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New Restaurant Hazel in Occidental

Short Ribs

Sonoma County’s charm bracelet of tiny towns is a traveler’s dream, especially when a visitor discovers the many top-notch restaurants tucked away in these tiny hamlets. Talented restaurateurs are drawn to out-of-the-way locales, in part because of the bounty of great ingredients in these agricultural/ranching areas, and in part because of the quality of life they can enjoy.

Case in point: Jim and Michele Wimborough had been cooking in big name San Francisco and Berkeley kitchens in the Bay Area (Zut! on Fourth, Grand Café, and Boulevard to name a few) for the past 15 years. But it had been their dream to find the perfect small town to open their own restaurant, become part of a community and raise their son, Graham.

Voila: they recently debuted Hazel in Occidental, in the charming cottage space that formerly was Bistro des Copains. The concept is rustic, Mediterranean inspired cuisine, drawing from West County’s seasonal and sustainable produce, meats, fish and dairy. At the heart of the eatery are two wood fired ovens, for specialties like pizzas decorated in sweet corn cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, fromage blanc, Valley Ford Estero Gold cheese.

It’s a family affair, with Jim manning the flames, and Michele making desserts like fresh fruit shortcakes, rich pots de crème, gooey sundaes, cookies and cakes. The restaurant is named after Jim's great grandmother, a dedicated cook and expert hostess, and there’s even a kids’ menu, approved by Graham.

The fare, which changes often, speaks of the quiet, genteel burg nestled in the redwoods but just minutes from the ocean. To start, a guest might find niceties like scallop crudo dressed with lime, chile de espelette, Santa Rosa plums and kohlrabi ($8), or grilled octopus with River Dog cannelini beans, shaved fennel, watercress, orange and olives ($9).

For a hearty entrée, there’s short ribs atop polenta with thumbelina carrots, lacinato kale and Olivina olive oil ($24), or oven roasted salmon gussied with leeks, cherry tomatoes, Yukon creamers, spring onions, Greek olives and white wine ($25). Vegetarians can be happy, too, with dishes like quinoa studded with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, lacinato kale, baby carrots, English peas, lemon tahini and Greek yogurt ($18).

And be sure to save room for dessert.

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