White tablecloths and fancy china may be a bit harder to find these days, as younger diners across the nation embrace more relaxed meals. However, Sonoma County still does dining with class. Our towns feature many spectacular dress-up destinations, where polished service remains de rigeur, menus are fine dining, and it’s an elbows-off-the-table, sit-up-straight celebration.
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
This historic 1881 Victorian mansion has been lovingly restored by owners Bill and Trudi Konrad, and includes a glamorous, Michelin Star restaurant glittering with fine silver, china and candlelight. The New Californian-Global cuisine from executive chef Jesse Mallgren changes with the seasons, including ingredients from the on-site garden. In autumn, that might mean roasted brassica with estate persimmon, pickled cippollini and charred onions sauce; pumpkin risotto with Alba truffles; and roast squab breast and confit thigh with barley and kale, along with a world-class wine list. 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 800-258-4003
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
This Michelin Star restaurant is so beloved that reservations are a must. Owned by siblings Catherine and Joe Bartolomei, it’s first class all the way, featuring an on-staff Master Sommelier who artfully pairs wines with chef Steve Litke’s luxurious Cal-Mediterranean creations. The menu changes frequently, and the best way to savorit all is through the four-course tasting. One legendary dish is always offered, though, and for good reason: Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit comes as a petite roasted rack, loin cut into thick coins then wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and leg confit draped in velvety whole grain mustard sauce alongside Yukon potato. 7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300
This Michelin Star eatery at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa was recently renovated for a brighter, modern minimalist design, but executive chef Bruno Tison and chef de cuisine Andrew Cain still keep plenty of flair in their dishes. Seasonally changing favorites might include a lovely Salade de Printemps of fava leaves, Easter egg radish, fiddle head ferns, asparagus, mâche lettuce, pickled pearl onions and pecorino con foglie di noce; luxurious seared diver scallop and crispy veal sweetbreads with spring nettles, black trumpet mushroom mousseline and garlic soubise; and elegant sweet butter-poached Maine lobster with globe artichokes, sweet carrots, grilled spring onion compote, pickled pearl onions and barigoule vinaigrette. 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, 707-938-9000
Drake's Sonoma Coast Kitchen, Bodega Bay
This formal restaurant inside the Bodega Bay Lodge delivers cuisine as riveting as the views stretching across the water (see photo at left).
Chef Jeff Reilly has established close relationships with local organic family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and artisan cheese makers to create a fresh and innovative menu. Examples of the seasonally-changing menu includes Grilled Pacific Long Line Swordfish, Braised California Lamb Shank, and Pan-Seared Liberty Duck Breast. 103 Coast Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-875-3525
Kenwood Inn & Spa, Kenwood
This elegant Mediterranean-style property tucked along the hillside of Highway 12 hides a tasty secret: an upscale Italian eatery inside, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are available only to guests of the 29-room property, yet here is a tip — anyone can snag one of the 35 seats if they schedule a day or evening spa treatment. It’s worth shelling out for the spa on its own, but even better to follow with a meal of handrolled potato gnocchi with taleggio, mustard greens, Figones peach-cranberry white balsamic, and crisp Prosciutto di Parma; warm Brussels sprouts salad with local walnuts, pear and Meyer lemon; and black olive poached monkfish with Kenwood garden’s black cabbage, caper berries and herb croquette. 10400 Sonoma Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-833-1293
Terrapin Creek Café, Bodega Bay
This charming, Slow Food-style, Michelin Star treasure comes from chef-owners Andrew Truong (formerly sous chef at Bacar), and his wife, Liya Lin (previously a cook at Ducca and Michael Mina). Set in a relaxed but stunningly chic space in the quiet ocean town of Bodega Bay, the cuisine wows with the finest ingredients in inventive pairings. That might include artfully arranged cold crab salad with the seafood plucked straight from the sea outside, or panko crusted crab over green lentils and sautéed cabbage with roasted mushrooms, currants and curry oil. 1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700
Chalkboard showcases small plates, wine flights, stiff cocktails and upscale comfort food from chef Shane McAnelly, in a whirlwind of flavors ranging from whimsical warm pretzels dipped in cheddar sauce, stadium mustard and tomato jam, to opulent lumachine pasta presented in a big bowl, the shell noodles tossed with duck confit, bright green peas, and a sauce of mascarpone and farm cheese. Framed by big windows, an open kitchen, sleek marble tables and a big communal table, the look is bright, fresh and sophisticated. 29 North St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030
Black Point Grill, The Sea Ranch
First, you eat up the views in this restaurant in the Sea Ranch Lodge. Overlooking a pastoral and rugged Sonoma seascape meadow, the spectacular ocean scenery from the dining room is a feast for the eyes. Then, you focus on your plate, which features internationally inspired California cuisine emphasizing the freshest local ingredients. At this new restaurant, the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu changes seasonally, and offers everything from casual tavern fare to more formal small plates, appetizers, and entrees paired with regional wines. Don’t these dishes sound delicious, from executive chef Phillip M. Kaufman? Sonoma duck tacos topped in queso fresco, cabbage and sweet lime vinaigrette; organic baby arugula salad with pressed watermelon, toasted pine nuts, pears and raspberry vanilla vinaigrette; a club sandwich layered with grilled ahi, daikon, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and wasabi aioli on toasted whole wheat bread; or roasted Northern halibut with warm pineapple salsa and crisp parsnips. 60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2371
John Ash & Co. Restaurant, Santa Rosa
This fine dining destination in the Vintners Inn is legendary, as one of Sonoma County’s first wine country cuisine restaurants. Acclaimed chef John Ash is no longer affiliated, but the food remains top notch under chef Thomas Schmidt. Start with buttermilk fried Devil’s Gulch Ranch quail prettied up with corn, baby squash and bean salad, then move on to a gorgeous portrait of sesame-nori encrusted ahi with tempura prawn, daikon radish, snow peas, carrots, scallions, yuzu glaze, green tea soba noodles, dashi broth, tofu wasabi aioli, and pea shoots. 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687
Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Santa Rosa
Stark’s is all about classic American corn-fed steaks and grass-fed beef. Filet mignon melts on the tongue like butter, and can be topped with roasted bone marrow, truffle fried egg, blue cheese butter, or mushrooms and onions. Sauces include whole-grain mustard béarnaise, peppercorn, salse verde, red-wine, truffle aioli, or house steak sauce. Housed in the oldest restaurant building in Santa Rosa (built in 1938), Stark’s offers a classy historical setting, including rich wood accents, flickering fireplaces, and brick. Service is attentive but unobtrusive.
Stark’s Steak & Seafood, 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100
- Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen
- Café La Haye, Sonoma
- Catelli’s, Geyserville
- Rustic, Geyserville
- Barndiva, Healdsburg
- Boon Eat + Drink, Guerneville
- Willi’s Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
- La Gare, Santa Rosa
- Rivers End, Jenner
- K&L Bistro, Sebastopol
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.