Liberty Farms duck leg with pistachio dukka, baba ganoush and pomagrates is the Best Sonoma County Restaurant Dish of 2015

Liberty Farms duck leg with pistachio dukka, baba ganoush and pomagrates is the Best Sonoma County Restaurant Dish of 2015

As the year comes to a close, it’s always fun to look back at the best dishes of the year — or at least my favorites.

Choosing the best from hundreds of meals isn’t easy, and admittedly is rather subjective, but a few dozen rise to the top as truly special.

Wild fennel soup with smoked trout at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg

Wild fennel soup with smoked trout at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg

Anyone who’s dined with me knows the gratified look I reserve for these remarkable, memorable dishes and the hand clapping that usually accompanies it (I’m not subtle). So, what makes a great dish for me? It’s a combination of flavor, mouthfeel and elements of surprise that I find most delightful — which can come in almost any form, and at any price point.

Preston Farms carrot salad at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Preston Farms carrot salad at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Some are from fancy restaurants you know, others from food trucks or strip mall finds, or even a standout dish from a restaurant that I didn’t otherwise find memorable. For example, on the affordable end of the spectrum, I fell in love with a vegan chia parfait from Seed on the Go, Indian flatbread at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco and a bowl of shakshouka (basically eggs in a spicy, Mediterranean tomato sauce) from Goodman’s Jewish Deli. At the luxe end, a beautiful plate of seared foie gras at Valette captured my heart.

Seared foie gras with baby kiwi and almonds at Valette in Healdsburg.

Seared foie gras with baby kiwi and almonds at Valette in Healdsburg.

In the end, however, there had to be a single winner, and this year it was a Liberty Farms duck leg with pomegranate, baba ganoush and pistachio dukkah at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg. A perfect Mediterranean dish influenced by local ingredients with kicks of flavor — smoky, sweet, herbaceous and loaded with personality.

“Many dishes on the menu are vegetable-centric,” said Chef Perry Hoffman, who recently took over as Culinary Director, and created the dish. “The duck is almost an afterthought, but it works perfectly,” he said.

Roasted potatoes at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Heather Irwin

Roasted potatoes at SHED Cafe in Healdsburg, California. Photo: Heather Irwin

It was hard to pick a single favorite dish from Hoffman’s menu, with each course a surprise and delighted featuring root vegetables from nearby farms, fresh herbs and high-end plating, including dry farmed roasted potatoes with garlic aioli, carrot salad with bee balm and yogurt; wild fennel soup with smoked salmon (now off the menu until April) and braised beef cheeks with persimmons.

After multiple courses, I remember getting up from the meal and thinking it was one of the most intriguing and unexpectedly wonderful experiences of the year. Prices range from $9 to $25 for dinner.

Here are some of my other favorite dishes of the year:

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House granola with stewed prunes: Fork Roadhouse

House granola with stewed prunes: Fork Roadhouse, $$ (9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol, forkcatering.com)

Kobe steak with foie gras butter at Valette in Healdsburg, CA

Kobe steak with foie gras butter at Valette in Healdsburg, CA

– Wakame and Ahi tuna, seared Kobe beef with foie gras butter: Valette, $$$ (344 Center St., Healdsburg, valettehealdsburg.com)

Best Sonoma County Restaurant Dishes of 2015: Grits with preserved egg, hen of the woods mushrooms, schmaltz at Bird and The Bottle in Santa Rosa

Best Sonoma County Restaurant Dishes of 2015: Grits with preserved egg, hen of the woods mushrooms, schmaltz at Bird and The Bottle in Santa Rosa

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“Craft” mac and cheese with mortadella and fried Brussels sprouts: Bird and The Bottle, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Grits with preserved egg, hen of the woods mushrooms, schmaltz; “craft” mac and cheese with mortadella and fried Brussels sprouts: Bird and The Bottle, $$ (1055 Fourth St., Santa Rosa)

BBQ pork banh mi: Simply Vietnam Express one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

BBQ pork banh mi: Simply Vietnam Express one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– BBQ pork banh mi: Simply Vietnam Express, $ (3381 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, simply-vietnam.com)

Bacon scone from Dominique’s Sweets: Franchetti’s Kitchen,one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Bacon scone from Dominique’s Sweets: Franchetti’s Kitchen,one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Bacon scone from Dominique’s Sweets: Franchetti’s Kitchen, $-$$ (1229 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa)

Mixed mezze platter: Grape Leaf Mediterranean Grill, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015Mixed mezze platter: Grape Leaf Mediterranean Grill, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Mixed mezze platter: Grape Leaf Mediterranean Grill, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Mixed mezze platter: Grape Leaf Mediterranean Grill $-$$ (101 East Cotati Ave., Cotati, grapeleafecafeandgrill.com)

 Spleen mousse (served at a special no-waste dinner): Backyard Restaurant, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Spleen mousse (served at a special no-waste dinner): Backyard Restaurant, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Spleen mousse (served at a special no-waste dinner): Backyard Restaurant, $$ (6566 Front St., Forestville, backyardforestville.com)

Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, $$ (304 Center St., Healdsburg, kinsmoke.com)

Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Pork belly Yakitori: Ramen Gaijin $$ (6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, ramengaijin.com)

 Candy Cap mushroom churros: Sam’s Social Club, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Candy Cap mushroom churros: Sam’s Social Club, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Candy Cap mushroom churros: Sam’s Social Club, $$ (1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, samssocialclub.com)

 BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato): Wishbone,one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato): Wishbone,one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato): Wishbone, $$ (841 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, wishbonepetaluma.com)

Short ribs and polenta: Hazel Restaurant, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

Short ribs and polenta: Hazel Restaurant, one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2015

– Short ribs and polenta: Hazel Restaurant, $$ (3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental, restauranthazel.com)

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Tuna crudo at Applewood Restaurant in Guerneville (now closed). Photo: Heather Irwin

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Pork belly, mozzarella, and duck confit at Barndiva Bistro in Healdsburg. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Chile Pies’ sweet apple and chile pie with a drizzle of chile-infused honey with Nimble and Finn’s  Manhattan (whisky, vermouth and cherry chunks). Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Mangalitsa charcuterie from Del Dotto Vineyards. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Dungeness crab salad at Dry Creek Kitchen. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Indian frybread at Outside Lands 2015, one of my favorite dishes of 2015. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Gnocchi at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Kougin amann and French pastry from Pascaline Bakery in Forestville. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Polenta with marinara from the Pasta King at the Sonoma County Fair. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Panzanella salad with burrata at Heritage Public House (now closed).

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Smoked chicken with sweet potato smash and collards at Heritage public house (Now closed)

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Beet, arugula and burrata salad at Persona Pizza

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Octopus skewers and boba tea at Quickly in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Smoked whitefish salad at Ramen Gaijin. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Fish tacos from Santa Rosa Seafood Cafe, a best dish of 2015.

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Chia parfait from Seed on the Go.

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Shakshouka from Goodman’s Jewish Deli.

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Ok, its not in Sonoma County, but this dish of smoked salmon and dill at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle was outstanding. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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They’re not pretty, but dang they were good. BBQ nachos at Sweet T’s in Santa Rosa. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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East meets west in the pastry case at East Wind Bakery in Santa Rosa.