Restaurants

Nearly everything that grows in the United States thrives in California, and nearly everything that grows in California thrives in Sonoma County. Alice Waters and many other leading chefs of the San Francisco Bay area know this, and so do Sonoma cooks. Local restaurateurs delight in their good fortune, many updating their menus weekly or daily around what ingredients are available fresh within a few of miles of their kitchen doors.

The same mild winters and warm summer days that yield superb wines are also ideal for growing vegetables and raising free-range ducks, chickens, lambs, goats and cattle. Seafood is plentiful locally, too, from the county's coastal fisheries and commercial oyster beds.

Established families of Italian, Swiss, French, Irish and German descent, and newer settlers, most of them sophisticated urban refugees, bring tastes from around the world to tables here. Food pundits have described the region's food as "California Nouvelle," "California Italian," "California Country" and "California French." None of those labels is quite accurate, though most come close. Call it "Sonoma Cuisine," if you like. To know it, all you have to do is try it.

Sonoma Valley boasts a bakery for every 1,000 people, and some of the bay area's finest bread bakeries began in and still are present in Sonoma County, including Artisan Bakers (750 West Napa St. Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 939-1765; www.artisanbakers.com) and Basque Boulangeri (460 First St. E., Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 935-7687), Della Fattori (141 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, CA 94952; (707) 763-0161; www.dellafattoria.com/cafe.html) and Downtown Bakery & Creamery (308 A Center St., Healdsburg, CA 95448; (707) 431-2719; www.downtownbakery.com). Most of the restaurants reviewed below feature these locally made breads.

The wine lists of many Sonoma restaurants play to local strengths as well, focusing on Sonoma producers from stalwarts to rising stars. Some lists have more depth than others, but what they lack in age they make up in adventurousness, looking far beyond the conventional boundaries of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Almost all the restaurants offer a good selection of wines by the glass, and prices are rarely exorbitant, so it's easy to experiment. Go ahead and try something new; if you like what you taste, the winery is waiting for you right down the road.

Along the way, you might occasionally want a smaller meal at a smaller price. In the town of Sonoma, there's Maya (101 E. Napa St. Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 935-3500; www.mayarestaurant.com) for creative Mexican food, and Breakaway Cafe (19101 Sonoma Hwy. Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 996-5949; www.breakawaycafe.com) for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner. Try Cafe Citti Italian Trattoria (9049 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452; (707) 833-2690 in Kenwood for fabulous Italian sandwiches, pastas, coleslaw and chicken; Oakville Grocery (124 Matheson St. Healdsburg, CA 95448; (707) 433-3200; www.oakvillegrocery.com) in Healdsburg for unique sandwiches, cheeses, salads, and a lovely patio facing the town square; or ZIN Restaurant & Wine Bar (344 Center St., Healdsburg, CA 95448; 707) 473-0946; www.zinrestaurant.com) in Healdsburg for tastes of a variety of Zinfandels and a friendly menu of burgers, coq au Zin, and more.

Restaurant choices along the harbor on the Sonoma Coast are few; the best is Lucas Wharf (595 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923; (707) 875-3522). You can eat in the dining room—a comfortable den with a cathedral ceiling and large windows—or just get a basket of fish and chips from the snack bar and sit on the pier.

Please note that owners, chefs, menu items, prices and other details can often change, and we recommend that you call ahead before you go.

All of these restaurants accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard unless otherwise noted.

For more restaurants worldwide that hold Wine Spectator awards for their wine lists, see our Restaurant Search database.

NORTHERN SONOMA

Bistro Ralph
109 Plaza St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Telephone (707) 433-1380
Open Lunch, Monday to Saturday; dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $6–$30
Here's the place to taste all of Healdsburg. Everything on the wine list here, including the 11 by-the-glass selections, comes from winemakers right around town; some are famous, others await discovery, and the reasonable prices encourage experimenting. This adventurous, contemporary-looking bistro is a favorite for its food, too. Culinary surprises include the Szechuan pepper calamari, chicken livers with caramelized onions, pancetta and creamy polenta, escargots bourgignon, duck confit served over lentils, lamb stew with toasted pearl couscous, coq au vin with cremini mushrooms, and braised rabbit with creamy polenta and golden chanterelles.

Cyrus
29 North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Telephone (707) 433-3311
Corkage $25
Open Dinner, nightly
Cost Tasting menus $58, $69, $80 and $95
The restaurant’s co-owners, Nick Peyton and Douglas Keane, met at Gary Danko (one of San Francisco’s top restaurants and a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner), where Peyton was maître d’ and Keane was a sous chef. They teamed up in 2002 to open the casual Market in St. Helena, Calif. But both wanted something more ambitious. In 2005 they opened Cyrus in the lavish Les Mars Hotel. The building, with its mansard roof, vaulted ceilings and old-fashioned plaster walls, looks like a French château and announces itself as luxurious and expensive. Textured yellow paint on the walls lends the dining room a warm feel and atmospheric landscape photographs catch the eye. The caviar cart is a major temptation and at $75 to $160 per ounce, its wares can easily run up the check. Keane is completely in his element here, creating dishes that look and taste unfussy even though the descriptions make them seem complicated. The elements fit together seamlessly, and the flavors and textures show remarkable subtlety. Three courses will run you $58; four, $69; or five, $80. Around twenty-four savory items and six desserts are listed, and you can order any combination: The kitchen will adjust the portions accordingly. There is also a seven-course chef’s menu for $95. The caviar is extra.

Dry Creek Kitchen
Hotel Healdsburg, 317 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Telephone (707) 431-0330
Web site www.charliepalmer.com
Corkage 15
Open Lunch, Friday to Sunday; dinner, nightly
Cost $25–$36; tasting menu $69, $109 with wine pairing
Best of Award of Excellence
Celebrity chef Charlie Palmer opened the Dry Creek Kitchen in 2001. The restaurant, inside the upscale Hotel Healdsburg on the town's downtown plaza, has a Sonoma-only wine list and a menu that features "95 percent Sonoma products," according to Palmer, who is best known as chef-owner of the Aureole restaurants, one in New York and the other in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The restaurant, named for nearby Dry Creek Valley, seats about 75 people and also has two outdoor dining areas. The dining room is casual yet refined, with two large columns that slope up into a dramatic vaulted ceiling. The kitchen is partially visible through a wall that has alternating horizontal strips of clear and frosted glass, lending it a Venetian-blind effect.

Madrona Manor
1001 Westside Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Telephone (707) 433-4231; (800) 258-4003
Web site www.madronamanor.com
Open Dinner, April to December, daily; January to March, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $19–$36
Bill and Trudi Konrad recently acquired this elegant Sonoma County classic and gently updated it with new china and flatware, and fresher colors throughout. But Madrona Manor is still the traditional grande dame of Sonoma restaurants, with a dress code that's stricter in winter, looser come summer. Chef Jesse Mallgren, formerly sous chef here, has moved the menu away from classic and heavy French fare to a lighter and more vivid contemporary cuisine, while keeping a French accent. Look for his local dungeness crab ravioli, Sonoma foie gras terrine with apple butter and a savory popover, and muscovy duck confit, among other favorites. Mallgren gains the inspirations for his daily menus from what looks the best in his garden, which is just outside the dining room. Pastry chef Kara Briggs creates sublime desserts, including warm pear charlotte and a chocolate soufflé cake with satsuma tangerines and crème anglaise. The extensive wine list concentrates on local Sonoma producers; its strengths are in the familiar and trustworthy territories of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

John Ash & Co.
4330 Barnes Road (River Road), west of Highway 101
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Telephone (707) 527-7687
Web site www.vintnersinn.com
Open Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, daily; brunch, Sunday
Cost Entrées $18–$39
Best of Award of Excellence
New owners Don and Rhonda Carano have given this culinary landmark, part of the Vintners Inn, a charming new look. Gaze out from the pretty, covered patio onto a lush lawn, herb garden and vineyards. Chef Jeffrey Madura, who served as sous chef here for years, has seasoned the menu with his personal style. There's always a wide range of local meats and seafood available, plus superb pasta. For a lunch on the light side, good choices include the curried sweet potato raviolis, Orecchiette pasta with tiger prawns, sauteéed corvina sea bass and more. There's a nice selection of pizzas, too (these are also available in the café all afternoon). At dinner, try the Maine lobster risotto or sake-steamed Atlantic salmon. Wine director Walter Inman has assembled an exciting 350-selection list that supplements its broad coverage of California in general and Sonoma in particular with focused collections from individual producers. Labels such as Chateau Montelena, Williams Selyem and Joseph Swan make this a compelling attraction for wine-oriented diners.

Mixx Enoteca Luigi Ristorante & Bar
135 Fourth St. (Railroad Square on west side of Highway 101)
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Telephone (707) 573-1344
Web site www.mixxrestaurant.com
Open Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $13–$21
Award of Excellence
Luigi Lezzi, the owner and kitchen supervisor and Lucio Castanon, head chef, have taken on the world with their original, French-Southwestern-Asian-Italian-California cooking. There's plenty of multicultural inspiration behind dishes such as Gamberi alla Mediterranea, Tagliatelle allo Scoglio, Costoletta di Maiale ai Mirtilli and much more. The dining room is a stylish but homey space, dominated by a lovely, 150-year-old Italian wood bar. Berman's wife, Kathleen, creates sensational desserts such as frozen Caribbean lime torte, chocolate hazelnut paté, and more. The wine list, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence– winner, stays closer to home, with a focus on established and rising stars of Sonoma.

Syrah
205 Fifth St., at Davis (Railroad Square on west side of Highway 101)
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Telephone (707) 568-4002
Web site www.syrahbistro.com
Open Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m; dinner, starting at 5:30 p.m., daily
Cost Entrées $17–$32
Award of Excellence
Every detail is lovingly attended to here—the butter always arrives at just the right temperature, and liquid sugar accompanies iced tea. The dining room is industrial in design (it was a Nash Rambler car dealership in the 1940s) but still warm in feeling, with diners given open views of the kitchen. Chef Josh Silvers' full-flavored cooking is well-suited to Syrah and Shiraz, and the idiosyncratic but well-chosen wine list, which holds a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, offers two dozen of these wines from all over the world. Silvers' dishes include kumquat-glazed quail salad, braised beef cheeks, and roasted baby pumpkin with truffled black Beluga lentils. Save room for selections from the extensive cheese menu and for one of Syrah's extravagant desserts, such as the down and dirty Valrhona chocolate pot de crème, with gooey baked s'mores of housemade graham crackers and marshmallows.

SONOMA VALLEY

El Dorado Kitchen
El Dorado Hotel, 405 First St. W.
Sonoma, CA 95476
Telephone (707) 996-3030; (800) 829-3031
Web site www.eldoradosonoma.com/kitchen.htm
Corkage $15
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $16–$26
The cuisine at El Dorado Kitchen might not be as elevated as what chef Ryan Fancher prepared as sous chef at the French Laundry, but it is every bit as technically adept. It’s rare to find a casual restaurant where fritto misto arrives perfectly crisp and without a speck of oiliness. Fancher uses whole haricots verts and slices of Jerusalem artichokes and baby fennel, and they are addictive. Two rectangular basket-weave light fixtures hover over a long communal table that dominates the room. There’s also a patio for warm evenings and relaxed lunches. The one disappointment is the wine list. All California and heavily Sonoma, its choices are on the curt side. The food is classy enough to want better selections than what the decidedly midrange list offers. However, if you want to bring something more interesting, corkage is only $15 a bottle.

Glenn Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar
13670 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Telephone (707) 996-6409
Web site www.glenelleninn.com
Open Lunch, Friday to Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $15–$25
This innovative, chic "California fusion" restaurant is a lovely destination in summer, when guests can sit in the enclosed veranda overlooking a koi pond and organic herb garden. Chefs/owners Christian and Karen Bertrand and staff make their own bread and pasta daily. Menu highlights include a fallen port salut and mozzarella cheese soufflé, dungeness crab potstickers, and beef Wellington in a Cabernet foie gras reduction with wild mushrooms. If you can't settle on a dessert, try the sampler for two, with its small bites of chocolate silk torte, crème brûlée and other treats. The exceptionally broad, all-California wine list covers every corner of Sonoma County and then ranges far beyond, with some vintage depth and a good number of offbeat treasures.

Kenwood Restaurant and Bar
9900 Highway 12
Kenwood, CA 95452
Telephone (707) 833-6326
Web site www.kenwoodrestaurant.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Cost Entrées $18–$28
This elegant country roadhouse sits in the middle of vineyards, with romantic views of Kunde Estate vineyards and the hills where the Kunde family's cattle once roamed. In warm weather, dine al fresco under a white umbrella on the south-facing patio, overlooking the gardens where owners Max and Susan Schacher grow flowers and much of the restaurant's produce. Entrées include sautéed sweetbreads with endive, mushrooms and caper bordelaise salad, dungeness crab cakes with herb mayonnaise, and braised Sonoma rabbit with grilled polenta. The short, mostly young wine list is strongest in reds, with a focus on Sonoma, and a few outsiders for interest.

La Salette Restaurant
Boyes Hot Springs, 452 First Street East, Suite H
Sonoma, CA 95476
Telephone (707) 938-1927
Web site http://lasalette-restaurant.com/sonoma-dining.html
Open Tuesday to Sunday, lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Wednesday to Sunday, breakfast, 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Cost Entrées $17–$25
Chef Manuel Azevedo prepares the cuisine he learned from his mother while growing up in the Azores, off the coast of Portugal. First courses may include a tasting of Portuguese cheeses, or ostra fritadaó (oysters dusted in cassava flour and sautéed, served on a salad of fennel and baby greens). A good main course to try is the feijoada completa (a stew of beef, pork, sausage and blaci beans served over rice), here served with collard greens and traditional condiments on the side. For dessert, sample the addictive bolo de chocolate—a layer cake of chocolate mousse, mocha sponge and hazelnuts garnished with Madeira custard sauce and strawberry coulis. Order a glass of Port or Madeira to go with it—there are 12 of them to choose from. The 150 selection wine list is mostly Californian, but includes a sampling of Portuguese table wines.

Saffron
13648 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95422
Telephone (707) 938-4844
Web site www.saffronrestaurant.com
Open Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost Entrées $16–$27
The menu in this cozy, inviting dining room is simple but superb, and enlivened by occasional Spanish accents. There's a nearly perfect paella, a rack of lamb with Stilton cheese–cippollini onion gratin and Zinfandel–vanilla bean sauce, and housemade "goat cheese cannaloni." Pastry chef Lindsey Ayers' creations are a must. The modest wine list is divided; there's an eclectic roster of local producers as well as a strong selection from Spain.

The Girl and the Fig
110 W. Spain St.
Sonoma, CA 95476
Telephone (707) 938-3634
Web site www.thegirlandthefig.com
Corkage $12
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $11.95–$21.95
Award of Excellence
Sondra Bernstein moved her sensational and fun "country food with a French passion" to the Sonoma Hotel last year, and her fans have followed. In the kitchen, self-taught local chef John Toulze prepares delicacies including mussels in Pernod, with garlic, leeks and herbs; endive and spinach salad with Point Reyes "Original Blue" cheese; a marvelous charcuterie platter; a croque monsieur as good as any served in Paris; smoked duck sausage; perfect lamb shanks; and cassoulet. The reasonably priced wine list, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, concentrates on wines made with Rhône varietals from California and abroad. Flights paired with cheeses are popular here, and a good buy.

MEMBER LOGIN

= members only

Keep me logged in      Forgot Password?

Free Email Newsletters

Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions

» View samples
» Or sign up now!
» Manage my newsletter preferences

Classifieds

The marketplace for all your wine needs, including:

Wine Storage | Wine Clubs
Dining & Travel | Wine Auctions
Wine Shops | Wine Accessories