With its fresh, artisanal food focus, it’s no surprise that Sonoma County is known for handcrafted cheeses, handcrafted breads, handcrafted charcuterie … and handcrafted pastas.
Yes, pastas. The best restaurants wouldn’t dream of serving noodles from a box. Instead, they make their own daily, from premium flour, eggs, and in some cases, delicious add-ins like vegetables or squid ink. Here are some wonderful places to feed that craving for capellini, fettuccine, and linguini.
Ari Rosen can be credited with causing a crush in Healdsburg, of the non-wine kind. Instead, it’s crowds hoping to get into his tiny trattoria where he crafts rustic Italian specialties like house-made ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese in brown butter-trumpet mushroom sauce; or melt-in-your-mouth sugo Calabrese of tomato-braised beef and pork rib gravy served with spaghettini and smoked mozzarella in tomato sauce. The housemade cannelloni is a must, stuffed with creamy ricotta and baked in deeply savory Bolognese.
As graceful as the food is, don’t worry about dressing up. The ambience is casual chic, where wine is served in juice glasses, and thin-crust pizzas are best eaten with your fingers.
109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-433-5282
Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn & Restaurant, Healdsburg
The estate-genteel decor and formal gardens promise an elegant meal, and chef Jesse Mallgren delivers, with fancy sous-vide meats, liquid-nitrogen ice cream, and even a simple egg, slow-cooked to a sensuous custard drizzled in Banyuls vinegar over onion velouté.
Pastas are a symphony, too, lovingly crafted with seasonal ingredients for temptations like hand-cut noodles bathed in cream, corn, basil, and morel mushrooms.
1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-4231
Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen
Chef Ari Weiswasser offers just 24 seats in his Cal-Mediterranean bistro, but the star is a big, fire-breathing wood oven, from which emerge signatures like the exquisitely crisp and golden brick chicken paired with creamy polenta, lemon, and Spanish caper jus.
He previously worked as chef de partie at French Laundry, and cooked at Picholine, Daniel, Gilt, and Corton in New York, but perfectly captures the uncomplicated essence of Wine Country cooking with dishes like brussels sprouts in brown sugar bacon marmalade; crispy spaetzle tossed with celery root, huckleberries and Parmesan; and a decadent house-made tagliatelle tossed with king trumpet mushrooms, marinated cherry tomatoes, and basil butter. Reservations are a must. For a full review, read Glen Ellen Star is a Star Restaurant.
13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-343-1384
Canneti Roadhouse Italiana, Forestville
Chef Francesco Torre hails from Italy, and brought with him his authentic recipes for bold, rustic flavors like the gooey, salty joy that is the local crispy anchovy melt with house-pulled mozzarella and capers.
At the heart of his eatery is a pasta-making machine, imported from his homeland, and used for cozy comforts like maccheroni ladled in Tuscan meat sauce, or a more refined petite Alaskan halibut crepe brightened with carrots, pea leaves, and crispy guanciale.
The setting is so simple it’s almost industrial, with rough brick walls, farmhouse wood tables and chairs, while the patio out back beckons for a relaxed meal nestled beneath towering trees.
But the food can compete with the best in big cities, such as a dramatic, mouthwatering beet linguine tumbled with Manila clams, red chard and garlic tops. For a full review, read A Taste of Tuscany with Forestville's Canneti.
6675 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-2232
Chef Shane McAnelly showcases California ingredients, mainly in small plates of crudos and pastas of the day listed on a chalkboard.
An entire section of the menu is dedicated to house-made pasta, like ravishing squid ink spaghetti studded with Manila clams, bacon, and jalapeno in a white wine-parsley sauce; strozzapreti with spicy pork sausage, rapini, red pepper flake, and basil; and ricotta gnudi with maitake mushroom and lava leaf in black truffle butter.
One of the best dishes is the rich treat of lumachine mac ’n’ cheese tossed with duck confit, duck fat breadcrumbs and white cheddar — kids of all ages (yes, you adults) clamor for it.
The look is sleek and bright, with big windows and an open kitchen, while the rest of the menu is wide ranging and often complex, from buttermilk-fried quail decorated with fava beans, nasturtium greens, fennel, and cubeb pepper vinaigrette, to beef tartare in a hefty, molded round moistened with quail egg, Calabrian chile, celery hearts, parsley, and smoked salt to be spooned on crostini.
29 North St., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030
Cucina Paradiso, Petaluma
Chef-owner Dennis Hernandez worked at top San Francisco restaurants before establishing his dream of an Italian kitchen in Wine Country. Now his dining room, dressed in warm gold tones and rich wood, sets the romantic mood for classics like homemade soft polenta topped scattered with mushrooms and Italian cheeses; an authentic Caesar with anchovies; and pork tenderloin sautéed with porcini, prosciutto, brandy, and mustard. Delicate pastas are a particular highlight, such as the homemade ravioli stuffed with roast duck in sundried tomato, pine nut, and basil sauce; or gnocchi in creamy gorgonzola walnut sauce. Even the most simple angel hair is heavenly, perfectly al dente and moistened with fresh tomato, basil, garlic, and olive oil.
114 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-782-1130
Owner Marco Palmieri’s Sonoma-style Italian cuisine takes a delightful twist with signatures like grilled asparagus paired with duck egg, Calabrian chili-pancetta vinaigrette and crispy shallot, or seared duck breast in a mélange of carrot fregola, braised radish, roasted baby carrot, and cardamom-duck sauce. The mood is comfortable trattoria, cocooned within brick walls, warm wood, a big, welcoming bar, and a clientele of lots of regulars who know to ask about the pasta of the day. The every day menu brims with excellent pastas, as well, like a sumptuous strozzapreti tumbled with braised pork shoulder, peperos, house-made mustard, spinach and a surprise punch of fresh horseradish root; or house made gnocchi smothered in braised wild boar ragu and shaved Parmigiano. The chef also prepares gluten-free pastas, with remarkable flavor.
154 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-766-7600
Find all Sonoma County Restaurants here.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet