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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
– House granola with stewed prunes: Fork Roadhouse, $$ (9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol, forkcatering.com)
– Wakame and Ahi tuna, seared Kobe beef with foie gras butter: Valette, $$$ (344 Center St., Healdsburg, valettehealdsburg.com)
– Grits with preserved egg, hen of the woods mushrooms, schmaltz; “craft” mac and cheese with mortadella and fried Brussels sprouts: Bird and The Bottle, $$ (1055 Fourth St., Santa Rosa)
– BBQ pork banh mi: Simply Vietnam Express, $ (3381 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, simply-vietnam.com)
– Bacon scone from Dominique’s Sweets: Franchetti’s Kitchen, $-$$ (1229 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa)
– Mixed mezze platter: Grape Leaf Mediterranean Grill $-$$ (101 East Cotati Ave., Cotati, grapeleafecafeandgrill.com)
– Spleen mousse (served at a special no-waste dinner): Backyard Restaurant, $$ (6566 Front St., Forestville, backyardforestville.com)
– Ribs, hush puppies, cornbread and Brussels sprouts at KINSmoke, $$ (304 Center St., Healdsburg, kinsmoke.com)
– Pork belly Yakitori: Ramen Gaijin $$ (6948 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, ramengaijin.com)
– Candy Cap mushroom churros: Sam’s Social Club, $$ (1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, samssocialclub.com)
– BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato): Wishbone, $$ (841 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, wishbonepetaluma.com)
– Short ribs and polenta: Hazel Restaurant, $$ (3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental, restauranthazel.com)
21 thoughts on “30 Best Sonoma County Restaurant Dishes of 2015”
Grape Leaf in Cotati CLOSED.
Where is the Best Liberty Duck recipe served? Thanks
Thanks Heather for inspiring us! You are a rock star!
I’d like to share my top 30 – Sonoma County and Beyond (i indicated the town, city of out-of-towners)
1, Lamb meatballs with tamarind sauce at Nectar
2. Wonton soup Simply Vietnam Express
3. Southwestern meatpies BurtoNZ Bakery
4. Bialys Goodman’s deli
5. Rack of Lamb dish with pear chutney Walter Hansel
6. Pork baos at G&G supermarket
7. Piadine breakfast Della Fattoria
8. Watermelon salad Peloton Catering
9. Creama boba mango green tea flavor Sharetea (Simply Vietnam Express)
10. Tofu seafood combination soup, Tov Tofu
11. Clam chowder Ivar’s Washington State
12. Korean fried chicken Coco Chicken in Newark, CA so crunchy!
13. Pumpkin soup Chloe’s French Bistro -seasonal
14. Jon Lum sandwich on dutch crunch Ike’s
15. Huaraches Homemade Tortilla Stony Point Rd.
16. Potato galette Red Bird Bakery
17. Tinomok meat and shrimp rolls with coconut milk sauce Jerry’s Grill Union City, CA
18. Brussel sprouts appetizer with balsamic reduction dressing Common Theory Pub, San Diego
19. McDonald Avenue, Superburger
20. Artichoke and eggplant sandwich Mary’s Pizza
21. Dulce De Leche Kisses Porto’s Bakery Southern California
22. Spinach with ricotta topping pizza Mombo’s
23. Maple bacon bits donuts Great Maple San Diego
24. Napoleon cake Chloe’s French
25. Membrillo flavor paleta Fruta
26. Bionico Fruta
27. Bacon in the burger Zazu Kitchen A MUST HAVE!!!
28. Shrimp boil in a bag, Boiling Crab San Jose or Sacramento
29. Buffet at Aria Hotel Las Vegas
30. Last but not least – Porchetta Sandwich with crunchy pork skins, ROLI ROTI Food Truck, SF Ferry Bldg Must include in one’s bucket list.
My goto best dish for years If I am in the area has been the Country Benedict with poached eggs at Dierks Parkside. honestly many on your list sound great, but would be better for readers to replace the dishes from closed venues with dishes from places that are still open..we cant try those dishes…show us what we can try…and don’t include dishes outside of Sonoma county if the list is Sonoma county. Agree-kinsmoke has some of the best bbq and sides.
Great list, thank you.
Tried the Burrata Beet salad at Persona Pizza on a whim, wasn’t disappointed. Glad we went.
Seattle, but not a single entry from anywhere in the Sonoma Valley.
No bias there.
Oh, perhaps you couldn’t obtain a visa to enter the Valley?
Thank you so much for this list!
Really appreciate everything you do!!
Thank you for adding to the “go to” list Heather.
For the critics of accessibility (prices) or stuffity reviewers (hating foodies): Fry bread, and desert, plus food from trucks and paper napkin places are all over the list. Chill, then eat, sit still, and let the calories do their thing to make you strong.
I’ve had fun following up on some, and think I’ve had my best bowl of soup, ever at the new ramen place in Sebastopol, and rely on good, affordable sushi at Sige in Cotati.
I want to try the preserved egg on the grits at Bird and the Bottle. What is the preparation for the egg?
Um…Sam’s Social Club is in Calistoga which is not in Sonoma County.
I hate foodies.
Go Wishbone! And I want some of that Meze!
Heather Thank you for the love and sorry about the negative feedback, can’t please everyone! xo
Sheesh what a bunch of Scrooges….Heather, I for totally enjoy your column and think you do a great job, thank you and Merry Christmas!
Your Banh Mi taste is seriously misguided if you think Simply Vietnam Express has the best one. East Wind Bakery on Sebastopol Ave has by far the best Banh Mi you can get outside of San Francisco. The bread is fresher, the meat is better, the veggies are better… everything is better than that mess of a restaurant you claimed had the best one.
90% plus of the residents of Sonoma County cannot afford the prices in the fancy places you review. And, that is why the newspaper is loosing readership subscriptions. Catering to the wrong audience.
Wrong and wrong big boy! 90% can’t afford under $20? Woohoo! That’s a good one! Newspaper readership is declining for the same single reason newspaper readership is declining across the country; why pay for what you can read for free online? Get with the times oh trollish one!
That’s not actually true at all. While it’s possible to do so in an entirely barn raised environment, you forget grazing using land not in the human food chain, silage during the winter and so forth, common methods in most of the world. Using that logic, a pound of beef is pretty much free if that land is available (which it is)….
Biteclubeats is overlooking Pongos Kitchen & Tap located east side Petaluma. They have many great dishes that should be on this list.
This dish was actually using an unwanted organ meat from a sustainable local farm. I just wrote an article I will link to. It’s a fair point but in this case very conscientious.
Spleen mousse? Trying to understand the emphasis on meat in recent years. It takes 8 lbs. of grain to produce 1 lb. of beef, not to mention issues of compassion.
When my friends criticize vegetarians for being smug, humorless and sanctimonious $&@%s, I often defend people like you, but you make it hard, so very hard……