Earlier this week, we wrote about wine and the plethora of wineries in the Santa Rosa area. So, what pairs well with wine? Fine dining, of course. And Santa Rosa has that in spades. Here’s a rundown of our favorite restaurants in the area, in alphabetical order:
- Bird & the Bottle – A modern tavern celebrating the American melting pot, with a menu that incorporates flavors from Asia, the American South, the East Coast, Jewish comfort food favorites and a wide variety of fresh seafood. There’s plenty to love in the “Snacks” section of the menu, though we’re enamored of the Fried Chicken Biscuits and the Warm Pletzel Bread (which brings back fond childhood memories in Mom’s kitchen). For a delectable “schmear,” the Wood Grilled Goat Brie is a fave, and we highly recommend a small plate of Pastrami Pork Riblets. And for a main course, we can’t resist the savory “Mu Shu Style” Smoked Pork Shoulder.
- Chloe’s – Ooh la la! Enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life… a cup of fresh-roasted coffee, a glass of fine wine, a great meal, relaxing décor, good conversation and welcoming people. So many traditional favorites to fawn over – including such signature sandwiches as the Ham & Brie Melt and Chloe’s Reuben (a delightful variation that includes pickled cabbage and juniper berries), the Croque Monsieur and the Spinach and Roasted Mushroom Quiche. Be sure to leave room for the made-from-scratch desserts, including eclairs, Napoleons and Chocolate Fondant.
- Dierks Parkside Café – Twice voted Sonoma County’s Best Breakfast/Brunch, as well as the Best Neighborhood Café, the menus are a copious collection of tasty, delicious creations. If you’re there in time for a hearty breakfast, we suggest the Louisiana Hash or Friday Morning Joe’s (ground beef, mushrooms, tomato, spinach, eggs, hash browns and gravy). For lunch, a Gompa’s Sandwich (bacon, smoked turkey, tomatoes, cheddar, lettuce, egg with pesto mayo on rye) is sure to satisfy, while a weekend brunch calls for the Boulevard Burrito, with eggs, turkey, cheddar, black beans and brown rice. Muy bien!
- Flavor Bistro –A fine representation of how Sonoma County likes to eat, focused on sustainable-organic agriculture from local farmers. Though the name suggests a French eatery, the menu leans more heavily on Italian cuisine. For dinner, we opt for the Pesto Focaccia and the Sweet Potato Gnocchi for starters and the Spiedini Tortelli, with “Vegetali-Ricotta Mousse,” for an entrée. If, instead, you’re jonesing for burgers – which have a menu all their own – Flavor Bistro does it up right with the Burger Alla Mare(garnished with jumbo prawns), the Breakfast Burger (topped with bacon, ham, cheddar and a fried egg) and much more. For dessert, you need look no further than the Tiramisu & Truffles (that’s chocolate, not fungus). Need we say more?
- Himalayan Café – Experience the spiritual adventure and the mystery of the divine tastes of the Himalayas – specifically, the succulent tandooris and fragrant curries of Nepal and northern India. While the menu is chock full of Indian favorites like Samosa, Dal, Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer and Vindaloo, we instead go for the unique specialties of the house: Himalayan Momo (Himalayan-style steamed dumplings) and Fried Noodle of the Himalayas (tossed with green onion, cabbage and spices).
- Jackson’s Bar & Oven – The kind of place that chef/owner always wanted to go to: kid-friendly, yet casually sophisticated, with an emphasis on quality ingredients. The menu offers fresh spins on traditional comfort food, along with a number of originals. Start with the “Small Bites” of Truffle Fries and the Indian Spiced Lamb Meatballs. If you’re in the mood for one of the “Big Eats,” we’re suggest sampling the Risotto of the Day or the Brick Chicken. If, instead, you’re looking for a slice of something wood-fired, the House Made Sausage pizza is a definite winner. Of course, if you’re up for a surprise, order “The Undecided” – and see what sort of ’za Chef Josh has in store.
- LoCoco’s Cucina Rustica – Authenticity is the priority at LoCoco’s (pictured above), which takes Italian food back to its simply delicious roots. Among the engaging antipasti, the Burrata, made with buffalo mozzarella, stands apart. For a spicy kick, try the Orecchiette pasta, made with sausage, garlic and chili flakes (the Penne Con Salsicce, with sausage, tomato and spinach is our runner-up selection). And if shellfish is your dish, you’ll love the Cacciucco Livornese, with scallops, prawns, clams and calamari. For dessert, the Affogato (ice cream “drowned” in espresso, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce) reigns supreme, though the Apple Tart is a sweet and fruity runner-up.
- Riviera Ristorante – Another stop for authentic Italian cuisine, served in a gracious and informal atmosphere. We’re big fans of the Grilled Polenta, though the Antipasto Rustico is a splendidly savory choice. The pasta selections are diverse, ranging from the Spaghetti Levi Leipheimer (prawns, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes) to the Orecchiette Salsiccia (Italian sausage, wild broccoli). For a meaty entrée, the Pork Tenderloin is mouth-watering in a balsamic reduction. And for dessert, we’re usually inclined to order the Tiramisu out of habit, but the Triple Chocolate Mousse and the Lava Cake are incredibly decadent distractions.
- Russian River Brewing Company – A local gathering place as well as a beer tourism destination, with a full lineup of ales and lagers available. The menu, as you might expect, consists largely of pub food (munchies, pizza, wings, sandwiches, etc.), but there are certainly some treasures to be had. Start with the Beer Bites (crispy bites of pizza dough topped with mozzarella and garlic) or the Pliny Bites, which add white cheddar and jalapenos. The Grilled Three Cheese Sandwich takes the traditional grilled cheese to a whole different level, with provolone, Swiss and cheddar, plus caramelized onion and tomato. Meanwhile, the Simcoe calzone is a taste sensation, combining three cheeses, pesto, garlic, olives, pepperoni and sun-dried tomatoes. Heaven in a folded-over crust!
- Sazón –The only authentic Peruvian restaurant north of the Golden Gate Bridge, with cuisine that fuses different cultures that have influenced Peru’s population over the centuries. The food is exceptionally flavorful – Sazón is the Spanish word for “seasoning,” after all – and diverse, with a definite seafood bent. A lovely example is the Tequeños appetizer – wonton puffs filed with crab, shrimp, cream cheese, red pepper and chives. A selection of ceviche comes next, including the Ceviche Mixto, with prawns, scallops, claims, squid and tilapia. For a main course, we recommend the Ají de Gallina, or pulled chicken stew.
- Sweet T’s Restaurant & Bar – A taste of South Carolina in northern California. Find such customary Southern dishes as hush puppies, po’ boy, pulled pork, catfish, gumbo, grits and a mess of barbecue. Tuck into a succulent rack of ribs or a thick-and-juicy half-pound burger after polishing off a plate of Memphis BBQ Nachos. Talk about finger-licking food!
- Willi’s Wine Bar – Given how closely associated Santa Rosa is with the wine industry, it seems only fitting that we wrap up our list with a wine bar. This clever eatery has classic roadhouse appeal that captures the casual, laid-back nature of Sonoma County Wine Country. The food is both wildly inventive and comfortingly familiar – all ready to be paired with selections from the extensive wine list. Specializing in small plates, Willi’s offers “Surf” (try the Curried Crab Tacos with Apple, Cucumber and Mint), “Earth” (we’re all about the Smoked Goat’s Milk Cheddar Mac & Cheese) and “Turf” (can’t beat the Pork Belly Pot Stickers or the Filet Mignon Sliders). You’ll also find a selection of cheese and cured meats, as well as terrific desserts (if we had to choose, the Caramel Ice Cream Profiteroles are worth loosening your belt for).
To go beyond the dinner table and see what else Santa Rosa has to offer, visit our website at www.takethreenights.com. For help in planning your food-and-wine excursion to Sonoma County, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.