Get a taste of Sonoma County's best restaurants with these delicious award winners by Michelin and Zagat for 2018.
Read on for suggestions on new hot spots, revamped gems and ideas on what to eat this year:
Michelin and Zagat had plenty to say about Sonoma County restaurants. In the 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country, the new SingleThread in Healdsburg scores with two stars, for “excellent cuisine, worth a detour.”
Michelin handed out the Bib Gourmands awards, too, representing remarkable restaurants that serve two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included). Gaining acclaim were Diavolo Pizzeria + Salumi in Geyserville, Backyard in Forestville, Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg, Chalkboard in Healdsburg, Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen, Monti’s Rotisserie & Bar in Santa Rosa, Risibisi in Petaluma, SHED Café in Healdsburg, and Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol.
Zagat Guide's “Essential Sonoma County Restaurants” for the year:
In Santa Rosa, The Spinster Sisters.
In Freestone, Wild Flour Bread.
In Duncan Mills, Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery.
In Forestville, Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant.
In Rohnert Park, Hana Japanese Restaurant.
In Geyserville, Diavolo Pizzeria + Salumi.
In Sebastopol, Ramen Gaijin.
New award-winning restaurants recently opened in Sonoma County:
Restaurateurs Kyle and Katina Connaughton finessed every last detail of the combination restaurant and luxury inn. They planted their own five acre SingleThread Farms property between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch nearby, and established a 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden above the restaurant, both dedicated to growing boutique ingredients for the food and cocktail menus. There, Katina raises delicacies like several types of negi (onions), root vegetables like kintoki carrots and kabu turnip, greens like chingensai and komatsuna, Japanese pumpkins, kamo nasu (eggplant), and yurine (lily bulbs).
Set in a grand building owned by the Seghesio wine family near Healdsburg Plaza, the elegant space is home to equally sophisticated cooking. The concept is kaiseki — elaborate multicourse meals crafted as art — and donabe — rustic clay pot cooking. Menus change daily, but might means delicacies like black cod Fukkura-san (donabe style) with root vegetables, cabbage, charred onion, and walnut-nori pesto; plus wild salmon donabe-smoked over cherry-blossom-wood with fermented rice, salmon roe, and wild ginger.
Even with all the exotica, there’s a healthy dose of Sonoma County in the seasonal recipes, with the farm boasting olive trees, beehives and chickens, all to feed the restaurant. Other specialties might include Sonoma Coast sea urchin with kojo negi custard, watercress and caviar; and whole roast Sonoma pigeon with purple mustard spinach, matsutake mushroom and sansho (pepper spice) vinaigrette.
Rosie Wiggins is a first time restaurateur, but her creation is quite inspired, with colorful, character-charged dishes like charred sweet potato dressed with Beluga lentils, labneh, harrisa, and ghee. Individually, each ingredient is healthy, down to the labneh (yogurt cheese) and ghee (clarified butter). But together, they create a terrific sensation of taste and texture. Indeed, Wiggins promises us they’ve put together a destination “meant to nourish both body and soul.”
Many of the small plates ranges are vegan or vegetarian, including a lively spin on arancini made with pumpkin, romesco, chevre, and kale gremolata, or the barbecue veggie burger dressed with tomato chutney on a sourdough bun (served with healthy sweet potato fries, of course).
Still, there’s plenty for heartier eaters to enjoy. Kofta meatballs are made with chicken, crisped on the exterior and dunked in yogurt with pomegranate and mint, while duck cassoulet is well-stocked with confit and lamb belly, melded with smoked heirloom beans, kale truffle, and a finishing crust of sourdough breadcrumbs.
Even liquor aims for a healthy bent amid our indulgence, emphasizing spirits, beer and wine in biodynamic, organic and sulfate-free options, plus homemade whole-plant herb tinctures and shrubs for mixing.
More Favorite Sonoma County restaurants:
Former Dry Creek Kitchen talent Dustin Valette is rocking the food world in this former Zin restaurant space, bringing in crowds for his contemporary Cal-global cooking and a sexy, reclaimed wood-trimmed, open kitchen ambience. Reservations are recommended to score a table laden with seasonally (and often weekly) changing dishes like slow cooked celeriac soup with toasted pistachios, yellow beet tartare and goat cheese meringue, or crispy skin local sable fish with MIX garden bok choy, roasted ginger dashi, toasted soba noodles and spicy kimchee purée.
Be sure to start with hand crafted charcuterie from the custom-made curing case, and if you’re feeling adventurous, tuck into the “Trust Me” menu where Valette sends out a multi-course feast of his daily picks.
Matzoh ball soup, prepared ramen style. Cheesy grits topped in pickled shiitakes, grilled chicken, cured egg, and spicy schmaltz. They seem like odd recipes, but restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark are professionals, so their modern tavern melting pot works well.
There are grilled and chilled shellfish accompanied by Southern Saltines and Korean chile buerre blanc; clam chowder studded with kielbasa; kimchee latkes with sour cream and garlic chives; chicken fried oysters with shiso leaf and spicy mayo; and schmears like smoked black cod with sour cream, onion, and fresh horseradish. Try it, you’ll likely be happily surprised.
Tucked away off Sonoma Plaza, Nick and Jen Demarest have created a true jewel, which charms diners with glittering fresh Cal-Med cuisine. Cuddle up with your sweetheart at a table set with wildflowers in the country-casual dining room, or on the Wine-Country-perfect garden patio.
The chef-owners trained at Chez Panisse, and it shows, with craft cooking on a nightly changing menu that might feature roasted fennel soup decorated with chive blossoms, sea beans, and Olive Leaf Hills Farm olive oil; marinated beets and golden cauliflower with tarragon, soft-cooked egg, bonito, and tonnato sauce; or grilled local swordfish with grilled asparagus, steamed Basmati rice, and sage-roasted garlic butter.
It may seem odd to be proud of a drive through, except this is a showpiece of locally sourced, boutique products, and it might well be a true café, decorated with a living plant roof and solar panels. There’s even table service, and the fast food isn’t entirely fast, since all recipes are made from scratch and cooked to-order.
It comes from the creators of Amy’s Kitchen, all the food is vegetarian, and available as vegan and/or gluten free, but really, you won’t miss the meat. Skinny sunflower seed oil-fried fries are smothered in thick tofu chili and cheese, while the Amy’s Burger brings a double patty of veggies, mushrooms and grains, topped with double cheese, tomato, onion, Sonoma Brinery pickle, and Fred Sr.’s regular or spicy secret sauce all on a toasted bun. For more farm-fresh flavors, dig into the sweet salad of seasonal lettuces, roasted yellow beets, dried cranberries, candied pecans and goat cheese with ranch, balsamic or raspberry vinaigrette, and cap it off with a Sonoma dairy-sourced milkshake.
The bakers are hard at work at this steaming hot project from San Francisco’s AQ, TBD, and Bon Marché team. From the hearth oven emerges golden crusted country levain, focaccia to be topped with goodies like meat and cheese, and a sinful dessert bread made with 50 percent flour and water, and 50 percent fruit and nuts.
Recently, a full restaurant opened next door, tempting with farm-to-table bites such as fried chicken with veggies in apple cider glaze, cabbage bacon soup with poached pear and brown butter crouton, or Dungeness crab tartine with fennel and radish.
Owners Jim and Michele Wimborough wow with Cal-Med cuisine at this cute cottage, in savory signatures like scallop crudo dressed with Santa Rosa plums, or grilled octopus with River Dog cannelini beans, shaved fennel, watercress, orangen and olives.
Most ingredients are local, like the Valley Ford cheese on the sweet corn, cherry tomato and jalapeno pizza, or the just-caught salmon roasted in the oven with leeks, Yukon creamers, tomatoes, spring onions, and Greek olives. Local wines? You bet.
In 1921, the big white building on Main Street housed an actual bank full of money. Now, its vaults are full of pies and ice cream. Doing double duty as a collective retail and art gallery space, the eye-candy design offers an eclectic mix of art shows, handcrafted pies, homemade ice cream, clothing, and home accessories, plus a history display of Guerneville compliments of the Russian River Historical Society.
The pies come from Chilepies Baking Co. in flavors like strawberry rhubarb, apricot cherry, or the signature chile apple pie made with sweet apple and green chile filling, cheddar cheese crust, walnut streusel topping, and red chile honey drizzle. The ice cream, meanwhile, is the work of Nimble & Finn’s, in temptations like Bulleit Bourbon with chocolate covered pretzels, cold steeped Melody coffee, or lavender honeycomb.
Revamped Gems to Enjoy:
This magical little spot was recently expanded in order to serve its many fans, but hasn’t lost an inch of its charm. The setting is bistro, down to white linens, and the service is old-school delightful, meaning it’s attentive, friendly, and professional, without being obtrusive.
The food is elegant but Wine Country approachable, offering seasonal and local fare such as house-made crab cakes, fresh oysters, and house made charcuterie. New to the menu are chef-caliber craft cocktails, more wood-fired grill items, a greater variety of craft beers, and an expanded raw bar. And it all adds up to a dreamy place to gaze into each other’s eyes — more oysters, please?
Sondra Bernstein’s Cal-Med restaurant has been a neighborhood gem for nearly two decades now, but an extensive renovation has updated the rustic space into an artsy treasure that feels nearly big city with its stunning handcrafted woodwork, bold geometric metals and eclectic use of minerals, refined ceramic, glass and granite. Much of the work was by local artists, and even the menu board is presented on wood slabs dyed with juice from local Grenache grapes.
The small eatery is constantly busy, so make reservations, especially for weekend brunch. What’s on offer changes with what the local farms produce fresh, but it might be lightly fried housemade mortadella-stuffed olives with anchovy rémoulade, or Mt. Lassen trout in brown butter with sunchokes, preserved lemon and marinated ricotta. And for a real deal, a daily plat du jour dinner brings three luscious courses for $29.
In 2015, owner Ken Tominaga completed an extensive renovation on his wildly popular Japanese eatery, nearly doubling the space. He added a lounge with a low-slung, overstuffed couch, a long, raw wood table, and a raw wood bar set with raw stump stools, to complement the main dining room and sushi bar that shines with seasonal offerings like gnome fish and amberjack.
The new bar in the lounge also specializes in sake, curated by sake sommelier Stuart Morris, who also services San Francisco’s newish Pabu and Ramen Bar, from chef Michael Mina and Tominaga.
Now, get ready to eat!
Over one hundred restaurants offer fantastic meals at special prices during the tenth annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week. This is a great time to explore new dining options or enjoy old favorites, and build many more mouthwatering memories.
Find more info about restaurants in Sonoma County.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet