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?