendary, and rightly so!

Village Bakery, Sebastopol @The Barlow
6760 McKinley St, Sebastopol
http://villagebakerywinecountry.com/
The espresso tartlets here are raved about on Yelp, so we stopped by to pick up a couple as a gift for our friends, who we were seeing for dinner. We bought one for ourselves, and found it needs to be reheated for optimum texture. Cold, it is solidly fudgy, a bit on the sweet side with a noticeable espresso aftertaste.

When warmed for 20 seconds in the MW, the texture becomes pleasingly fluffy and light. We are not chocolate lava cake fans, but this is one of the better versions we’ve tried. It’s not the most interesting chocolate we’ve ever tasted, but that espresso finish is delightful. Note that Village’s main store is in Santa Rosa (1445 Town and Country Drive). They are famed for their breads, and supply a number of restaurants in Sonoma Cty (including Hole In The Wall).

Patisserie Angelica
6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol
http://www.patisserieangelica.com/
Angelica is a true patisserie, meaning no breads, only croissants and pastries. The croissant was top-notch, as good as our favs Fournee Bakery/Berkeley and Parker-Lusseau/Monterey.

Do note that if you place a pre-order, the croissants are available baked OR frozen/raw. Be VERY sure you are picking up the correct item; the clerk mixed up our pre-order and I was forced to bake a dozen croissants the moment we got home!

We also tried the Chocolate OD cookie, chocolate brownie, and tiramisu. We split on the cookie; I thought it was too sweet and ordinary, while DH loves dunking soft cookies in milk. The brownie had a perfect texture: light but with a thin crisp crust. I hate fudgy, leaden brownies, and the chocolate quality of this brownie was superior to the cookie. The tiramisu was very good altho no one makes it as well as the old boozy Venezia/Berkeley version.

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I was so excited to see this title because we visit Sonoma regularly. But I see that you didn’t eat anywhere IN Sonoma. :frowning: Next time, at the very least, try La Salette. It’s fantastic.

http://www.lasalette-restaurant.com/

It says Sonoma Cty, which I read as Sonoma County, which is very large compared to the city of Sonoma.

Well, I’ll let OP explain what s/he meant.

My apologies. You’re right. I’ve never seen county abbreviated that way so just looked right over it.

Re Sonoma Square (city of): We’ve eaten several times at La Salette, and also Cafe la Haye, Girl & Fig, Depot Hotel. And at Cafe Lucia, Salette’s twin in Healdsburg.

We like Salette. We don’t love it. There are a couple of dishes we dislike. The feijoda is excellent, as is the caldo verde. The bacalhao fritters were prized at one time because Salette was one of the few places who had them as a regular menu item when we started traveling around after retirement (DH is Chinese-Portuguese). But nowadays we can find better bacalhao fritters at several places in Oakland, so no need to go to Salette for them.

Sorry for the confusion! I tend to refer to city of Sonoma as “Sonoma Square”, a personal thing because of all the restaurants/stores centered around the Square. In fact, I don’t know of any city of Sonoma restaurants that aren’t in the downtown! Are there any? Now I’ll feel compelled to start searching Google to check, LOL.

We hardly ever go to SSquare any longer. We like the food and scenery better in the main parts of Sonoma Cty (oops, I did it again!).

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Thanks for these recs! If you’re in Glen Ellen, the Fig Cafe is excellent. I like it better than their sister, the Girl and the Fig.

Try El Molina Central

http://www.elmolinocentral.com/

and The Fremont Diner

http://www.thefremontdiner.com/2015/9/24/gift-certificate

El Dorado Kitchen

http://eldoradosonoma.com/restaurant

Like all of them a lot. An EDK has a nice small bar if you ‘just’ want a cocktail.

Appreciate all the recs! However, since we live right on the edge of Oakland’s International district, traveling across counties to eat Mexican food is just not our thing. Our favorite cuisines are French and Chinese (Cantonese; my DH is from Hong Kong).

We tried Fremont Diner two years ago but weren’t impressed. We had lunch, not breakfast; and thought the food was leaden and relatively poor quality. Large servings aren’t what we look for in a restaurant.

We will definitely keep Fig Cafe in mind - that one slipped by our notice entirely (hard to keep up with NBay news, so much is happening over there). Keep meaning to get to Glen Ellen Star, too. We hit Glen Ellen Inn a couple of times, but food went down a level on the second visit so we haven’t been back in that area again.

We’ve only had breakfast at FD…and we always share so no portions are big :slight_smile:

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold