Well, it is nearly the end of 2012 and I felt that was as good a time as any to review some of the notable Sonoma destinations – both culinary and wine-related. With that in mind, I recently dined at a few local restaurants including some I hadn’t been to before.
First, I went back to my go-to, the girl & the fig, for a cheeseburger with Cambazola and bacon. Happy to report they are as delicious as they’ve always been and go very well with one of their Rhone style reds.
Next I had dinner at Della Santina’s, a nearly 20-year-old family restaurant that has received plenty of acclaim but may be overshadowed lately by newer venues. I enjoyed my usual favorite dish, gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce. I’ve eaten gnocchi at many places but this is the most melt-in-your-mouth version of this potato pasta I’ve ever tasted. The touch of cream added to the sauce and the ribbons of fresh basil on top of the soft pillows makes it even more delectable. I can’t wait to go back.
There aren’t actually a lot of new restaurants in Sonoma (I can’t think of a single one that opened in 2012) but there was one just a block from the Plaza that I had been meaning to try for some time. Hop Monk Tavern (sister to the older Sebastopol location by the same name) is the Valley’s only brewpub. I have walked into Hop Monk at least five times in the past couple of years and always left within a few minutes. The vibe felt very Eastside Sonoma (mature, well-to-do locals), but not in a good way. I’ve spent a lot of my formative years in pubs and this one felt like it had a particular demographic in mind – and it wasn’t mine. But, given their rousing success, I was determined to give the food and libations a try and am happy to say that my recent experience was so delightful that, even though it’s been nary a week since my first visit, I was compelled to return if for no other reason but to prove that the good time wasn’t merely a fluke. It wasn’t. I can’t say the patrons are particularly friendly but the staff more than makes up for it.
Plaza Bistro opened about 15 years ago in the former location of “Zino’s” (and before that, “Gino’s”) Italian restaurant, on the East side of the Plaza. It’s hard to believe it took me so long to get there. As you enter the eatery you notice that the bar area to the left is larger than the restaurant seating to the right. There’s additional restaurant seating in the rear, which was closed the night I was there and is likely needed more in the busier months. On this particular Sunday night in mid-December, my companion and I were the only diners in that room (though there was a party of four seated near the bar). We both selected the thick cut pork chop, which featured a tangy tamarind rub. Though I was too full to truly enjoy dessert, I did get fork-fed some of the tasty chocolate cake. Now that I have finally tried this place, I will return when I want an intimate dinner experience.
Earlier this year I revisited one of my early regular hangouts – La Casa Mexican Restaurant. In those days I frequented the place, which looks out to the historic Mission, more for it’s cerveza than for the food, which has not changed much through four owners since 1987. It appears to be one of those polarizing places; you either love it or hate it. I tend to be in the later category. I ordered chili rellenos to find that they do not remove the seeds from the chili before cooking. That made it too spicy and the texture uninviting for me. There is also a flavor or spice that dominates most of the dishes that I don’t particularly care for. My daughter, on the other hand, as picky an eater as she is, likes it. Go figure.
Plaza Tequila opened more than a year ago in the Sonoma Highway location that was Amigo’s Cantina and Grill for more than a decade. The food at Amigo’s was so good; I was a weekly (or more) regular there from the beginning. So, it was with trepidation that I agreed to try the new place and it has taken half-dozen trips for me to find items I like which include Al Pastor tacos, Chicken Enchiladas and Nachos. I wish the beautiful tortilla soup were tastier, though. The only don’t miss item here is the Top Shelf Margarita over ice.
This holiday season I found very few venues offering Christmas dinner (Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, The Lodge at Sonoma, MacArthur Place) most of which were sold out before the holiday so I ventured over to the “other valley” (Napa) to celebrate the day at Bistro Jeanty (the only place still taking reservations a day before Christmas). Suffice it to say it probably isn’t the best day to review a restaurant as it was mobbed and getting from one of the restaurant to the other involved unwittingly molesting or being molested at least a dozen times due to the crowd and small quarters. I tried the beet salad, tomato soup, Beef Bourguignon and rib eye steak. I love Beef Bourguignon, which was fine if a little sparse on sauce, but the steak was grey and pretty fatty (even for a rib eye). Still, the cozy fireplace inside looked inviting (I was sitting on the plastic-enclosed patio, next to the chill inducing wooden gate below a propane heater). Not sure I’ll be rushing back to this Yountville eatery any time soon.
That’s all for 2012. See you in the New Year. Cheers!