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Best Meal of 2011

What was your best meal this year? Chefs, foodies give their faves

What was the best meal you ate all year? Don’t think too hard about it, because the best answer is usually the one that pops into your head without much thought. Usually it has everything to do with your state of mind — good company, a happy heart and a hungry stomach. Often it sneaks up on you as a surprise: A perfectly cooked burger at a local dive or simple rustic meal at a neighborhood restaurant. Maybe you made it at home.

For me, the answer is almost impossible. I’ve eaten well over 200 great meals at restaurants this year, and nearly all of them had something I liked about them. There are also amazingly great restaurants I just didn’t happen to go to this year.

But if I had to pick one that stands out above the rest, it’s a dinner at Oenotri (1425 First St., Napa, 252-1022). From the house-made salumi plate and perfected Sicilian pizzas to unparalleled pastas (gnocchi is a standout), and perfectly seasonal antipasti (currently they’re doing persimmons and rabbit), the whole kit and kaboodle comes together without a hitch. It’s transformative eating. Sharing course after course with my son, a budding foodie, made it even more special.

Other meals that stood out this year:
– A three hour lunch with a close friend at Petite Syrah (205 5th St., Santa Rosa, 568-4002) featuring foie gras, a spec and noodle soup, pork belly and mint brownies.
– A $4 banh mi sandwich in the car, on a perfectly sunny day from Noodle Bowl (817 Russell Ave., Santa Rosa, 843-5256)
– A standout hamburger at Catelli’s Restaurant (kobe brisket and sirloin, rare) 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 857-3471.
– Sitting on the curb, eating dim sum and agedashi during the short-lived food truck round up in downtown Santa Rosa.
– Beet salad and truffle fries at Boon Eat and Drink  (16248 Main St., Guerneville, 869-0780)
Breakfast at Hole in the Wall (972 Gravenstein Hwy S., Sebastopol, 861-3777)

So what were some of the best meals local chefs (and several foodie folks you’ll recognize)  had this year? Many of them had the same answer (Hana Japanese is perennially a chef favorite), but some were more surprising than you might expect. Here are their answers…

Ari Rosen, Scopa (Healdsburg)
“My best meal was at Hana Japanese (101 Golf Course Drive  Rohnert Park, 586-0270), an oxtail soup that was off the hook. Every time i go there everything i eat is phenomenal. I’m always happily satisfied.”

Doug Keane, Cyrus & Healdsburg Bar and Grill (Healdsburg)
“Diavola (21021 Geyserville Ave.,  Geyserville, 814-0111). In the summer, the Sonja pizza with tomato mascarpone, proscuitto and arugula. I love his (Chef Dino Bugica) food.”

Josh Silvers, Petite Syrah & Jackson’s Bar and Oven (Santa Rosa)
“The best of the year was at Madrona Manor (1001 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, (800) 258-4003).” For father’s day, Silvers and his son, Jackson, 7, went to Madrona Manor with the caveat that Jackson be “a gentleman and try everything.” He did, and of the night, Silvers said, “I had phased out eating high-end, long dinners when Jackson was born, but going to Madrona was such a nice return to fine dining. Jesse’s food (Chef Jesse Mallgren) has gone up several magnitudes in the last year. The service was amazing.” Jackson’s favorite food of the night: The ice cream cart.

Justin Wangler, Kendall-Jackson
Brunch at Rocker Oysterfeller’s (Valley Ford Hotel, 14415 Hwy. 1, Valley Ford, 876-1983). “It’s the place where we just end up when we don’t know where to go. We just end up driving out to Valley Ford.” Raised on Southern cooking, Wangler’s particular about his fried chicken and collard greens, but gives props to Rocker’s chef Brandon Guenther saying, “It’s probably the best Southern-style soul food around.”

Jillian Dorman, Street-Eatz Mobile Kitchen
“I went to Fresh By Lisa Hemenway (5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa, 595-1048) a couple weeks ago. I was blown away by the atmosphere of being inside the market and eating in there. In this county, the way we care about sustainability to be sitting there with all that stuff, I just thought that was great. Loved the food.” Hard to nail down just one, she added, “Kirin Chinese. It’s the only Chinese restaurant I eat in. It’s the kind of real Chinese food I grew up with. The moo shu is just to die for.”

Clark Wolf, Restaurant Consultant
Best at home: Dungeness crab (finally!) with James Beard’s Louis dressing and a fuyu/bosc/valencia salad with Village Bakery sourdough at My friend Tammie’s. Best restaurant: Lunch at Mateo’s Cocina Latina (214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 433-1520) with Marcy Smothers. We ordered a second halibut ceveche and totally scarfed it!”

Ken Tominaga, Hana Japanese (Rohnert Park)
Diavola…he makes a smoked pork belly and it came right out of the smoker. It’s all about timing. That was my best meal of the year!”

Roger Praplan, La Gare (Santa Rosa)
“Best experience was to be invited to the top of the mountain at an invite-only Kendall-Jackson picnic area where you can see Lake Sonoma and Chateau Souverain. That was the most exciting. But my favorite: Mac’s Deli (630 4th St., Santa Rosa, 545-3785) hanging out with my friends from the “German Mafia” and eating turkey noodle soup.”

What was your favorite meal of the year?

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34 thoughts on “Best Meal of 2011

  1. One of the Best, and the Biggest Surprise of the year…..Mariachi’s in Anchor Bay….a small Mom/Pop operation with a four page spread of entrees. Be prepared to wait….all cooked from scratch, but well worth it. Enjoy your mango margarita in a little town where time seems to move more slowly…..

  2. One of the Best, and the Biggest Surprise of the year…..Mariachi’s in Anchor Bay….a small Mom/Pop operation with a four page spread of entrees. Be prepared to wait….all cooked from scratch, but well worth it. Enjoy your mango margarita in a little town where time seems to move more slowly…..

  3. This year, I ate a lot of really tasty meals that I cooked. I don’t dine out often, but of the ventures out this year, the best meal I had, believe it or not, was in Marin, at La Toscana.

  4. This year, I ate a lot of really tasty meals that I cooked. I don’t dine out often, but of the ventures out this year, the best meal I had, believe it or not, was in Marin, at La Toscana.

  5. This year I discovered two new to me ingredients powdered cheddar cheese (from Andy’s Produce) which I sprinkle on popcorn and smoked brown sugar from the Smoked Olive – which I pretty much put on everything.

    The best restaurant meal was from the Hideaway on River Road just west of Guerneville
    starting with a tomato soup (tomatoes grown out back), fluffy perfect biscuits and perfect fried chicken

  6. This year I discovered two new to me ingredients powdered cheddar cheese (from Andy’s Produce) which I sprinkle on popcorn and smoked brown sugar from the Smoked Olive – which I pretty much put on everything.

    The best restaurant meal was from the Hideaway on River Road just west of Guerneville
    starting with a tomato soup (tomatoes grown out back), fluffy perfect biscuits and perfect fried chicken

  7. Pollo al Horno at Sol Food in San Rafael. I subsequently repeated that “best meal” every time I drove through Marin County.

  8. From my kitchen— homemade vegetable Lumpia (Filipino eggrolls) with vinegar/chopped fresh garlic dipping sauce and of course chicken/pork adobo and rice dishes. Nothing compares!!! yum.

  9. Surprised not to See Ryan Fancher from Barndiva not listed? I have always left there in anticipation of when I can come back. Across the board… all around fantastic food.

  10. From my kitchen— homemade vegetable Lumpia (Filipino eggrolls) with vinegar/chopped fresh garlic dipping sauce and of course chicken/pork adobo and rice dishes. Nothing compares!!! yum.

  11. Surprised not to See Ryan Fancher from Barndiva not listed? I have always left there in anticipation of when I can come back. Across the board… all around fantastic food.

  12. You just need a fork to cut into the tender Calamari Dore at Robertos..On Highway 12 in Santa Rosa..Never disappointed.

  13. Way too many to list them all. Sonoma County is foodie heaven. My own skills have come a long way this year. Making schnitzel tonight, as good as I had in Germany. As for the restaurants we have loved this year, Terrapin Creek is a gem, we are delighted every time we go. The ribs at The Barbeque Spot are the best I’ve tasted, and I’ve tasted a few. The transforming dish though was the butter poached halibut from Dry Creek Kitchen, Charlie Palmer’s chef even told me how he did it. I won’t attempt.

  14. Way too many to list them all. Sonoma County is foodie heaven. My own skills have come a long way this year. Making schnitzel tonight, as good as I had in Germany. As for the restaurants we have loved this year, Terrapin Creek is a gem, we are delighted every time we go. The ribs at The Barbeque Spot are the best I’ve tasted, and I’ve tasted a few. The transforming dish though was the butter poached halibut from Dry Creek Kitchen, Charlie Palmer’s chef even told me how he did it. I won’t attempt.

  15. There are just too many best meals of the year to count:
    The Tuna Tartar at K & L;
    The BBQ Brisket at 10315 Bodega Hwy out side of Sebastopol;
    The excellent Philly style Cheese Steak at Brown Street Dinner in Sebastopol;
    My lady friend drinking a “Good Eye” and eating Macaroni and Cheese at Starks;
    and so many other really good meals here. This is a great place to live and eat because there are so many “best” meals.

  16. There are just too many best meals of the year to count:
    The Tuna Tartar at K & L;
    The BBQ Brisket at 10315 Bodega Hwy out side of Sebastopol;
    The excellent Philly style Cheese Steak at Brown Street Dinner in Sebastopol;
    My lady friend drinking a “Good Eye” and eating Macaroni and Cheese at Starks;
    and so many other really good meals here. This is a great place to live and eat because there are so many “best” meals.

  17. Mine was recently at Brassica in St Helena. Cindy Paulcyn is killing it with lamb t bonettes, bacon wrapped dates, braised beef, quail, halibut. Killer wine list with hard to find gems.

  18. Housemade pretzels and IPA cheese at Monk’s Kettle in the Misson District in SF. There is so much amazing food here in Northern Ca, but for some reason this stands out… I wish a Sonoma County restaurant made this. *hint, hint*

  19. PORCHETTA SANDWICH, $8 at Roli Roti food truck – SF ferry bldg. Sat. farmers mkt. The best sandwich I have ever tasted in my entire life.

  20. Mine was recently at Brassica in St Helena. Cindy Paulcyn is killing it with lamb t bonettes, bacon wrapped dates, braised beef, quail, halibut. Killer wine list with hard to find gems.

  21. Housemade pretzels and IPA cheese at Monk’s Kettle in the Misson District in SF. There is so much amazing food here in Northern Ca, but for some reason this stands out… I wish a Sonoma County restaurant made this. *hint, hint*

  22. PORCHETTA SANDWICH, $8 at Roli Roti food truck – SF ferry bldg. Sat. farmers mkt. The best sandwich I have ever tasted in my entire life.

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