Best Restaurant in America is a…winery? Call us flabbergasted. THE BEST RESTAURANT IN AMERICA, as voted by OpenTable diners is ST. FRANCIS WINERY in the Sonoma Valley. Not that the luxe wine and food pairings that I once gushed “rival the kitchen of any Michelin-starred restaurant” aren’t deserving of the award. Most foodies know that wineries pay big bucks to have top-notch chefs doing super-creative work (and not have to be at the whims of the general public), pairing great wines with great food. But it’s surprising that the Best Restaurant in America is, well, first and foremost a winery—and beat out heavy hitters like The French Laundry, SF’s Acquerello, Daniel and Le Bernardin in New York, and 99 other major restaurants across the U.S. So with a hearty clap of the hands, we say congrats to winery chef David Bush, who picks the best produce from the winery’s two-acre garden, taking inspiration from whatever’s in season, and has won numerous accolades for his work. Want to see for yourself? St. Francis Winery has reservations for food and wine pairings Fri-Mon online.
OMG Italian Pastries: I’m just gonna say it. American pastries can be good, even great, but they rarely hold a candle to the delicate, old-world pastries of Europe. If you’ve been overseas, you know that smell, that swoonworthy feeling when you plunge headlong in a cream-filled puff of butter and flour. CA’MOMI ENOTECA at the Oxbow Market in Napa somehow embodies all of that, stateside. “Obsessively authentic Italian” only begins to describe the bignè, 100 percent organic cream puffs flavored with orange, vanilla bean, strawberry, hazelnut, coffee, and almonds, then drizzled with caramelized sugar or chocolate. You’ll want to buy them by the dozen, because they won’t last long once you’ve popped a few in your mouth. While you’re there, stop in for lunch or dinner, where they’re currently serving up gnocchi with butter, sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, braised cuttlefish on polenta with fried sweetbreads, or lasagna with radicchio.
We also discovered a treasure trove of bitters, booze, and shrubs from NAPA VALLEY DISTILLERY at Oxbow. It’s a grown-up cocktail Candyland. The goods range from their own reserve vodka, Meyer lemon liqueur, and whiskey to Luxardo cherries, artisan bitters from around the world, flavored vinegars and specialty tonics. 644 1st St. at Soscol Ave., Napa.
The Pork Chop of Awe and Wonder: It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the North Bay’s Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt since they opened Humble Pie in Penngrove in 2008. With a collection of mismatched thrift store dishes, blues and jazz crackling on an old record player, and the scent of fresh pies baking in the oven, their restaurants have always felt like coming home to a favorite grandmother’s house. I mean, assuming granny could actually cook. The couple’s newest venture, WISHBONE, is no exception. Embracing the beloved history of their new location, the former Three Cooks Cafe in Petaluma, they’ve done little to change the interior (okay, aside from some serious cleaning and ripping out the old carpet). The kitchen is open, and a cozy bar flanks the front door. You feel instantly welcome.
The food, of course, is what you’re here for. A collection of old favorites, like the Pork Chop of Awe and Wonder—a hefty juniper-brined slab of pork with mashed potatoes, and their signature Blue Balls (Ed. Note: ha-ha), meatballs stuffed with Pt. Reyes blue cheese atop atop warm tomato sauce and crispy Brussels sprouts and pickled eggs. But, here, they’ve raised the bar significantly, adding seasonal appetizers like sardines with fennel salad, a sexy little loaf of milk and honey bread with orange butter, and the “I’m having a moment” dish, the ravioli. Steel yourself, because this giant toasted pasta stuffed with roasted squash, carrot, and herbed goat cheese (topped with fresh chanterelles, sage brown butter, and Tuscan kale) is almost obscene in its deliciousness. It goes without saying that all of the food is locally sourced from their own farm and other nearby producers. Dessert gets serious props for its selection of fresh baked pies (Miriam is a goddess of pies) and a yogurt-strawberry whip that we were convinced was crème fraîche with a slice of heaven mixed in. Gushing? Probably. But sometimes a meal just hits you in the soft spot. Maybe it’s the company, the wine (they have a small but tasty collection of local wines), or just the night. Or maybe it’s the love and care they put into every dish. Open for lunch and supper Wed-Sun. Brunch from 9am-2:30pm Sat-Sun. Closed Mon-Tue. 841 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma. 707-763-2663.
Knife Fight, Sonoma Style: I’ve always been a little bored by the copycat chef competition shows whose most dangerous moments are the snarky comments of the judges. Frankly, I’d rather see some Roman blood sport between chefs—some cheating, sabotaging, and backstabbing. Maybe that’s taking it a bit far, but somewhere in between is the Blade Battle at WOODFOUR BREWING CO. on Monday December 16th. Beginning at 5:30pm., two of the restaurant’s cooks battle it out “Knife Fight” style (the down-and-dirty “underground” cooking competition on the Esquire network), so you can be the judge. Raffle tickets for the prime viewing go for $5 to get a seat with fellow judges Damon Wong and Eugene Birdsall. The one-hour competition benefits Worth Our Weight, and (bonus!) $3 Woodfour beers all day and a movie after the fight. Just one request: Can a pig’s head be the secret ingredient?
Give the gift of Sonoma: SIMI WINERY has one of the best holiday gifts for food and wine lovers at a really great price. The Simi Is Sonoma Taster by Out of the Box Collective includes either the 2010 Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon or 2011 Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay with a whole batch of artisan goodies from some of our very favorite Sonoma producers. Along with the wine, there’s a special-edition chardonnay-infused jam from Dry Creek Peach & Produce, two sweet and savory bacon Piggy Pops from Black Pig Meat Co., pickled beet relish from Preserve Sonoma, chardonnay flour artisan crackers from WholeVine, sea salt from Merchants & Millers, and fig and port vinaigrette from girl & the fig. Available for $65 to $75 from Simi Winery online.