Best of 2012, Quest for Chilaquiles, Chef Table Dinners, New Mendocino Openings

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Spinster Sisters’ busy kitchen in Santa Rosa. Courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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A vegetable dish from The Thomas in Napa. Courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Chilaquiles at Viola Pastry Boutique in Santa Rosa. Courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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The interior of Saucy, a recent opening in Ukiah. Courtesy of Saucy.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

As 2012 came to a close, I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of my favorite Sonoma and Napa openings of the year. There’s no doubt that Healdsburg was the center of Sonoma County’s 2012 restaurant action, with four major openings, including ~CAMPO FINA~, ~BRAVAS~, ~CAFE LUCIA~, and ~PIZZANDO~ along with the major news of the closure of Michelin-starred~CYRUS~. Forestville’s ~BACKYARD~ and Santa Rosa’s ~SPINSTER SISTERS~, as well as ~THE THOMAS~ in Napa and ~GOOSE AND GANDER~ in St. Helena are other notable openings. See the whole list of restaurants Wine Country welcomed in 2012.

Speaking of Healdsburg, chefs Ari Rosen (Campo Fina, Scopa), Dustin Valette (Dry Creek Kitchen), Jeff Mall (ZIN), and Mark Stark (Willi’s Seafood, Bravas) host intimate chef’s table dinners at ~RELISH CULINARY CENTER~ each Monday night, from January 14th through February 4th. Rosen will kick off the series with his “perfect polenta” and handmade pappardelle pasta on January 14th at 6pm, followed by Valette (vanilla brown-butter pot de crème) on January 21th, Mall on January 28th (Zin-braised Liberty duck), and Stark on February 4th (Maine Lobster rolls). Details online. 14 Matheson St. at Center St., Healdsburg.

~BUTCHER AND COOK~, the 10-week pop-up restaurant in Santa Rosa (112 Fourth St. at Wilson) run by local butcher Berry Salinas, is now on Friday nights, featuring a $15 prix-fixe dinner (this week: hand pies, veal marrow, sausage and grits, and Meyer lemon cheesecake). There will also be wine and beer by the glass and rockin’ tunes from the North Bay Hootenanny. They’ll still have Sunday fried chicken pickup dinners from 5-7pm. 555 Sebastopol Rd., Santa Rosa.

Adam Parks of Victorian Farmstead Meats joins chef John Lyle for a special chicken and dumplings dinner at the ~EPICUREAN CONNECTION~ in Sonoma on January 16th. The three-course meal includes a wine flight, porchetta with winter vegetables, and a fig tart. $75 per person, 6:30pm, 122 West Napa St. at First St., Sonoma, 707-935-7960.

My food quest this week: chilaquiles. They’re a tried-and-true Mexican hangover remedy you’d be hard-pressed not to love. Translated as either “broken-up old sombrero” or “herbs in a chile broth,” they’re a a hearty morning repast of fried corn tortillas given a leisurely bath in salsa or mole. Scramble in some eggs, top with cheese, sour cream, avocados, and a side of beans, and you’re fueled up for the day. Most taquerias serve them for breakfast (and even into lunch), but snazzier spots are also getting in on the action. Some of the best were chef-inspired versions of the classics at ~VIOLA PASTRY BOUTIQUE~ (709 Village Court inside Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 707-544-8830) and the bright salsa verde rendition at ~JEFFREY’S HILLSIDE CAFE~ (2901 4th St. at Farmer’s Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-546-6317). In Sonoma, you can’t beat ~EL MOLINO CENTRAL~ (11 Central Ave., Boyes Hot Springs, 707-939-1010), where everything is made from scratch, including the stone-ground masa. See the whole list.

Three new restaurants have opened in Northern Wine Country: Saucy in Ukiah, Aquarelle Cafe and Wine Bar in Boonville, and Hopland Ale House in Hopland. At ~SAUCY~ (108 W. Standley St., Ukiah, 707-462-7007), chef Mitchel Mount, an alum of Tra Vigne and La Brea Bakery, has teamed up with restaurateur Cynthia Ariosta and former Iron Horse winemaker/owner Forrest Tancer to create an urban oasis in this emerging restaurant town. The menu features wood-fired pizzas, small plates of meatballs or burrata, a crispy kale Caesar, and pizza “sandwiches” for lunch.

In Boonville, private chef Christina Jones brings together a fusion of flavors to ~CAFE AQUARELLE~ (14025 Hwy. 128, Boonville, 707-895-2767). Recent menus include Berkshire pork chops with apple-caramelized onion chutney and buttermilk mashed potatoes ($18), truffle fries with housemade aioli ($8), and skillet prawns with garlic butter and white wine ($13).

The just opened ~HOPLAND ALE HOUSE~ (13351 S Hwy 101, Hopland, 707-744-1255) serves up pub classics like Ale House chili, pastrami sandwiches, and chicken tacos.