It’s been a long, difficult winter as local chefs opened, closed, opened, went on hiatus, and tried everything they could to keep diners entertained. Now, as the spring weather warms and vaccinations increase, we can finally enjoy some outdoor dining together — and maybe even return to some indoor dining before the summer. Here are four Sonoma County restaurants to add to your must-visit list.
One of the most exciting new restaurants in Sonoma County launched with a dream and two well-invested stimulus checks.
Longtime Petaluma chef Stéphane Saint Louis, who has worked in some of the world’s top kitchens, says he and business partner and chef Steven Vargas invested their pandemic stimulus checks into electric-car company Tesla as a last resort when they realized their SBA loans simply weren’t going to be available to them during difficult restaurant times.
A $2,400 investment turned into a $17,000 windfall that’s launched not only a forthcoming mobile kitchen, but also a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Petaluma. You might say Tesla put them on the road to success.
Table Culture Provisions started quietly, popping up a night or two a week at Petaluma’s Wishbone restaurant and serving fried chicken. It caught my attention in early September as a word-of-mouth recommendation from a few locals. Then the hours expanded, and the menu started getting really interesting — a Haitian feast, classic French dishes like cassoulet, dry-aged steaks, trout en croute, and upscale brunch dishes, including an outstanding Monte Cristo. Mentions of brioche, homemade pomegranate raspberry jam, and delicate cross-cut potato chips with onion dip made it even more impossible to resist.
And so it went, the kitchen gaining steam as Saint Louis and Vargas tempted fans with their seductive Instagram feed, @tcprovisions. Fair warning, it’s not recommended on an empty stomach.
In early January, the duo purchased Wishbone, the carefully-cultivated Petaluma space which owners Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt put up for sale in 2019. What’s so special about the sale is that it allows for complete continuity of unfettered creativity, obsessive locality, and passion for of-the-moment ingredients. Serendipity? Maybe.
“We know how crazy the world is and how fast it changes, and we always had this mentality that we didn’t want to settle or be part of the chaos of the world. So while everything was happening, we still had to feed people — and Petaluma has a refined palate. We wanted to be here and do comfort food, things we like to cook and eat with the best ingredients in a 25- to 50-mile radius from us,” said Saint Louis. “It’s just about cooking for people, having fun, and having visions and dreams of where our careers can take us.”
Saint Louis, 34, and Vargas, 28, met at Della Fattoria, a launchpad for many restaurant careers, then later worked together as executive and sous chef at the Shuckery, my favorite Petaluma seafood spot. Donaldson knew Saint Louis from Della, they reconnected late last summer, and, voilà, the Table Culture Provisions pop-up was born as a way for Saint Louis and Vargas to make a little extra money to put to the long-term goal of buying a mobile kitchen.
A New York-born world traveler, Saint Louis speaks with a hint of a French accent after having lived in Haiti for 17 years. He moved to Northern California in his late teens, attended the California Culinary Academy, then worked at restaurants in Palm Springs, Miami, and Sonoma. He moved to France to study at the Paul Bocuse Institute, parlaying that into stints in Shanghai and Copenhagen. Vargas is a Santa Rosa Junior College culinary graduate whom Saint Louis recruited to work at Della Fattoria. Together, they are an incredible team.
OVERALL: This tiny pop-up punches far above its weight class, harnessing passion, creativity, and classic techniques, making it one of the best and brightest openings in Sonoma County.
Open Thursday through Sunday for takeout, and brunch on the patio Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit the restaurant’s website for updated hours and to see what’s currently on offer — and if their Famous Fried Chicken is featured, order it post-haste.
841 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma, 707-796-3375.
We can’t wait to sit in the lush Cornerstone gardens this summer, nibbling Black truffle-chicken hand pies, steak tartare with fried capers and hash browns, wild mushroom tartine, and fried chicken with hot honey at the newly opened Folktable at Cornerstone, a restaurant from Sonoma’s “Top Chef” finalist Casey Thompson.
The anchor restaurant at the evolving wine, art, and event space is the first of several eateries planned by the celebrity chef, who has gained national notoriety at her restaurants in Texas and San Francisco. Thompson announced plans to open another restaurant, Georgette, last February in the former General’s Daughter. Due to the pandemic, that project was put on hold. Folktable replaces the short-lived Palooza Beer Garden and Eatery, which opened last spring.
Chef de Cuisine Melanie Wilkerson oversees the creative — and expanding — menu that includes tasty dishes like salt and pepper fries with malt vinegar aioli, chicken soup with pancetta, open-faced Dungeness crab sandwiches, slowbraised lentil soup, an Angus beef burger, banana cream pie, and buttermilk carrot cake. Wilkerson and Thompson met while working at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
23584 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-356-3569.
In 2016, when Flavor Bistro closed in downtown Santa Rosa, there was a collective groan. Gone was that perfect not-too-expensive spot to take Mom and Dad to dinner or to escape for date night. Gone was the place your boss took the team after a big project launch.
In October, however, Flavor made its valiant return — in Sebastopol.
Also returning are many classics: pillows of butternut squash ravioli in sage brown butter with walnut gremolata, the pork chop in cream sauce with gratin potatoes, the buttery apple tart with caramel sauce and Flavor Bistro’s famous dessert bombas. Oh yes, friends, they’re all back. Did I mention the crab cakes with crispy shoestring yams?
Before you get too wrapped up in the menu, however, I do have some bad news. The new menu is quite abbreviated and some favorites — the Singapore noodles, short ribs, and Croque-Madame — haven’t made the cut. I don’t doubt that will change as they bring back lunch (and possibly breakfast), but do manage your expectations. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Outdoor patio, limited parking, simple online ordering at flavorbistro.com.
7365 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-861-3642.
Popular Petaluma fishmonger Annalicia Svedise has moved her fish market across town. The daughter of the late Mike Svedise of Santa Rosa Seafood, she’s built her own sustainable seafood empire with line-caught fish primarily sourced from local fishermen. Construction started before the pandemic, and now that it is finally complete, she’s planning to open a seafood restaurant this spring here as well.
901 Lakeville St., Petaluma, 707-664-5074.
By: Heather Irwin