Granola with seasonal fruit is one of the items on the new Ninebark brunch menu in Napa. Photo courtesy of Ninebark.
Ahi tuna with olive oil “snow” at Valette in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin, BiteClubEats.com.
Watch out In-N-Out, Amy’s Kitchen is planning a meatless version of the Double Double. And it’s a contender. Photo courtesy of Amy’s Kitchen.
Branzino at Hazel in Occidental. Photo courtesy of Hazel.
Sonoma County terrine at Bistro 100. Photo by Heather Irwin.
Hush puppies, sweet potato tots, beans, ribs, brisket, and corn muffins at KINsmoke in Healdsburg. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.
Napa’s recently opened ~NINEBARK ~ will begin brunch service this weekend, featuring a lineup of sweet and savory dishes including bread pudding with crème anglaise, a fried oyster po’boy, smoked seafood Benedict, and the Ninebark burger. Morning cocktails crafted especially for the brunch crowd include the Tiziano (sparkling wine with Cocchi Americano and grapes), Southside fizz, and an Aperol sour. Sat-Sun 11am-2:30pm. 316 Main Street, Napa, 707-226-7821.
There’s always a great new restaurant opening somewhere in Sonoma County, and this year was no exception. Our 2015 west Wine Country lineup includes Michelin-worthy restaurants, fast-casual pizzerias, a vegetarian drive-thru, barbecue spots galore, and even a neo-Jewish/Korean spot. Here are our favorites for 2015.
~VALETTE~: There’s a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars for a meal; to delight every sense, one at a time. Valette delivers on that promise by showcasing the best local products, well-studied technique, and creative execution. A gathering spot for the who’s who of Healdsburg, this upscale-yet-approachable restaurant is the namesake of chef Dustin Valette, a longtime Charlie Palmer/Dry Creek Kitchen toque. Dishes are elaborate and carefully thought out to include a mix of textures, flavors, colors, and culinary intrigue, so prepared for plenty of surprises. The best bet is to immerse yourself in the chef’s “Trust Me” tasting menu—a guided tour through four (or more) dishes on the menu. At $15 per course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Dinner nightly starting at 5:30pm, lunch Fri-Sat 11:30am-2pm. 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-0946.
~AMY’S DRIVE THRU~: This healthy fast-food alternative created by Andy and Rachel Berliner of frozen-food giant Amy’s Kitchen is focused on an all-vegetarian (and vegan- and gluten-free-friendly) menu. But that doesn’t mean your junk food cravings won’t be satisfied. Go for double-stack veggie burgers, chili cheese fries, milk shakes, burritos, pizza, and salads that are a whole lot better for you than traditional fast food. ”This is food that even though it’s meatless, you don’t miss the meat,” said Rachel Berliner. The (literally) million-dollar question: where and when will they expand? Judging by the still-lengthy lines at the drive-thru, fans are coming back for more, and more, and more. More restaurants are in the works, but no word on exactly when. 58 Golf Course Dr. West, Rohnert Park. Daily 10am-10pm.
~SANTA ROSA SEAFOOD/RAW BAR~: For seafood in Sonoma County, it’s hard to beat this boat-to-table restaurant. An expansion of Santa Rosa Seafood’s retail shop, this casual cafe serves up destination-worthy fish tacos, fish and chips, and tuna ceviche along with more upscale classic seafood dishes like seafood cioppino, petrale sole piccata, grilled swordfish, and North Beach-style linguine with clams. This is the kind of fresh seafood you wish you could find at the coast, but rarely do. Prepare to be hooked at first bite. Lunch and dinner Wed-Sun. 946 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-579-2085.
~BIRD AND THE BOTTLE~: Popular Sonoma County restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark’s newest venture, Bird and the Bottle, is a marriage of East and West brought together by fire and schmaltz. Here, dishes like smoked black cod schmear and chicken skin cracklings fried in schmaltz with Nashville hot sauce commingle with congee-style cheese grits, mac and cheese, or buttermilk fried chicken. It’s a menu that not everyone gets, but the strange mash-up somehow works, with bold flavors and risky dishes that still have the rib-sticking comfort that the Starks’ restaurants are known for. A great cocktail lineup and $1.5-million interior make it a favorite meet-up spot. Sun-Thu 11:30am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm.1055 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-568-4000.
~HAZEL~: Two blisteringly hot wood-fired ovens are the muscle at Jim and Michele Wimborough’s Occidental restaurant, Hazel. Left there by the previous occupant (longtime French restaurant Bistro des Copains), the ovens are being pressed into service for everything from housemade sourdough loaves to whole braised branzino, perfectly cooked pizzas, and every so often, pastry chef Michele’s chocolate chip cookies. Already being hailed as a new West County classic, the couple have quickly endeared themselves to the community with a mix of Mediterranean and California cuisines. Great weekend brunches too. Tue-Sun 5pm-10pm, brunch Sat-Sun 10am-2pm. 3782 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, 707-874-6003.
~BISTRO 100~: Local, comfort classics with a French twist are the signature of this cozy Petaluma bistro. Here, everyone knows everyone or, if they don’t, they will soon. The bistro tables lend themselves to casual conversation and your neighbor’s knowing nod of approval as your lusty plate of short ribs arrives. Most of the food (and wine) is sourced from within 20 miles or less, giving diners a true taste of the local area’s bounty. Best bets include mushroom and truffled bruschetta cream canapés and Sonoma County terrine, and cabernet-braised short ribs. Tue-Sun lunch 11:30am-3:30pm, happy hour 3:30pm-6:30 pm, dinner from 5pm-close. 140 2nd St., Suite 100, Petaluma, 707-981-8228.
~DICK BLOMSTERS KOREAN DINER~: Follow your nose to this funky Korean pop-up, where kimchee and KFC (Korean Fried Crack) are served up along with Kobe beef hot dogs (with pickled daikon and kimchee aioli, natch) and short rib mac and cheese. The sign goes up at 5pm, outside Don Taylor’s Omelette Express, after the pancakes and burgers are put away for the day. There are plenty of kid-friendly dishes that make this an experience for the whole family, along with fried PB&J with Pop Rocks for late-night diners. Wed-Sun 5pm-10pm.112 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-869-8006.
The Barbecue Crew of KINSmoke, Terry’s Southern BBQ, Sauced, Rossi’s 1906, Cochon Volant BBQ Smokehouse, and Juicy Pig: The new Sonoma aroma might just be wood smoke and brisket. This year, barbecue restaurants popped up like gophers on a golf course. It seemed like every time I turned around another chef had spent a month in Austin, Texas, learning the secrets of barbecue masters, and was now touting his secret sauce and philosophical approach to brisket.
With its “nondenominational” approach to barbecue, ~KINSMOKE~ tops our list, featuring everything from St. Louis-style pork ribs and Texas links to Alabama white sauce, Carolina mustard sauce, and Texas brisket. With a serious approach to sides, they’re the all-around spot to get your ‘cue on. Be forewarned that when the brisket or ribs are gone for the day, they’re gone. Lunch and dinner daily. 304 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8440.
The return of ~TERRY’S SOUTHERN BARBECUE~ is cause for celebration among its many fans for fall-off-the-bone ribs, hush puppies, catfish and Momma’s Boss Sauce, and sweet peach cobbler. 5979 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park, no phone.
~SAUCED~ has the unicorn of West Coast barbecue, burnt ends, along with a monster-sized sweet potato with pulled pork, bacon, sour cream, chives, and pretty much the kitchen sink of other goodies. 151 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma, 707-410-4410.
Glen Ellen Star chef Ari Weiswasser spent nearly a month in Austin learning the fine art of barbecue and has brought that back to Sonoma’s ~ROSSI’S 1906 BBQ SMOKEHOUSE AND DANCEHALL~ with a brand-new menu. Working with owner Max Young, they’re calling it “Texas barbecue in a California context,” featuring dishes like brisket and oysters. 401 Grove St., Sonoma, 707-343-0044.
Newest to the lineup is Texas-style barbecue spot ~COCHON VOLANT~, where chef Rob Larman serves up ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder sliced by the pound. 18350 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 707-509-5480.
~BASILICO CUCINA ITALIANA~: Just opened in Santa Rosa, this trattoria is the second from the owners of the critically acclaimed Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma. Fresh pastas and real-deal Northern Italian entrees that go well beyond the usual spaghetti and meatballs fare. 4776 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, 707-539-0260.
The nearly 100-year-old ~TWIN OAKS TAVERN~ in Penngrove, a favorite of ranchers and honky-tonkers, has been purchased by HopMonk Tavern owner Dean Biersch. Don’t expect another Hopmonk (there are HopMonks in Sebastopol, Novato, and Sonoma), because plans are to simply do a remodel and update, keeping the same honky-tonk vibe and iconic neon sign, just with better food and 16 taps. The bar closes in January for the remodel and will reopen in the spring with a new dance floor and kitchen and an expanded patio.
Doing some baking this weekend? We’ve got seven years of amazing holiday cookie recipes! This year’s BiteClub Holiday Cookie Contest is over, and the winner is…Jo’s Lemon Snowflake Cookie Recipe. We just loved the bright lemony flavors at the time of year when citrus is in season, and we’re also a bit “chocolated” out. This year brought a plethora of great new recipes, including the much-debated Salted Caramel Apple cookie (which some judges thought should win this year’s top prize), fudgy chocolate crinkle cookies, a really stellar sugar cookie recipe, and several others.