Dining at Russian River Vineyards, Restaurant & Farm
The newly renovated Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards in Forestville is anchored by a very important thing: a culinary garden. That’s because the eatery showcases spectacular, garden-fresh cuisine with ingredients supplied by winery farmer Kayta Brady.
Formerly known as Corks, the Restaurant has been working its way toward the garden theme since the summer of 2014, when its ownership team dug the first small section of dirt to grow staples like tomatoes and peppers.
Since then, Brady has built the area into a virtual Eden, spanning 1.25 acres of certified organic greens, beans, squash, root veggies, edible flowers, herbs, corn and some fruit.
The result is mouthwatering farm-to-table meals, served from noon until 8 p.m. nightly, all in a spectacular winery setting.
The look: The property dates back to 1963, and has long been a pretty place with its gardens, antique trucks, and the rustic feel to the old farmhouse that holds the restaurant. Now, the place is rustic chic — quite elegant indoors and out with bistro and picnic tables, couch areas, and a stunning dining patio set with elegant wood tables and mismatched pattern fabric chairs.
Outside, flowers and succulents add extra color to the verdant scene, jazzed further with live music at times, and visits from the winemaker’s dogs, too. Inside, oak, pine, and brick frame expansive windows overlooking the patio, plus lots of original local art dresses up the walls.
To eat: Driven by the garden, the menu from chef Ben Davies changes frequently. It’s always delicious, reflecting his training at several Michelin-starred restaurants including Meadowood, Murray Circle, and the former Mirepoix, plus most recently, as chef de cuisine at Santa Rosa’s now-closed County Bench.
Definitely get the caramelized onion soup if it’s available, for rich, soul satisfying broth stocked with Yellow Eye beans and braising greens ($10). Halibut tartine is another great starter, layering tart fermented celery amid the smoked fish, shaved radish, arugula, and red onion aioli scooped up with country toast ($18). And for a nice winter-style starter, the boar meatballs hit the spot, served with buttery squash puttanesca ($16).
The vegetable sandwich reminds me of a fancy falafel, stacked with a crispy spaghetti squash fritter, smoked blue cheese mousse, pickled fennel, greens, and delicata squash dressed in sweet-and-sour ($16). It’s so flavorful that even my meat-loving companion asked for more bites. We both liked the beef burger a lot, too, the patty big and perfectly seasoned beneath applewood smoked bacon, butter lettuce, caramelized onions, yellow tomato, Fiscalini cheddar, and aioli on a brioche bun ($20), rounded out with excellent homemade potato chips that are airy, light, and addictive.
At dinner, the chef adds some inventive entrees, such as a very good crispy campfire chicken dressed with smoked butter, spigarello, black pepper maple glazed chanterelle mushrooms, and frisee – the dish really shows his love of unexpected flavors that work surprisingly well together.
For another example, consider the Liberty Duck breast. The crisp-skin meat is superb on its own, paired with a bit of duck confit and elevated with fire roasted kohlrabi, red bok choy, sweet-tart huckleberry gastrique, and a lovely walnut puree that adds deep, earthy notes ($34).
To note: Besides enjoying a full meal, this is my new favorite place for a snack and bottle of wine. Both the charcuterie board and cheese board ($22 each) are generously laden, and pretty with nasturtium mustard, olives, and pickled vegetables or artisanal honey, membrillo, and candied nuts, respectively. Sitting in the garden nibbling and sipping is the quintessential Sonoma County experience.
Dessert: Seasonal bites are superb, such as a plum cake that’s like mini donuts stuffed with tart-sweet fruit puree.
To drink: Russian River Vineyards wines, naturally, including Stony Point Pinot Noir ($12 glass/$46 bottle). Winemaker and co-owner Giovanni Balistreri crafts them all.
Details: 5700 Highway 116 N., Forestville, 707-887-3344, russianrivervineyards.com.