Take a Wild, Wonderful Ride with Eclectic Willi's

Willi's Wine Bar

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Take a Wild, Wonderful Ride with Eclectic Willi's

The servers at Willi's Wine Bar love it when diners ask for advice on wine or cocktail pairings with dinner. That's because the menu focuses on some 30 international small plates, ranging from wildly inventive recipes to familiar comfort food, and putting together a meal can be a global adventure.

A creation of acclaimed chef Mark Stark, Willi's occupies a charming roadhouse on the rural edge of Santa Rosa, artfully capturing the casual, free-style nature of fine dining in Sonoma Wine Country. And clearly, the chefs are having fun.

Under 'Surf,' a diner will find curried crab tacos with apple, cucumber and mint, next to skillet roasted shrimp with Fresno chilies, lemon and garlic, next to 'fish & chips' of grilled Monterey Bay sardines with salsa verde and garlic potato chips.

Under 'Turf,' it's Jones Farm rabbit rillettes with spiced grape chutney, or Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with oxtail 'debris' and horseradish, or mu shu bacon wrapped in chive and shiso crepes and dipped in hoisin barbecue sauce.

One of the most popular perches is at the bar. Try a wine cocktail like a Bellini or mimosa made with fruit fresh from the tree and Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs sparkling. Flights are an excellent way to sample several wines, and compare how a Pinot Noir can taste differently depending on whether it was grown along the Russian River or in Alexander Valley.      

Wherever you sit, in the cozy dining room or on the patio, prepare for conversation. This is a social place, populated by regulars, and chatting is as much a part of the delicious mix as sharing and sampling through those many, eclectic dishes.

4404 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096, www.starkrestaurants.com/willis_winebar.html.

Carey Sweet