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Detour to Valley Ford for Superb Dining

Rocker Oysterfeller offers fine dining off the beaten track in Valley Ford.

The delightful restaurant  Rocker Oysterfeller's Kitchen + Saloon (14415 Highway 1,  707-876-1983) is a hallmark, a landmark, and well, one of only three restaurants in Valley Ford.

This unincorporated community on State Highway 1 about nine miles east of Bodega Bay is home to a population of 147 (according to the 2010 Census) and spans just 2.6 square miles. However, Rocker’s owners are cooking with big city sensibilities.

Shona Campbell and Brandon Guenther have set up a delightful destination inside the clapboard house-style Valley Ford Hotel (turn into the parking lot next to the covered wagon), with riveting dishes like Tomales Bay oysters decorated in arugula, bacon, cream cheese and cornbread crust; charbroiled California sturgeon glistening in crab butter with warm fingerling potato salad and grilled carrots; and juicy charbroiled Niman Ranch rib-eye steak partnered with braised collard greens, roasted Sebastopol mushrooms, and beer-battered sweet onion rings.

Diners come from all over just for dessert, such as powdered sugar beignets dolloped in café au lait crème anglaise, or the exquisite Humboldt Fog cheesecake on gingersnap crust in blueberry sauce.

It’s proof that in this neck of coastal Wine Country, even the smallest burg on the map can have world-class cuisine, thanks to the rich abundance of ingredients, wines, and inspired chefs.

Valley Ford is also home to Dinucci's Italian Dinners (14485 Highway 1, 707-876-3260), where guests rave about the comfort meals of stick-to-the-ribs classics such as fried chicken, local petrale sole, baked lasagna, and prime rib. It ain’t fancy, but small town friendly? You bet. On Mondays and Thursdays, eat in the bar and enjoy the evening’s special entrée with a side dish, plus your choice of soup or salad for just $14.95.

Then, there’s Estero Café (14450 Highway 1, 707-876-3333), which is the dream of mother-daughter team, Ariana Strozzi and Wesley Smith of Valley Ford and their friend Karen Fuller of Bodega Bay. Breakfast and lunch dining features soul-warming favorites like chicken fried steak, Swedish pancakes with applesauce or tapioca pudding, burgers, and grilled ham and cheese, plus homemade cakes and pies. And daily specials are truly that – perhaps a corned beef sandwich piled high in shaved meat, Swiss, and Thousand Island on lightly toast rye, served with hand-cut fries, onion rings, or organic spring mix.

Valley Ford is off the beaten path, it’s true. But with dining like this, it’s definitely worth a detour.