For the second year, OpenTable.com has tapped Sonoma Valley’s St. Francis Winery as the nation’s number one restaurant, beating out culinary superheroes in New York, San Francisco and Napa Valley. 

Yup, a winery has been named Best Restaurant in America. Twice.

“We are still pinching ourselves,” said Chris Silva, President and CEO of St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. “The real irony is that we aren’t actually a restaurant,” he added, acknowledging the, well, uniqueness of his situation. St. Francis won the coveted top spot in 2013, under Chef David Bush (now of Oso).

The view from the dining room at St. Francis WInery and Vineyards, which won Opentable.com's Best Restaurant in America in 2014 and 2015.

The view from the dining room at St. Francis WInery and Vineyards, which won Opentable.com’s Best Restaurant in America in 2014 and 2015.

But it also isn’t an accident that St. Francis Winery’s Executive Chef Bryan Jones’ luxe five-course tasting menu and wine pairings have attracted a lot of attention. Using ingredients from the winery’s 2-acre garden, classical fine dining techniques and presentations, and luxury ingredients ranging from local Wild King Salmon and braised duck to local blackberries, carrots and chanterelle mushrooms, this isn’t exactly picnic fodder. And then there’s idyllic scenery surrounding the dining room, with million dollar views of Mount Hood, the vineyards and historic winery. At $68 per person, it’s relative steal for this kind of dining experience.

But still, a winery?

We went right to the top Opentable.com brass for some answers.

Grilled Snake River Bavette Steak with Honey Lavender Carrots, Spinich Puree, Onion Powder, Onion-Butter Foam paired with St. Francis 2012 Red Wine, Rockpile Red, Sonoma County. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Grilled Snake River Bavette Steak with Honey Lavender Carrots, Spinich Puree, Onion Powder, Onion-Butter Foam paired with St. Francis 2012 Red Wine, Rockpile Red, Sonoma County. Photo: Heather Irwin.

“While St. Francis isn’t a traditional restaurant, they offer a positively magical dining experience,” said Caroline Potter, Chief Dining Officer for Opentable.com, who has dined there herself.

It truly dazzles all the senses, from the sublime wines and delightful seasonal plates to the welcoming hospitality and pastoral setting. When you dine there, you are part of an intimate group sharing a journey through local food and wine with expert guides, and by the time you leave you feel as if made new friends with the St. Francis staff and your fellow diners,” she said. “In fact, my husband and I are still in touch with our table mates,” Potter added.

Silva agrees that the kinship, as well as the detailed wine pairings (they are a winery, after all) are really what makes the experience.

Red Wine Braised Duck with COriander Spatzle, Endive, Pistachio, Tart Cherry Apricot Mostara paired with St. Francis 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley from the June 2015 menu. Photo: Heather Irwin.

Red Wine Braised Duck with COriander Spatzle, Endive, Pistachio, Tart Cherry Apricot Mostara paired with St. Francis 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley from the June 2015 menu. Photo: Heather Irwin.

“We have received a lot of attention over the fact that one of the key themes of this experience is that of community:  16 guests sit together at a round, communal table with one of the best vineyard views in the world and share about 90 minutes of world class wine, food, and conversation—and what we hope will be a sense of awe—with  people they have never met,” he said.

So, how’d St. Francis get to #1?  OpenTable generates their list of the 100 Best Restaurants in America from more than 5 million restaurant reviews collected from verified OpenTable diners between November 1, 2014 and October 31, 2015. Reps tell us that restaurants are sorted according to a score calculated from each restaurant’s average rating in the “overall” category along with that restaurant’s rating relative to others in the same metropolitan area and the average number of restaurants reviewed by diners who reviewed that restaurant.

That’s a bit too much head scratching for us, but a quick look online reveals that St. Francis has about 462 reviews, with an average of 4.9 stars. Rutherford’s Auberge du Soleil , which also made the Top 100, has over 2,000 reviews, but ranks an average of 4.7 stars. Other restaurants in the lineup Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, SF’s Benu and Acquerello, NYC’s Daniel, along with neighboring Wine Country restaurants Farmhouse Inn and The French Laundry.

Outsiders also seem to see something that maybe we natives have become all too accustomed to. 

The experience provides a great deal of value to diners with its modest price, but they don’t skimp on time or attentiveness. You are treated with so much care, questions about the wine and the pairings are not only encouraged, they¹re solicited, and you really come away not just satiated but also enlightened,” Potter said.

“We have the dream team at St. Francis right now, and to be named #1 Restaurant in America is really the icing on the cake,” he said.

Want to see for yourself?  St. Francis Winery, 100 Pythian Road, takes reservations for food and wine pairings Friday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). 538-9463, stfranciswinery.com.