(This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2008 edition of Touring & Tasting)
Is it in the water, or just a happy coincidence? It seems that everywhere we look in Sonoma County these days, a new eating establishment, inspired by a renowned chef or culinary concept, is opening its doors. Long known for its distinctive towns with top tier restaurants, the newcomers are coming on strong, demanding to be noted, sampled, and appreciated. In fact, they’ve even put sleepy Windsor (located halfway between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg) on the region’s culinary map. On your next visit, after a day of visiting Sonoma’s legendary wineries, follow your nose to one of these soon-to-be-legendary restaurants. You won’t be disappointed.
The region’s latest dining mecca is the town of Windsor, located halfway between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. At Restaurant Mirepoix, Chef Matthew Bousquet creates traditional French bistro food with a distinctive twist and a seasonal menu that includes Foie Gras with Pistachios, Baby Greens Brioche, and a Radish Gastrique and Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Ratatouille Polenta and a Port Sauce.
French- and Italian-inspired cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients is Odyssey Restaurant’s mission. Chef Rudy Mihal’s menu tempts with starters such as Catania-Style Arancini Fritters with Fresh Pea, Mozzarella, and Pork Ragu and entrées like Roasted King Salmon with Wild Ramps, Fresh Peas, and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms.
At Langley’s on the Green, American cuisine in a exhibition kitchen attracts gourmands to delights like the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Leek Mashed Potatoes and Sautéed Red Cabbage, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Laura Chenel Goat Cheese. Chefs Kenny Sincerely and Stanley Chien at Ume Japanese Bistro are making beautiful sushi like their Caterpillar Roll while Chef Chang Liow prepares hot food in the kitchen including Dragon Eggs. Those who want picnic fare should try out the Green Grocer, an upscale gourmet and sustainable foods market with a distinct focus on local and natural foods—most ingredients are raised or grown within 150 miles. The store offers fresh seasonal organic produce, gourmet foods, prepared meals, artisan local and imported cheeses, and much more. The store also has café seating as well as gift, picnic, and wine tasting baskets.
Upscale Vietnamese at Truc Linh and all-American diner fare at KC’s Downtown Grill rounded out the offerings until the newest kid on the block—Chinois Asian Bistro—opened in late June. This Pan-Asian kitchen offers small plates of dim sum such as Panko Prawns with Wasabi-Honey, chicken satay and Singaporean roti prati, and Sautéed Mung Bean and Garlic Egg Noodles. San Francisco–trained Chef Debbie Shu creatively modernizes Asian cuisine that is unique, beautiful, and delicious. The wine list is international and eclectic, with reasonably priced wines showcased next to rare wines. An extensive menu of premier sakes and international teas is also available.
Three celebrity chefs are delighting guests at Santa Rosa’s zazu restaurant farm. Restaurant visionary Duskie Estes was once a contestant on Food Network Challenge where she wowed the judges with her Laura Chenel Goat Cheese Macaroni and Cheese Stuffed in a Roasted Artichoke. Her husband, John Stewart, a rock star salumist, is known for producing their Black Pig salami and bacon, which was featured on a Mario Batali burger on Good Morning America. Together they graced the cover of Wine Spectator magazine and will be featured this fall on PBS’s Chefs a Field with Bellwether Farms. Now, Top Chef competitor Zoi Antonitsas has joined the team at Zazu. Recent additions include: Backyard Squash Blossom Fritti and White Truffle Aioli, Soda Rock Farm Tomato and Black Pig Bacon BLT Salad, and Duck Confit with Cherry Mostarda and White Polenta.
GLEN ELLEN The town’s newly rejuvenated and revived Jack London Village has two new restaurants. The Bluegrass Bar & Grill is a family-friendly restaurant, which some Sonoma County residents swear has the best barbecue in the county. Inside, the restaurant is light and airy with large windows that look out on the spinning mill wheel from the bar. Dining outside on the deck there offers a wonderful view of the creek. It’s barbecue with wine country flair as Grilled Artichoke with Creole Mayonnaise and Rotisserie Chicken Cobb Salad share the menu with St. Louis ribs and Texas-style brisket.
Yeti, which opened in May, serves high-end Indian and Nepalese dishes including pakoras, momo, dal, tikka masala, vindaloo, and tandoori. The owner and chef, Narayan Somname, worked at five-star restaurants in India and Japan. He has added a wide variety of gourmet dishes to the well-appointed restaurant including the Lobster Yeti Special (coconut cream, fresh basil, tomatoes, and chili with lobster).
A passion for chocolate was the inspiration behind the new Viva Cocolat chocolate and dessert café in Petaluma. The European-style shop has “vanilla” walls, a “chocolate” ceiling, espresso-colored shelving, and wood floors dotted with granite-top bistro tables where patrons relax with their choice of chocolates, cakes, espressos, teas, and smoothies. The shop’s premium chocolates come from artisan chocolatiers all over the world. A different artisan chocolatier is featured each month in the shop and through their Chocolate of the Month Club.