As we look forward to the new year, and the promise of many amazing new restaurants on the Sonoma County horizon, it’s hard not to take a peek back at some of the biggest openings and closings of 2016. It was a year of big changes and many surprises. Among the changes: More restaurants focused on healthier themes, family-friendly and fast casual. Farm-to-table style cooking is evolving into something more personal, with chefs getting back to basics, but with a new simplicity and focus. We saw more Japanese influences and a whole lot less bacon. Seafood is making huge strides, with more options than ever, and great pastry spots are on the rise.

One of the biggest surprises? Several ambitious, high-profile restaurants as well as old standbys shuttered unexpectedly, leaving some serious holes in the fine dining scene, though new projects and up and comers this year will keep Sonoma County on the Michelin map.

Here are some of the most significant restaurant openings and closings of 2016.

2016 Sonoma County Restaurant Closings

Interior of Revival Restaurant in Guerneville. Photo Kelly Puleio

Interior of Revival Restaurant in Guerneville. Photo Kelly Puleio

Biggest Shocker Closing of 2016: Revival
This ambitious restaurant project by restaurateur Crista Luedtke and Chef Ben Spiegel was derailed only a few months after opening. Given high critical praise for its use of local products, fermentation, and stellar Wine Country cuisine, Revival was poised to become Michelin contender. However, owners of the Applewood Inn, where Revival was located, shuttered the restaurant without warning, shocking not only the kitchen staff, but a San Francisco critic who had a review of the restaurant planned for the coming week. Luedtke promised pop-ups of Revival, starting with a NYE party at Big Bottom Market. See the Revival review.

Santa Rosa
Johnny Garlic’s: Guy Fieri walks away from California restaurants that made him. Flagship Johnny Garlic’s promptly closes.

Seed to Leaf, Flavor Bistro, Torch of India: Ongoing construction on the square may be the straw that broke the restaurants’ back as three restaurants shutter in the busy downtown area.

Brody’s Burgers: Cheap pints and solid burgers seemed a winning combination. But just months after adding fried chicken to the menu, the restaurant closed.

Barbecue Brisket from Rossi's 1906 in Sonoma, California. The new menu features Cal-Tex bbq from chef Ari Weisswasser. Photo Heather Irwin

Barbecue Brisket from Rossi’s 1906 in Sonoma, California. The new menu features Cal-Tex bbq from chef Ari Weisswasser. Photo Heather Irwin

Sonoma
Rossi’s 1906: A valiant effort to revive the former Little Switzerland included solid musical acts and a barbecue menu from Glen Ellen Star’s Ari Weisswasser. Owners are regrouping, with an Asian-style restaurant slated for this spring.

Petaluma
Bistro 100: We were pulling for this little chef-run spot, but after a valiant effort, Chef Garrett Adair pulled the plug to concentrate on his catering biz. The good news: The restaurant was replaced by French comfort bistro Crocodile Cafe, one of our favorite openings of 2016. Also closed, longtime Thai spot, Thai Issan.

Ninebark in Napa (PD file)

Ninebark in Napa is a conde nast reader favorite for 2016 (PD file)

Napa
Ninebark: After much fanfare about the arrival of NYC chef Matthew Lightner, the restaurant lasted less than a year, despite strong critical praise. Restaurant management group AvroKo was behind both Ninebark and its previous resident, The Thomas. There were hopes to reopen, but so far that hasn’t materialized. Also shuttered Atlas Social.

Healdsburg
Ralph’s Bistro: This Healdsburg square institution had revamped to become a martini bar, but owner Ralph Tingle closed the restaurant with plans for another restaurant project in the works. The space has been in construction limbo for months, but the space’s new owner, Bill Foley (Foley Wines, Chalkboard) has plans for a restaurant called Brass Rabbit.

2016 Sonoma County Restaurant Openings

Kyle and Katina Connaughton of Single Thread Farms Restaurant in Healdsburg at their farm. Photo: Jason Jaacks

Kyle and Katina Connaughton of Single Thread Farms Restaurant in Healdsburg at their farm. Photo: Jason Jaacks

Biggest Opening: Single Thread Farms + Restaurant

The anticipation for this haute Healdsburg dining experience was near frothing in the food world. Chef Kyle Connaughton worked on the concept for this seasonally-inspired omakase-style menu with his staff for more than a year during the build-out. Wife Katina runs the nearby farm, featuring hard-to-find fruits and vegetables that can hit the table just hours after being harvested. With prices of $295 per person and up (not including wine), diners are given a bespoke dining experience that can last hours, with intriguing preparations, beautiful service ware and a luxe kitchen-as-theater evening.131 North St, Healdsburg. Read my First Look at Single Thread Farms here.

Tucker's Daily Harvest at Two Birds One Stone, opened by chefs Douglas Keane and Sang Yoon in St. Helena, Napa. Heather Irwin.

Tucker’s Daily Harvest at Two Birds One Stone, opened by chefs Douglas Keane and Sang Yoon in St. Helena, Napa. Heather Irwin.

Biggest Napa Opening: Two Birds/One Stone
In Napa, every restaurant opening tends to be significant, but Top Chef Master’s winner Douglas Keane and LA celeb chef San Yoon’s new project was high on the Bay Area radar. Like the boisterous but culinarily disciplined Keane, Two Birds/One Stone is a wonderful tangle of contradictions: Flip-flop casual with white napkin service; a menu where creamed corn and soft-serve ice cream happily co-exist with cherry blossom gelee and Wagyu beef short ribs. Solid from the start. 3020 St. Helena Hwy. North, St. Helena, 707-302-3777, twobirdsonestonenapa.com.
Biteclub’s First Look at Two Birds/One Stone

Most Interesting Town for Restaurant Openings in 2016: Petaluma

Some of the most exciting openings have happened in southern Sonoma County, where the restaurant scene just continues to explode. There are several more openings anticipated this spring.

Panisse with roasted vegetables and herbed fromage blanc at Crocodile Restaurant in Petaluma. Heather Irwin/PD

Panisse with roasted vegetables and herbed fromage blanc at Crocodile Restaurant in Petaluma. Heather Irwin/PD

Crocodile Cafe: French comfort classics like steak frites and panisse, along with creative takes like pimento cheese Gourgeres and pumpkin croquettes. One of our favorite stops this year. 140 Second St., Suite 100, Petaluma, 707-981-8159, crocodilepetaluma.com. BiteClub’s First Look at Crocodile Cafe.

 

Quinua Cocina Peruana Causa Colonial (Heather Irwin, PD)

Quinua Cocina Peruana Causa Colonial (Heather Irwin, PD)

Quinua Cocina Peruana: New Peruvian restaurant with solid ceviches and authentic South American cuisine. 500 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma, 707-981-7359. BiteClub’s First Look at Quinua Cocina Peruana.

 

The Shuckery in Petaluma opened in July 2016

The Shuckery in Petaluma opened in July 2016

The Shuckery: A project of the venerable Oyster Girls (sisters Aluxa and Jazmine Lalicker), oysters obviously get top billing here, each hand-shucked behind the bar. But seafood dishes like ceviche and calamari relleno make it destination-worthy. 100 Washington St., Petaluma, 707-981-7891, theshuckeryca.co. Biteclub’s First Look at the Shuckery.

Bright Bear Bakery in Petaluma features luxe pastries, cronuts, croissants and morning buns in Petaluma. Photo: Heather Irwin/PD

Bright Bear Bakery in Petaluma features luxe pastries, cronuts, croissants and morning buns in Petaluma. Photo: Heather Irwin/PD

Bright Bear Bakery: The buzz about this incredible little bakery got out fast, as news of cream-filled cronuts (a cross between a croissant and a donut that’s too decadent not to eat), morning buns and fresh breads made the rounds. But when we tried the twice baked croissants? Love in pastry form.2620 Lakeville Hwy., Suite 350, Petaluma, 707-291-10181, facebook.com/brightbearbakery. Biteclub’s First Look at Bright Bear Bakery.

Santa Rosa

Executive Chef Bruce Frieseke and Chef de Cuisine Ben Davies at The County Bench in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Executive Chef Bruce Frieseke and Chef de Cuisine Ben Davies at The County Bench in Santa RosaExecutive Chef Bruce Frieseke and Chef de Cuisine Ben Davies at The County Bench in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD. Heather Irwin/PD

County Bench: A significant opening, with notable local chefs Bruce Frieseke and Ben Davies heading up the kitchen. We’re huge fans of the food and the cocktails, but some service slips and staff turnover (including Frieseke’s departure) have kept the restaurant from really hitting its stride. We hope 2017 is their year. The County Bench Kitchen + Bar, 535 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-535-0700, thecountybench.com. Biteclub’s First Look at County Bench.

Polenta with mushrooms at Franchetti's Wood Fired Kitchen in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Polenta with mushrooms at Franchetti’s Wood Fired Kitchen in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen: We’ll go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best restaurant success story of the year. Though the restaurant existed as part of the Rosso empire previously, a split let Chef John Franchetti really spread his wings in 2016. A new menu, expanded hours and unfalteringly great food using local ingredients is what has always made us love John and his wife Gesine. Finding success in a rather remote office park location makes it even more impressive. 1229 N. Dutton, Santa Rosa, 707-526-1229, franchettis.com. BiteClub’s First Look at Franchetti’s.

Focaccia with pea shoots, asparagus and cream cheese at The Pharmacy. (Heather Irwin)

Focaccia with pea shoots, asparagus and cream cheese at The Pharmacy. (Heather Irwin)

Pharmacy Cafe: Delicious, healthy, intentional food is what’s on the menu at this tiny cafe. The twist: It actually tastes incredible. Chef Jennifer McMurry (formerly of Viola Pastry Cafe) has created a breakfast and lunch menu of food with a conscience. 990 Sonoma Ave. #1, Santa Rosa, 707-978-2801, thepharmacysonomacounty.com. Biteclub’s First Look at Pharmacy.

Tomatina Italian Restaurant in Santa Rosa (courtesy photo)

Tomatina Italian Restaurant in Santa Rosa (courtesy photo)

Tomatina: Though chain-style eateries aren’t usually worthy of much discussion, we’re fans of this fast-casual Italian restaurant with good, approachable Italian-American cuisine at reasonable prices. 2323 Sonoma Ave. in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 707-583-0035, tomatina.com. Biteclub’s First Look at Tomatina

Healdsburg

Sonoma Cider Taproom and Restaurant in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

Sonoma Cider Taproom and Restaurant in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

Sonoma Cider Taproom: More than a 5,500 square foot cider taproom, this Healdsburg addition includes a solid cafe of sandwiches, soups and charcuterie perfect for pairing. 44 Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-723-7018, sonomacider.com. Biteclub’s First Look at Sonoma Cider Taproom.

Interior of Duke's Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. Photo Nat and Cody Gantz.

Interior of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. Photo Nat and Cody Gantz.

Duke’s Spirited Cocktails: Keeping up the 90-year tradition of successive bars at the location (it was formerly John & Zeke’s), cocktails are king at this bar, but with a modern twist. Duke’s is all about seasonal craft libations, aka farm-to-glass drinks that include herbs, fruit vinegars, fruit purees and top shelf artisan booze. 1112 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707-431-1060. Biteclub’s First Look at Duke’s.

Sebastopol

Smoked trout salad at Handline Restaurant in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Smoked trout salad at Handline Restaurant in Sebastopol. Heather Irwin/PD

Handline: Focused on “Coastal California” cuisine, the owner of Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol, this is another spectacular opening.You’ll find plenty of seafood ranging from raw and grilled oysters to fried rockfish tacos, fisherman’s stew, halibut ceviche, and a killer salad with house smoked trout, pickled onion, apple and buttermilk dressing. Best of all: Homemade corn tortillas. 935 Gravenstein Hwy. South, Sebastopol, 707-827-3744, handline.com. Biteclub’s First Look at Handline.

Sonoma

Tapas at Tasca Tasca in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

Tapas at Tasca Tasca in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

Tasca Tasca: The third restaurant for Chef Manuel Azavedo (La Salette, Cafe Lucia), this Portuguese tapas bar is by far one of our favorites. Sit at the casual bar, or grab a table, and order from dozens of authentic small plates. 122 W. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-996-8272, tascatasca.com. Biteclub’s First Look at Tasca Tasca.

hi0916_starlingbar_manhattan
Starling Bar: This new craft cocktail bar in the former Blue Moon is everything a neighborhood bar should be, but with really good cocktails. 19380 Hwy. 12, Sonoma, 707-938-7442, starlingsonoma.com.

New Haven Apizza in Sonoma. Robbi Pengelly, Sonoma Index-Tribune

New Haven Apizza in Sonoma. Robbi Pengelly, Sonoma Index-Tribune

New Haven Apizza: Mexican bakery by day, New Haven-style pizzeria by night. Fernando Garcia, whose family owns Garcia Mexican bakery learned about this East Coast style of pizza after working in a New Haven restaurant for 15 years. 555 Fifth St. West, 707-931-4694, newhavenapizzashop.com.

Cloverdale
Trading Post: This long-anticipated Cloverdale restaurant is yet another feather in the cap of this emerging dining north county destination. Though the small bakery has been open more than a year, the main dining room officially opened Friday with a hearty Sonoma County-inspired menu that includes a house-ground burger on their own brioche, fried chicken thighs, Liberty Farms duck confit over seaweed, Blue Leg Farms roasted chicken, and porchetta. 102 S. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-894-6483, thepostcloverdale.com.