From tapas and champagne to a new pizza place, here’s where to eat and what to eat this fall in Sonoma County.
Kancha is the little tapas and bubble room I’ve always dreamed downtown Santa Rosa would support.
Chef Angel Cayllahua is an experienced chef and sommelier with a simple but ridiculously good menu of cold and warm tapas-style plates that draw from his Peruvian upbringing and Japanese restaurant training. His sake collection is stunning, the bubbly flights are fantastic, and the cozy interior space matches the clean, bright dishes coming out of the thimble-size kitchen.
Cold seafood bites of ceviche, tartare and causas (a Peruvian potato dish) are Cayllahua’s specialty. Salmon tartare ($17) is topped by a gentle foam of ponzu and studded with pine nuts and serrano chiles for a sweet-tart-briny mouthful.
Especially good is the limena causa ($22), made with a base of whipped purple potato mixed with lime juice and Peruvian chiles and topped with creamy Dungeness crab salad.
Larger hot dishes include Dungeness crabcakes ($24) and a shockingly good Peruvian play on mac and cheese ($16), with creamy, tangy huancaina sauce and a panko crust. Mussels ($18) come in a broth flavored with chicha de jora, a corn beer, and huacatay, a black mint paste — a distinctly Peruvian combination that works perfectly.
For dessert, Cayllahua offers a refreshing coconut parfait with coconut tapioca pearls, shaved ice, mango puree, and coconut foam. The wine list is impressive, but tasting flights ($35) of premier cru Champagne and sparkling wines are your best bet.
Open daily; happy hour from 4-6 p.m. 643 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707-623-9793, kanchasr.com
Sonoma County has always sheepishly claimed to have great barbecue, but only recently has true pit-smoked, Oakland-style 'cue arrived on scene. Opened in July at the Graton Resort & Casino, this is the first North Bay location for the nearly 50-year-old barbecue dynasty widely considered part of the “holy trinity” of Oakland’s celebrated African-American barbecue culture.
“I just want to continue to make my mom and aunties proud,” says Shamar Cotton, the grandson of founder Dorothy Everett and manager of the casino restaurant. Everett opened the first Everett & Jones restaurant in 1973 with just $700 to her name. The former domestic worker and single mother of nine children put her family to work as cooks, dishwashers and servers, and built a following through word-of-mouth. The menu has remained constant — smoked beef links, pork ribs, barbecued brisket, and chicken. Traditional sides include potato salad, baked beans, green beans, and macaroni and cheese.
Southern-style red velvet cake and peach cobbler round out an uncomplicated menu that stays true to the flavorful, slow-cooking methods that put them on the map.
Everett & Jones relies on the tried-and-true Southern tradition of brick-pit grilling, a method that doesn’t always mesh with stringent California restaurant codes. (The original Oakland and Berkeley restaurants, built decades before modern restaurant regulations, have grandfathered clauses that allow the family to continue to cook with a brick pit and wood coals.) The new Rohnert Park restaurant, located on sovereign Native American tribal land, uses a double-decker steel cabinet encased in brick that holds burning wood coals at the bottom. A large upper oven smokes the delicious meats.
Hidden well off the Sonoma Square, this inconspicuous Arnold Drive roadhouse flies so far under the radar that most locals don’t even know about it. But with some of the best casual, family-friendly comfort food around, it’s time for chef/owner Lauren Cotner’s close-up.
The menu focuses on nosh-worthy fried chicken sandwiches, everything-but-the-sink salads and a changing lineup of sandwiches and bowls. The fried chicken sandwich ($16) is the Goldilocks of sandwiches: A chicken breast that isn’t too thick or too thin, a soft but not wimpy bun, and breading that stays crispy-crunchy. My fave version is the Nashville, dripping with pimento cheese, sweet-pickled jalapeños, and ranch dressing. So naughty, but so nice.
Cotner’s hot Dungeness crab melt ($24) is loaded with warm Old Bay-spiced crab salad on a buttery brioche bun with cheddar, tomato, and Meyer lemon mayonnaise. And the banh mi-ahi poke bowl salad ($18) is a rainbow of black rice, pickled daikon, cucumber, watermelon radish, mint, and ruby-red chunks of tuna. Cotner gets the sauce game right on this one, putting both Sriracha aioli and a creamy miso dressing on the side.
Describing her restaurant as west Sonoma’s punk rock little sister, Cotner loves to surprise: Barbie dioramas peek from corners, a hand-drawn sketch of SNL actor Chris Farley sports a crown near the front door, and in-the-know diners frequent monthly movie nights in full costume. You can’t not have fun here.
Open for lunch daily; check online for updated hours. 18709 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. 707-721-4231, delicious-dish.square.site
This open, airy restaurant finally brings much-needed casual, family-friendly dining to Forestville, in rural west county. Wood-oven pizzas (from $18) keep it super-simple, with ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, basil, chiles, and fresh mozzarella.
These blistery pizzas barely kiss the oven for 90 seconds or so but get a nice little char. The Mushroom Mycopia ($23) is made with a fermented dough topped with St. Jorge cream, mushrooms, mozzarella, cheese, spring onions, and chimichurri. All pizzas are around 12 inches, so if you’re very hungry, you may want two.
Dips are part of the party, with homemade ranch, green goddess, and almond tahini ready to douse your slice. And the burrata and beets tapas ($18) are a beauty, with tart strawberries, pistachios, puffed barley, and a honey-sumac vinaigrette.
Open for dinner Wed.- Sun. 6615 Front St., Forestville. 707-820-1031, sonomapizzaco.com
There’s nothing that says happiness more than a dangerously delicious Piggy Punch cocktail served in a pink pig glass. The former Mother’s Ruin has been transformed into a modern garden retreat that’s light and convivial with some of the most whimsical cocktails in town. It’s the post-Covid adventure of Alex and Katie Bowman of Graton’s Bowman Cellars, who said the idea to open the bar came to them like a ton of bricks after seeing the empty businesses.
“I was staring at this pile of bricks in my yard when I suddenly thought of the Three Little Pigs,” says Alex. “The third little pig built a house of bricks that withstood all the trials and attempts of the Big Bad Wolf. Right now, we don’t know what to expect with everything going on in the world. So let’s build something that is going to last.”
Danielle Peters and Erin Clossey of Good Folks Hospitality, a Sonoma beverage consultancy, are behind the cocktail menu, including the dangerously delicious Piggy Punch made with rum, Swedish punsch, chicha morada (a purple corn drink), lime, and cardamom bitters, served in a piggy cocktail glass. Classic cocktails like the Mai Tai and the Southside (gin, lime, orange bitters and mint) round out the menu.After one drink you’ll be squealing for more.
Open Wed.-Sat. evenings. 116 S. Main St., Sebastopol. thirdpigbar.com
At this family-run brewpub in Geyserville, one brother brews while the other operates the kitchen. More than just fried pub grub, chef Tom Adamian’s menu includes lots of comforting dishes like meatball sliders, pulled lamb on focaccia with preserved lemons, and a perfect pickled veggie sando on thick slices of bread (my favorite).
They also sell beers from other brewers. Try the funky Smelltron 3030 from Santa Rosa’s Cooperage Brewing Co. or the super-refreshing Lavender Radler from Rohnert Park-based Old Caz Beer.
Open Thurs.- Sun. 21079 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707-814-0110, cornerprojectales.com
The Farmhouse Inn, nestled among the vineyards of the Russian River Valley, has long been a favorite getaway. Alongside luxury accommodations, part of the allure has been the resort’s Michelin-rated restaurant.
New chef de cuisine Shawn Jackson Clara is overseeing a revamped dining program, which now includes a casual sister restaurant called Farmstand under the direction of executive chef Trevor Anderson. Both Clara and Anderson are Farmhouse Inn alums.
The menu is entirely a la carte, with impossibly fresh vegetable dishes (many from co-owner Joe Bartolomei’s garden) that change with the season, such as sweet roasted carrots with salsa verde, a late-summer pressed watermelon with feta and black olives, and cool red beets with berries and pistachio butter. Wood-fired pizzas ($24-$25) are generous in size — the maitake mushroom and black truffle-leek cream pizza takes top honors in our book. Larger entrees, like a grilled flatiron steak or half chicken, range from $18 to $38.
This captivating experience, with deck seating that takes advantage of the property’s woodsy charm, is a comparative deal for the area. On Wednesday nights, Farmstand offers a prix fixe menu for $65 per person, which includes an outdoor movie in the courtyard.
7871 River Rd., Forestville. 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com
Written by Heather Irwin