7 Restaurants for Rehearsal Dinners in Wine Country
The wedding ceremony usually takes the spotlight, but as any betrothed couple knows, the rehearsal dinner is where it first begins to shine. That can mean two opportunities for splendor, actually, with Sonoma County restaurants ready to make that first-time official gathering of friends and family nearly as remarkable as the big day.
Don't feel the need to follow the rules, either. Stuffy ballrooms or stodgy banquet spaces are out. Why not stage the celebration in a café art studio, beer garden, or in a bakery? With that last, you might taste your cake, and then eat it too (at your reception the next day). Need help planning your Sonoma Wine Country wedding? Check out our wedding guide.
Whatever you choose, you can select from sumptuous menus built with local ingredients from Bellwether Farms, Early Bird's Place, Mix Garden, The Patch, Preston Farm & Winery, and more, for mouthwatering dishes like cauliflower soup with caramelized florets, raisins, fried capers, toasted almonds, and sage; and sautéed Pacific swordfish with fregola sarda, green goddess, cracked crab, olive, and tomato confit. Details: 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100
Built in 1903 and previously used as a railroad powerhouse and a farmhouse, this rustic stone-and-timber tavern provides a fun and relaxed brew pub setting for your rehearsal dinner. The indoor dining room provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere for smaller groups. The outdoor beer garden, complete with fountains and a fire pit, allows up to 225 guests and can be a blast on sunny days or warm summer nights. (It's also good in the winter months, when it's professionally tented and heated.) The onsite event planner can assist with all the details. Hopmonk features a full bar with craft beer, local wine, and premium spirits; an outdoor stage; and audio visual equipment. Details: 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-7300
At the Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa, guests are welcomed by a stunning, 35-foot tall, European-style structure of natural stone, set in a fountain courtyard framed by manicured gardens and flowers. There are other beautiful venues on the sprawling property, too, such as a vineyard gazebo, the John Ash & Co. restaurant, River Vine restaurant, and intimate courtyard or terrace spaces. Any or all make a memorable rehearsal dinner space, for small groups, meetings with up to 300, and receptions for up to 500 guests.
Custom menus from chef Thomas Schmidt reflect his passion for authentic Sonoma County wine country cuisine, with delights procured from more than 30 Sonoma County farmers and food producers, plus the restaurant's own on-site fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens. Seasonal bites might include roasted spring asparagus with a poached farm egg, pancetta, and crispy shallots in truffle honey vinaigrette; and Petaluma Poultry Rocky boneless chicken griddled under a brick then plated with creamed corn and leeks, la ratte potatoes, and Hobbs' bacon. Details: 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-566-2604
Put a regional Italian twist on the festivities with the grand old historic Marshall House Victorian mansion in old town Santa Rosa. Owners and husband-and-wife Marco Diana and Karin Hoehne use recipes drawing 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. Enjoy al fresco flair on the porch overlooking the fountain garden framed in flowering trees, and larger parties are welcome to take over the entire restaurant space. Details: 835 Second St., Santa Rosa, 707-542-5800
With the opening of the new patio in 2014, parties can be as glamorous as anyone could dream, sparked with elaborate décor like the circular floor done in a swirl of Italian black-and-white-checkerboard marble. The space includes a brand new garden, outdoor bar, and separate restroom building, and plenty of room for dancing, live music, and picture perfect Wine Country photo backdrops.
The patio alone spans 3,500 square feet and holds up to 150 people; the adjacent garden spans another 3,500 square feet, with gravel paths framed by flowers, bushes and trees. Add in delicious history, too, since the Catelli family has owned the property for nearly 80 years, and still draws raves for their luscious, authentic, Italian dishes like hearty minestrone, baby beet salad with prosciutto, and wild mushroom lasagna. Details: 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3471
A Healdsburg institution since 1923, the European-style bakery specializes in sourdough, rustic batards, and sweet French bread, plus crunchy-crust ciabatta, multigrain loaves fermented with a touch of molasses, and many other recipes that take 24 to 48 hours to craft. Many people eat the bread plain or simply smeared with creamery butter, but you can also get the slices as sandwiches, like salami, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, and aioli. Yet did you know that the lovely French-décor shop welcomes up to 200 guests for stand-up evening events on the open-air patio, 80 friends for custom sit down dinners, and varying numbers for intimate cocktail parties and small private meetings?
You might want a full meal of appetizers and hors d'oeuvres, salads, and entrées, or perhaps casual sandwich platters and buffet items. It's all mouthwatering, with signatures like fromage and fruit, salumi baguettes, and deep-dish quiche. Don't miss the gorgeous sweets, either – graceful fondant cakes finished in buttercream swirls and chocolate flowers, seasonal fruit tarts, gooey éclairs, cookies, and house-made candies. Details: 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913
Located in a historic stone building tucked away about a block north of the Sonoma Plaza, this romantic Italian "country inn" style restaurant features glass-walled dining rooms overlooking a lovely Italian garden with reflection pool, a Tuscan-style pergola, a dancing terrace, an outdoor stone fireplace, and a private bar. A perfect setting for groups from 20 to 150.
Chef Michael Ghilarducci and his wife Gia opened the Depot Hotel Restaurant in 1985, followed by their cooking school in 1987. Their son, Chef Antonio Ghilarducci, became executive chef in 2014, after honing his skills at some of Northern California best restaurants, include La Folie, The French Laundry, Redd, and El Dorado Kitchen. The seasonal menus feature rustic Italian cuisine with fresh Wine Country style.
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Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.