Sonoma County’s Mediterranean climate means luxuries like enjoying dining outside year-round. A farm-to-table meal tastes even fresher, somehow, when we’re relaxing al fresco, surrounded by gorgeous gardens.
Zazu Kitchen & Farm, Sebastopol
Owners Duskie Estes and John Stewart not only cherish good ingredients, they live for them, growing their own produce (including on the charming dining patio at their restaurant) and raising their own goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. They cure their own salumi, and practice a “waste not” philosophy where every bit of an ingredient is used, root-to-fronds and nose-to-tail. The resulting cooking is stunning enough to attract the attention of the Food Network, which has twice put chef Estes up as a contender for the title of Next Iron Chef. Meals may (and should) begin with a Bellini, crafted of Sonoma sparkling and fresh-plucked peaches or other seasonal fruit. That salumi is another must, or you can enjoy the signature BLT pizza, loaded with Stewart’s own Black Pig bacon, organic tomatoes, arugula and cheese on a thin, crispy crust. The menu changes daily based on what’s fresh from the farm, but favorites include an antipasti of backyard melon, radishes and avocado in saffron vinaigrette, a cup of spicy tomato soup paired with a Bellwether Carmody grilled cheese sandwich, Liberty duck breast over cider braised cabbage, pork belly and Klopp Ranch Asian pears, and peanut butter ice cream sandwiches dipped in dark chocolate fondue. Details: Zazu, 6770 McKinley Street, Sebastopol, 707-523-4814
Chef Ryan Fancher works in a Sonoma-style setting, in a mahogany barn with pitchforks on the walls, next door to Barndiva owner Jil Hales's art gallery, Studio Barndiva. You know you’re in for a special meal when you see the garden patio, lushly landscaped so that eating outdoors seems like grandeur, Just a few of the farms the chef partners with include Bellwether Farms, Early Bird's Place, Mix Garden, The Patch, Philo Apple Farm, and Preston of Dry Creek. That translates into mouthwatering dishes like cauliflower soup with caramelized florets, raisin, fried caper, toasted almond and sage; and sautéed Pacific swordfish with fregola sarda, green goddess, cracked crab, olive, and tomato confit. Details: Barndiva, 231 Center Street, Healdsburg, 707-431-0100
This forever-favorite draws diners near and far for its rustic, soul-satisfying Italian cooking like an out-of-this-world chicken sauté sec roasted with rosemary, garlic, mushrooms and white wine over soft polenta and chard.
More recently, the former tiny wood patio in back was transformed into a 7,000 square foot wonderland boasting a full bar, al fresco bistro seating, an adjacent garden, and the main floor done in elaborate, circular swirl of Italian, black-and-white checkerboard marble. Details: Catelli's, 21047 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-857-3471
Russian River Vineyards Restaurant & Farm, Forestville
The new culinary garden spices up the already good restaurant (formerly known as Corks), tucked in an 1890s farmhouse at Russian River Vineyards winery. The menu focuses on veggie-centric dishes like sous vide Mary’s chicken slow cooked in garden herbs and duck fat, then pan roasted with Corks Farm sugar peas and tendrils, alongside dried cherry quinoa. Grab a seat on the shaded patio, admire the plants, trees and flowers, and enjoy the whimsical sculptures, too. Details: Russian River Vineyards, 5700 CA-116, Forestville, 707-887-3344
Ca’Bianca, Santa Rosa
Enjoy al fresco flair on the porch overlooking the fountain garden framed in flowering trees at this grand old mansion in old town Santa Rosa. But even more, you’ll love the excellent Italian cuisine, showcasing various regions and crafted by owners and husband-and-wife Marco Diana and Karin Hoehne. Recipes draw from Milano in the north to Sicily in the south, for dishes like seared ahi with home-made ravioli in almond sauce; Sardinian semolina gnocchi with porcini and slowly braised beef; or roasted breast of duck served with sautéed spinach and fingerling potatoes. Dressing up isn’t necessary, but makes the meal more fun, as you’ll feel extra glamorous in the old-school sophisticated setting with chandeliers, white tablecloths, antique furniture, and those gracious gardens. Details: Ca' Bianca, 835 2nd Street, Santa Rosa, 707-542-5800
Mateo’s Cocina Latina, Healdsburg
Yucatan-born chef Mateo Granados puts spice in lunch, dinner, and Saturday and Sunday brunch, served in the modern Mexican décor dining room or on the patio framed with vegetable beds. Sonoma-grown ingredients form the backbone of seasonal specialties such as empanadas stuffed with Laguna Farm chard, Preston homemade chorizo and queso fresco Salazar; classic cochinita pibil scooped with olive oil tortillas; tostadas piled in ground beef Yucatán picadillo with Preston olives, avocado and White Crane Springs Ranch greens; or blue corn pancakes with mixed fruit, local honey and butter. Details: Mateo's Cocina Latina, 214 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-433-1520
Campo Fina, Healdsburg
It feels like a touch of Italy has landed in Wine Country at this venture from Dawnelise and Ari Rosen, as a larger and more casual option to their Scopa bistro around the corner on the Healdsburg Plaza. Burrata arrives in generous dollops of creamy-rich cheese plopped on grilled bread with salty curls of prosciutto and dots of aged balsamic, while pizza is divine, crispy crusted with just enough give for some good chew, and a hint of char that doesn’t overwhelm the pristine toppings like pork belly with smoked mozzarella, squash, chanterelles and arugula.
The patio is irresistible year-round, where we relax at salvaged-wood tables under an open-beamed canopy framed with brick columns and creeping vines, take in a game on the bocce court, grab a cocktail at the concrete bar, and watch the action around the freestanding wood-burning pizza oven. Details: Campo Fina, 330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-395-4640
Chefs Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire love their local ranchers, orchards, farms, creameries and foragers. So much so, that they know the owners personally, visiting them often to see what’s best, and dreaming up new recipes. The restaurant itself is a rather simple roadhouse, and at first glance, the menu is simple, too, like chicken pot pie, baked in a crock with Green Star Farms poached chicken, carrots, onions and potatoes, all topped with buttermilk biscuit crust.
But oh my, the flavor, and there are twists, too, like gnocchi made with purple potatoes, king trumpet mushrooms, young onions, Cinderella squash and fava-hemp seed pesto; or a gorgeous salad of quinoa and watercress tossed with sugar snap peas, Chiogga beets, radish and mint in preserved lemon vinaigrette. Details: Backyard, 6566 Front Street, Forestville, 707-820-8445
Girl & the Fig, Sonoma
The restaurant recently expanded, by enclosing its garden patio for extra shade and seating, and that’s a good thing, since there are usually lines out the door. The lure is lovely plates like breakfast tartine of housemade chicken sausage, veggie scramble, white cheddar, smoked paprika hollandaise, salsa verde and grilled French bread; baked eggs Provencal with garden tomatoes, fennel, leeks, organic eggs, gremolata and grilled bread; and a decadent pork belly sandwich with fennel aioli, apples and cabbage on a brioche bun, served with crispy frites. Details: Girl & the Fig, 110 W. Spain Street, Sonoma, 707-938-3634
Oh, the joy of Neapolitan style pizzas, baked in in a Stefano Ferrara wood burning oven imported from Naples. Chef Mark Hopper does things the authentic way, even serving the pies unsliced – you just grab a bit of the bubbly, chewy edge crust and pull – the inner crust is slightly wet in the middle and gives easily. Set in an industrial-modern barn building with a lovely lawn dining patio, the chic pizza salon goes for a hip crowd, tempting with a wine list focusing on mostly Italian labels, and nibbles like a daily marinated, fire roasted vegetable. All ingredients are sourced from California farmers, and also Italy, for lovely pizza combinations like the meatball parm with Corbari tomatoes, little housemade meatballs, Parmigiano Reggiano, mozzarella and garlic, or the Manhattan, a clam chowder inspired pie topped in San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, oregano and chili oil. Details: Vignette, 6750 McKinley Street (in The Barlow), Sebastopol, 707-861-3897