Sonoma Magazine BiteClub https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub Restaurant & Dining Reviews for Sonoma, Santa Rosa and the Wine Country Fri, 17 Aug 2018 16:55:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/cropped-512_logo-150x150.gif Sonoma Magazine BiteClub https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub 32 32 Sweets, Swedes and schwarma at Petaluma’s Stockhome https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sweets-swedes-and-schwarma-at-petalumas-stockhome/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sweets-swedes-and-schwarma-at-petalumas-stockhome/#respond Fri, 17 Aug 2018 16:53:46 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38710 Gravlax cured salmon with mustard dill sauce at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

New Swedish restaurant is both Nordic and Middle Eastern?

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Gravlax cured salmon with mustard dill sauce at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

My family was recently rocked by a scandalous and shocking test result that will forever change our lives — our DNA turns out to be 52 percent Scandinavian. We are not blonde, we have no particular affinity toward meatballs and only occasionally shop at Ikea. The signs were always there, though — my mother’s dallying with pickled herring in the 1970s, the fact that as children, my brother and I could do a spot-on imitation of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets and a suspicion that lingonberry runs in our blood.

Turns out more of us with English heritage (up to 12 percent, according to Ancestry.com) can trace our lineage to the glacial lakes, forest and fjords than we expected. Blame the marauding Vikings — or don’t — but at least now you can experience a bit of Motherland cuisine right here in Sonoma County, no matter where your DNA says you’re from.

Stockhome Restaurant is a collaboration between husband and wife team Roberth and Andrea Sundell, who own the upscale Swedish restaurant Plaj in San Francisco. After living in Petaluma for years with their kids, the couple decided to open a walk-up cafe featuring unfussy family favorites closer to home. Open just two weeks, the restaurant has become a neighborhood hub, mixing Turkish and Mediterranean street food found in the larger cities of Sweden with homey classics like Swedish meatballs, pickled herring and Swedish pancakes on the menu — all of it with a few nods to California as well. Consider it the United Nations of local dining.

Lamb and Beef kebab plate with garlic yogurt at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Lamb and Beef kebab plate with garlic yogurt at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Fun fact: Though kabobs, schwarma and kofta seem a world away from the smoked salmon and rye bread usually associated with Scandinavian cuisine, Sweden actually has a long history of assimilation of Middle Eastern foods. Less than a month ago, the world was shocked to find out that the recipe for Swedish meatballs was actually brought from Turkey to Sweden by the exiled King Charles XII in the early 18th century, according to the country’s national Twitter account. But who’s cornered the market on the Swedish meatball? Ikea, the Swedish furniture company that sells more than 2 million per day, according to its website? Take that, Turkey.

The interior is the bright, classic Swedish minimalist look you’d expect, with cornflower blue paint outside welcoming you into a large open room with clean lines, long group tables and vintage Josef Frank floral wallpaper — something most Swedes immediately recognize from their childhoods, according to my co-worker and dining partner, Sofia, who, with my other co-worker, Annika, are both Stockholm natives.

Meal at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. Courtesy photo, Elise Aileen Photography.

Meal at Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma. Courtesy photo, Elise Aileen Photography.

Wherever you’re from and wherever you’re going, there’s one thing we can all agree on, and that’s tasty food. Combining the flavors and presentation of a fine dining experience in a casual environment, the Sundells have nailed a need that’s long existed in Sonoma County — where grownups and kids can both enjoy a solid meal with flavors both familiar and exotic. The bonus: The Swedish tradition of lördagsgodis, wherein kids are allowed candy only on Saturday, but can then indulge in as much as they want, is alive and well here, with tempting jars filled with Plopp! chocolates, gummy fish and (be warned) spicy salted licorice candy that only a Swede could love.

Best Bets

How did the food stack up with the Swedes? Both Annika and Sofia said the food was pretty spot on. I think I noticed a few little tears in their stoic Nordic eyes when we ate the pickled herring, but they’d never admit it. I’ve noted their favorites.

Street Food

Shrimp skagen at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Shrimp skagen at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Korv Kiosk (hot dog stand) Tunnbrod Rulle ($9): This is serious post-drinking food, because no sober person would put a smoked German sausage, mashed potatoes, ketchup, mustard, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes inside a rolled Swedish flatbread. But somehow it’s delicious no matter what your inebriation status. Swedes approve.

Lamb and Beef Kebab Plate ($14): Thin slices of juicy lamb and beef are topped with a light tomato sauce and a side of garlic yogurt. “A lot of our Swedish friends tasted this to make sure it was right,” said Roberth. Served with fries or saffron rice, it’s a hearty portion of tender meat far better than your usual gyro fare. Swedes approved.

Small Plates

Roasted eggplant dip with pita bread at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Roasted eggplant dip with pita bread at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Celery Root Gratin with Wrangeback Cheese ($8): This dish is all about the sharp, herby raw cow’s milk cheese that’s melty in some spots and nicely crisped and caramelized in others. Thin slices of celery root are merely a transmission system for the cheese, butter and milk that make this so intensely addictive.

Grilled Stone Fruits ($9): Impossibly simple, perfectly seasonal nectarines get the lightest of grills, tossed with chewy barley and tart pomegranate molasses.

Shrimp Skagen ($12): The traditional Swedish shrimp salad on toast gets a California twist, made with bits of brioche toast, avocado, olive oil and chili. A refreshing small plate you won’t really want to share. Swedes approve.

Larger Dishes

Plank steak with duchess potatoes, tomato, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Plank steak with duchess potatoes, tomato, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce at Stockhome Restaurant in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Plank Steak ($24): Literally a steak on a wooden plank. It arrives with an aggressive-looking upright knife stabbed into the center of the steak. Swedes are impressed and say this is very Old School childhood memory kind of food. Served with piped “Duchess” potatoes, asparagus, grilled tomato and Bearnaise sauce — a classic French tarragon cream sauce that’s a bit of a rarity anymore, but such a perfect pairing with steak.

Wienerschnitzel ($24): Most Americans make this with pounded pork — and its nothing like the velvety texture of veal, used in this version. If you’re looking for the most authentic version of this luxury dish, you’ve found it. Tiny roasted potatoes with English peas, capers and loads of butter may be one of the best sides I’ve had in recent memory.

Meatballs and mashed potatoes at Stockhome restaurant. Photo courtesy of www.newrevmedia.com

Meatballs and mashed potatoes at Stockhome restaurant. Photo courtesy of www.newrevmedia.com

Mashed Potato Bowl ($18): Every Swede has a secret meatball recipe, and Roberth is no exception. His grandmother’s recipe is rich with clove and spices, with tender meat atop fluffy mashed potatoes and a delicate brown gravy. Of course there are lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. A pork cheek and mushroom or salmon version is also available, but really, come on, meatballs! Swedes were split on this one.

Swedish Pancakes ($7): I know my Swedish pancakes, because I’ve been making them on Sunday mornings for the past 15 years. Mine are sweeter, these are eggier, both are way better than French crepes by a long shot. With a scoop of vanilla whipped cream and berries, they’re indulgent, though I love mine with just lemon, butter and powdered sugar — a suggested variance? Swede approved.

Overall: A great family-friendly cafe with something for everyone. The kids’ menu will satisfy the young ones, while a nice beer and wine list (and excellent food) make the grown-ups happy. No matter where you’re from, you’re an honorary Swede at Stockhome.

Details: 220 Western Ave., Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomerestaurant.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11a.m. to 9p.m.

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Poke, Ramen and Vegan Rice Bowls at Raku Ramen in Santa Rosa https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/poke-ramen-and-vegan-rice-bowls-at-raku-ramen-in-santa-rosa/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/poke-ramen-and-vegan-rice-bowls-at-raku-ramen-in-santa-rosa/#comments Thu, 09 Aug 2018 20:32:10 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38695 Sashimi salad with tuna, salmon, crab at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

A wealth of healthy food, including some knock-out vegan and vegetarian dishes at

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Sashimi salad with tuna, salmon, crab at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

The owner of Sea Thai Bistro and Sea Noodle Bar has paired up with popular sushi burrito food truck chef Takeshi Uchida to create Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village. More than just a ramen shop, Shoubu Japanese’s Uchida has created a menu inspired by his sustainable vision for Japanese cuisine — and it’s something to write home about.

Poke Don, with wild-caught tuna, chili sesame soy, organic avocado, greens and veganaise at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Poke Don, with wild-caught tuna, chili sesame soy, organic avocado, greens and veganaise at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

We first met Uchida 12 years ago when he was creating “secret sushi” at the Odd Fellows Hall several days a week. The former Hana Japanese sushi wunderkind has a deep passion for the food of his homeland, but in recent years significantly changed his diet and the menu he created for his food truck to use only sustainable fish, organic and GMO-free ingredients and generally re-envision some of the less-than-sustainable practices of some sushi spots.

With Sea Thai’s Chef Tony Ounpamornchai, the two have created a clean, minimalist fast-casual izakaya featuring tonkotsu (pork), shoyu and vegan ramen bowls ($15-$16) with high-quality ingredients, along with rice bowls and a small selection of rolls and salads. We loved the cloudy tonkotsu with braised pork belly and organic veggies, along with the Poke Don (wild-caught tuna with chili sesame soy, greens and spicy veganaise, $16). The raku roll includes crab, tuna, avocado and kaiware sprouts. Don’t miss the Zangi, Hokkaido style free-range chicken ($8), or the Veggie Miso Mabo Don, made with organic tofu, tempeh, eggplant and spicy bean sauce. ($12). 

Veggie miso mabo don with organic tofu, tempeh, eggplant and spicy bean sauce with garlic, ginger and greens at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Veggie miso mabo don with organic tofu, tempeh, eggplant and spicy bean sauce with garlic, ginger and greens at Raku Ramen and Rolls in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Lots of great vegan and vegetarian choices here, especially if you’re a stickler for high-quality ingredients.

We’d love to see even more exploration of Japanese favorites, including the return of Uchida’s sushi burritos, miso soup and homestyle classics we enjoyed on the Shoubu truck — which is now in retirement. Early Yelpers dinged the restaurant for high prices, but owners say they’ve dropped some prices and are now offering mini rice bowls for $5. We’re not stoked about the upcharge on ramen for things like nori, bamboo shoots and mushrooms, but it is not exactly out of line with the cost of organic ingredients. 

Raku Ramen & Rolls: 2424 Midway Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-623-9668.

Related Images:

[See image gallery at www.sonomamag.com]

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Gone But Not Forgotten: Closed Sonoma County Restaurants We Miss https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/gone-but-not-forgotten-closed-sonoma-county-restaurants-we-miss/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/gone-but-not-forgotten-closed-sonoma-county-restaurants-we-miss/#comments Thu, 09 Aug 2018 18:57:15 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38636 Arrigoni’s: This longtime downtown Santa Rosa deli was a favorite business lunch spot, with everything from giant slices of frittata to sandwiches and mix-and-match salads. The owners have given their blessing to Gerard Nebesky, who recently transformed the space into Gerard’s Paella y Tapas. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

From Arrigoni's to Zin here are some of our favorite Sonoma County restaurants from the past.

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Arrigoni’s: This longtime downtown Santa Rosa deli was a favorite business lunch spot, with everything from giant slices of frittata to sandwiches and mix-and-match salads. The owners have given their blessing to Gerard Nebesky, who recently transformed the space into Gerard’s Paella y Tapas. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Restaurants are a reflection of every community. Part gathering spot, part arbiter of local tastes and part entertainment venue, where we eat out says everything about who we are. And with changing tastes and changing times, they come and go, leaving behind memories for all who visited.

Here are some of the most popular Sonoma County restaurants that are gone, but not forgotten.

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[See image gallery at www.sonomamag.com]

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Grateful Greek Lights Up Penngrove with Flaming Saganaki https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/grateful-greek-lights-up-penngrove-with-flaming-saganaki/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/grateful-greek-lights-up-penngrove-with-flaming-saganaki/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 17:38:50 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38624 Gyro at Yia Yia - The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

New Greek spot in Penngrove does saganaki right

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Gyro at Yia Yia - The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

“OK, ready?” asks Chef Chris Adams-Albrecht as he smashes down a hunk of saganaki on the flattop grill.

The Greek cheese has lacy, browned edges as it starts oozing into a puddle of yum, ready for its red-carpet moment. I brace myself as a squirt of brandy goes on top and hold my breath in the bantam-weight kitchen of YiaYia’s The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. OK, I’m ready.

Click, click, whoosh! Adams-Albrecht lights the whole thing on fire, resulting in a 2-foot ball of flames and rush of heat that threatens every eyebrow in the room. As this is a Greek restaurant, the requisite Opa! is yelled, and a stream of lemon juice puts the whole cheese inferno out.

Now that’s how you do saganaki.

The former Yanni’s Sausage Grill, which has always been little more than a counter and a compact kitchen, has become one of Sonoma County’s best Greek restaurants. Possibly its only Greek restaurant at this moment, but that’s beside the point. Owners Tom Adams and Dr. Thea Robb have converted the onetime sausage factory into a takeout-only gyro spot with a Sonoma County spin.

Popi’s Flaming Cheese at Yia Yia - The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Popi’s Flaming Cheese at Yia Yia – The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Chris, who is owner Tom Adams’ nephew, mans the kitchen. A former Yanni’s chef who yearned to open a Greek restaurant of his own, he’s worked (literally) day and night to get the menu on par with his grandma’s recipes. That means everything from soup to the gyro meat has to be made by hand. The family comes from what Tom Adams jokingly refers to as local “Spiritual Royalty,” with his grandfather as the founding priest of Novato’s Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox church. You get the picture pretty quickly that the family doesn’t take Greek food lightly, especially when grandma’s well-worn church cookbook (“Greek Cookery Marin,” compiled by the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church) has a place of honor in the kitchen and is bookmarked in several places.

“This is a family place,” says Thea, who attended Sonoma State University and returned with husband Tom from southern California recently. “We want you to feel like you’re eating in someone’s kitchen,” she adds. That’s not really difficult, because when you’re ordering, you’re pretty much standing inside the restaurant kitchen.

Tom Adams and Thea Rabb, owners of Yia Yia - The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Tom Adams and Thea Rabb, owners of Yia Yia – The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Each of the menu items is named after a family member — from Brother Bill’s GBLT (Greek bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich, favored by Tom’s Penngrove firefighter brother) to Tom’s Burger (Thea says her husband eats at least six a week and demanded there be one on the menu) to Popi’s Flaming Cheese, named for grandma.

It’s the gyro, however, that really puts the restaurant on the map. Made with a combination of beef and lamb, Chef Chris cooks it sous vide (basically a Cryovac-sealed meatloaf that’s cooked by circulating water). A technique often used by high-end chefs, it creates tender meat that’s given a crisping on the grill before slipping into a pita with its best friend, tzatziki (a cucumber yogurt sauce). This isn’t that rotating loaf of mystery meat imported from the far-off land of Chicago, where most pressed gyro is made. Instead, it’s the real-deal gyro made one loaf at a time in a tiny Penngrove kitchen.

The crew won’t laugh at you too much if you walk in and butcher the name gyro (pronounced yee-row, not ji-row) because really, it’s about sharing a passion for Greek food served up with a side of Opa!

Best Bets

One thing to know is that there are many “secret” menu items at YiaYia’s The Grateful Greek. You can find some of them at their Instagram account @thegratefulgreek. One to definitely try is the “Zeus,” a gyro with French fries on top.

King Christo’s The Grateful Greek Gyro, $9.95: This is what you’re here for. So just shut up and order it already.

Tom’s Burger, $9.95: Hat’s off to Tom, because this is one of the best burgers we’ve found lately. Made with a third-pound of fresh ground beef, there’s nothing fancy, but the luxe bun and piles of farm-fresh produce make it destination-worthy. The secret (we think) is all the gyro goodness that soaks into the flattop and brings this burger to life.

Popi’s Flaming Cheese at Yia Yia - The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Popi’s Flaming Cheese at Yia Yia – The Grateful Greek in Penngrove. Heather Irwin, PD

Thea Thea’s Greek Salad, $7.75: You know that sad Greek salad with unripe tomatoes, bitter oregano and way too much olive oil you get at the salad bar? This is the opposite. Plump, juicy garden tomatoes, crisp fresh cucumber, red onion, fresh feta and a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil make this one divinely inspired. I even liked the Kalamata olives, and I’m not an olive fan.

Popi’s Flaming Cheese, $8.25: You had me at the buttered Italian bread, but the aforementioned fire show and salty, tart, crispy, melty cheese stuffed between two slices? Is it possible to marry a sandwich? Eat it immediately, because the ooey-gooey goodness is fleeting.

Fries, $3.75 to $4.75: Hand cut wedges fried within an inch of their lives, salted and topped with roasted garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and feta. These aren’t fries, these are a lifestyle choice that we all need to make.

If you go

The restaurant serves the nearby Penngrove Pub, and you can grab a pint and sit outside on the patio or have it delivered inside. Serious drinking food by the people that pretty much invented drinking.

Yanni’s sausage sandwiches are also available on request, you know, just for a little Greek continuity.

Details: 10007 Main St., Penngrove, 707-664-5442. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11a.m. to 6p.m.

Related Images:

[See image gallery at www.sonomamag.com]

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Best Food at the Sonoma County Fair 2018 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/best-food-at-the-sonoma-county-fair-2018/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/best-food-at-the-sonoma-county-fair-2018/#comments Sat, 04 Aug 2018 19:35:17 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38597 The kalua pork bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Wanna know the top foods at this year's fair? Read on...

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The kalua pork bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Sonoma County Fair is on, and with it, the delicious fair food we all get super excited about exactly once per year. With good reason, because it would kill you if you ate all that greasy, salty, sugary, luxuriously yummy food more than a few times each year.

This year, however, I found myself less than eager for the challenge of stuffing thousands of calories into my face in 98 degree heat and minimal shade. 

Instead,  I did something far more entertaining and eminently more kind to my fellow fairgoers—I took a bite or two then handed it over to an unsuspecting person to finish. Really. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to eat my leftovers. I know I was. But it seems such a waste to throw away perfectly good fair food, and man, people are stoked to eat free food.

So after two hours of annoying people, spending a whole lot of money and walking around in circles, here’s my lineup of everything I wanted someone else to eat. And a few things I wanted to eat. Mostly in order of awesomeness. (PS read on, because I got Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane to eat a gold leaf ice cream cone).

The Unicorn Shake at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Unicorn Shake at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Unicorn Shake, $14

A unicorn among unicorns, this is the shining beacon of happiness at this year’s fair. I have no idea what it tastes like, because really, I don’t care. It’s everything that is right and good and happy in this firestorm of a summer. I think it involves a strawberry shake, a whole bunch of candy, marshmallows and actual fairy dust. Look deep into its rainbow mane, golden horn, whipped creamy goodness and multicolored sprinkles and sigh. You’re at the Sonoma County Fair and for a moment, everything is good in the world.

The Handoff: I wanted to give this to a shrieking little girl who would faint with happiness. I got this guy instead. He later fainted with happiness just after sharing it with his young friend and her mom. Find it at OMG Ice Cream.

The Capn' Crunch Fried Chicken Sandwich at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Capn’ Crunch Fried Chicken Sandwich at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Cap’n Crunch Fried Chicken Sandwich, $13

No. Seriously. This is really good. A little sweet, plenty crunchy, totally yum. I ate half, then put the rest in my purse for later. And later, I actually ate it. The Handoff: Nope. All mine. Sharky’s near the Shade Park Stage.

Chicken teriyaki pineapple bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Chicken teriyaki pineapple bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Chicken Mowie in a Pineapple, $14

Anything in a pineapple is good. Teriyaki chicken in a pineapple with rice is even better. I love this addition, and so does my daughter. She refused to be photographed eating it. I also asked a really cute firefighter to take a picture with his pineapple bowl. That is not a double entendre, but he said no, anyway. So, a beautiful picture of the bowl will have to suffice. The Handoff: My kid destroyed it. I got a bite. Then she got mad that I didn’t have a way to save the leftover pineapple bowl. Kids. Find it near the Shade Park.

The kalua pork bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The kalua pork bowl at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Kalua Pork Bowl, $13

Slow roasted pulled pork atop brown rice and mixed greens with pineapple mango salsa and mango cream sauce. The presentation was a little off, so I decided to class it up with a shot near the hall of flowers. I dug into this one pretty hard, friends, and would return repeatedly for the Ahi Poke Bowl, Rainbow Bowl (with avocado, beets, carrots and a ginger miso dressing). For heartier appetites, the Loco Moco Bowl has a burger patty, beef gravy, rice and fried egg. Find it at Kalikos Hawaiian Kitchen (Mexican Village). The Handoff: Finger-lickin good, even sans fork. But he was pretty bummed I didn’t offer him a fork.

Peter and the corndog at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Peter and the corndog at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Pronto Pup with Jason. 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Pronto Pup with Jason. 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Pronto Pup Corn Dog versus Rocket Dog Corn Dog, Both $10

Peter is my nephew. He loves fair food because his parents are horrible people who feed him very healthy food all of the time. We didn’t tell his parents I fed him this Rocket Dog. Peter was pretty sure it was the best thing he ever ate. Jason is my husband. He refused to go to the fair with us but asked us to bring him back a Pronto Pup. He said it was the best thing he ever ate, especially since his actual dinner was a Hungry Man. I take no responsibility for his food choices. I’m pretty sure the corndogs were exactly the same, but my spiritual beliefs don’t allow for corn dogs so I couldn’t eat one. At least that’s what I tell people because I hate corn dogs. Pronto Pup: Magnolia Ave., Rocket Corn Dog, Shade Park.

The Funnel Cake at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Funnel Cake at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake, $9

It’s a funnel cake. With a gel-like raspberry sauce and whipped cream from a can. I still love everything about it even though it is so very wrong. Crispy, crunchy, sweet and lovely that will burn your tongue if it has half the chance. The Handoff: ME: “You look like you could use a funnel cake. But can I take a bite first?” HER: “Sure?” It was a little weird, but she was totally stoked for the free funnel cake. I knew she wanted a funnel cake. I have ESPN. Linwood Avenue.

The Flamin' Hot Cheetos Fries at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Fries at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Flamin' Hot Cheetos Fries at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Fries at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Flaming Hot Cheetos Cheese Fries, $8

I was hoping for something a lot more horrifying than the meek bowl of fries covered with cheese sauce, a few desiccated slices of jalapeno and exactly six Flaming Hot Cheetos. I’m not even sure they were the real deal. Oh, and a bit of Flaming Hot Cheeto Dust. I’m not saying they were exactly bad, but the whole thing just seemed like it could have been more intestinally volcanic. Paired with Ranch dip. The Handoff: Despite not exactly knowing what she was getting into, our taste-tester dug right in with glee. Which turned to a bit of horror. And then glee again. Sharkey’s Fish Fry, Magnolia South. Apparently, there is also a Flamin’ Cheeto fried onion for your pleasure at Sharky’s Corndogs & Onions.

The Hot Mess Cookie at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Hot Mess Cookie at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Hot Mess Cookie, $6

It’s not hot, which would be so great, but it is a beast filled with M&M’s, chocolate chips, and a bunch of other candy crispies. It is a mess, kind of like me trying to balance four plates of fair food on my arm. Easily sharable with a hungry group who have the munchies. Just saying. The Handoff: We encountered a bit of suspicion with this one, but really, who can deny a cookie? “Yum!” Last seen being pounced on by several friends. This photo in no way implies that the lady eating it is a Hot Mess. She seemed pretty nice, actually.  At Monster Bakery, Kidland inside the carnival.

Bucket O' Soda at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Bucket O’ Soda at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Bucket O’ Soda, $14

No fair food tasting can begin without a solid beverage source of at least 64 ounces, with a cup that can later double as a paint can or small animal transport. Refill it with water, or another $7 worth of soda. Bonus: Just wait until 7-11’s free Slurpee day and you have a heck of a cup to fill. The Handoff: No freaking way. All mine. Various locations around the fair.

The Golden Cone at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

The Golden Cone at the 2018 Sonoma County Fair Food. Heather Irwin/PD

Gold Leaf Covered Ice Cream Cone, $8

We ripped Golden Girl and Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and her friends away from the fudge counter to experience something a little more regal. Gold-covered chocolate soft serve was just her speed, though we struggled over whether the Oreo Bubble Waffle (waffles filled with cookies, whipped cream and ice cream) was a better choice. Nope. Gold for Shirlee. Gold leaf, she said doesn’t really taste like much. I thought it looked nice with her hair. Doesn’t she look relaxed? I think its the gold. Find it at OMG Ice Cream near the Shade Park. The Handoff: This one was all Shirlee, who said it was delish. You don’t exactly ask a Supervisor for a lick of their ice cream, cause that would be weird.

What are your favorites? Maybe I’ll go back.

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Chefs Bring Comfort to Carr Fire Chaos in Redding and Beyond https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/carr-fire-chefs/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/carr-fire-chefs/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 16:11:04 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38567

World Central Kitchen heads to the Carr fire in Redding to bring food, nourishment

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Fifteen miles outside of Redding, you start to see the signs. Handwritten posters bright markers thanking first responders and firefighters posted on overpasses: “Firefighters Kick Ash!” “Thank you firefighters!” and “We Love You!” are among the sentiments welcoming incoming workers to the hellish burn zone of Shasta County.

It’s all too reminiscent of October 2017 here in Sonoma County, and after a three-and-a-half hour drive up I-5, visibility has gone from grey haze to a yellow fog that obscures everything farther than a few hundred feet away. Ash covers the car. I’m sobbing uncontrollaby.

After nine months of running a non-profit fire survivor feeding program in Sonoma County, Sonoma Family Meal, I made the decision to head into the fire-ravaged community to help where I could. After talking to a handful of local chefs, including James Vereb of Mosiac Restaurant at the Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge, I found out I wasn’t alone.

At its height, the Carr Fire raging through Shasta County reached 121,000 acres, with nearly 40,000 people evacuated in a city of just 91,000 residents. More than 700 homes have been lost, and the relatively remote Northern California location is just one of Northern California communities on fire.

From celebrity chef Guy Fieri and Missouri’s Operation Barbecue to Mercy Chefs and Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, disaster survivors throughout the world are benefitting from the deep knowledge chefs bring to feeding hundreds — and even thousands of people at a time with limited resources, space and funding.

Traditional relief agencies like the Salvation Army and Red Cross, focus on the most immediate of needs. When thousands of people are streaming into a shelter, a cheese sandwich or a bag of potato chips, or a fast-food hamburger is good enough. But long-term, food is one of the greatest comforts to those experiencing trauma.

And while local chefs and the food community are the key to the long-term recovery of fire victims, in the heat of the moment, the World Central Kitchen may be one of the fastest-growing and most effective chef teams in the world.

I met Jason Collins two glasses of red wine into Tuesday night. We both happened to be outside our hotel in the ashy smoke having a stress cigarette. I know, ironic. Don’t judge us.

His World Central Kitchen T-shirt was the entry to a conversation about the program. He had just come from a WCK recovery kitchen in Kona, Hawaii via Guatemala, where volcanoes were exploding, via Ventura County, where he is a chef who helped serve survivors after a fire raged in his own community.

The organization sets up in disaster zones, paying local purveyors, local kitchens and farmers — stimulating the local economy — and turning out thousands of beautifully made meals in record time. Jason explained that WCK’s Chef Andres has access to a lot of funds, and the 8-year-old nonprofit has fed more than 4.5 million since January 2018. And counting.

The next morning, we met at the downtown Redding kitchen for their first full day of service.

Volunteers with World Central Kitchen

Volunteers with World Central Kitchen

At 8:30a.m., the kitchen was already quietly buzzing with a handful of volunteers, and everyone there was a volunteer — from the chef lead (who lives in Guatemala and flew up with his wife to help) to Collins himself, who runs a catering business in Ventura. “My wife is holding things down,” he said.

The day’s meals were neatly written on a Post-It easel pad. Red Cross would be there at 10:30 a.m. Two easy breezy hours to prep a dozen hotel pans of Mexican Rice, 20 gallons of salsa verde, hundreds of pounds of sausage (purchased from a local purveyor) and an avocado salad with pepitas, cherry tomatoes and tortilla strips that would rival one in any upscale bistro.

World Central Kitchen volunteers unloading

“Presentation counts!” was announced repeatedly, reminder and serious request. For the WCK team, nothing goes out without considering how it looks. “We want it to look like it came from a restaurant,” said one chef. “It has to.”

The team powered through and, at 10:35 a.m., hot boxes filled with beautiful, nourishing, healthy, chef-made — and most importantly, safely made — meals went out to the Red Cross.

Moments later, after a quick picture and round of applause, the team went back to work on the next meal going out in two hours, lunch bags for firefighters. With 300 bags to fill, the volunteers for WCK got back to work, because there were thousands of mouths to feed in the hellish burn zone of Shasta County.

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Barrels Brews and Bites for Sips and Nibbles in Healdsburg https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/barrels-brews-and-bites-for-sips-and-nibbles-in-healdsburg/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/barrels-brews-and-bites-for-sips-and-nibbles-in-healdsburg/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2018 18:33:21 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38555 Taco trio and rose gose at Barrels, Brews and Bites in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD

Healdsburg hybrid is somewhere between tasting room and restaurant

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Taco trio and rose gose at Barrels, Brews and Bites in Healdsburg. Heather Irwin/PD

You’ll find a perfectly-curated boutique wine and brewery lineup along with tasty small plates at Healdsburg’s newest — well, we’re not sure what to call it. Cozier than a tasting room, but not quite a restaurant, owner Saunda Kitchen has created a hybrid that feels just right.

An alum of Eel River Brewing, she’s got a line on the latest releases, like Anderson Valley’s Framboise Rose Gose and the coveted Smith Story pinot noir available by the glass.

The “Trinity” menu features two healthy pours — a beer and a wine — along with a small bite like their “Lil Clucker” deviled eggs, a bitty basket of truffle fries or dark chocolate peanut butter ball for $20.

Explore their hidden gem wines, available by bottle or glass, crafty hyper-local beers along with flights of mimosas, and cheladas (beer and Clamato).  335 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-395-0487, barrelsbrewsandbites.com

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7 Must-Do Events for Sonoma County Cider Week https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/7-must-do-events-for-sonoma-county-cider-week/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/7-must-do-events-for-sonoma-county-cider-week/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 23:16:10 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38532

From cider tasting to touring apple farms, Cider Week events are apple-tastic.

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Leading up to the Gravenstein Apple Fair (August 11-12), local cidermakers are throwing their own apple-tastic events during Sonoma County Cider Week (August 3-12, 2018).

Things kick off at Sebastopol’s Horse & Plow Cidery with a new cider release, food and live music on August 3, followed by the legendary Txotx Spanish Cider Party at Tilted Shed Ciderworks in Windsor. On August 5, Backyard restaurant hosts a pig roast with flamenco music and a tour of Tilted Shed’s orchard. On August 8, Ethic Ciders’ Ned Lawton hosts a tour of his Apple Bottom Farm, sharing strategies for organic and regenerative orchard management.

Agrestic Cider and Leaky Barrel Cider will release a collaboration cider to benefit fire recovery at Barley & Bine Cafe in Windsor. But wait, there’s more…Handline hosts small plates and ciders benefiting the Just & Resilient Futures Fund on Thursday, from 4 to 7p.m., and Spinster Sisters hosts a pairing of Tilted Shed Ciderworks with small plates or dinner on Saturday. Find out more about all of the events at SonomaCountyCiderWeek.com.

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The Sonoma County Gin Mixologists Are Flipping For https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-sonoma-county-gin-mixologists-are-flipping-for/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-sonoma-county-gin-mixologists-are-flipping-for/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 19:03:24 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38529 Interior of Duke's Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo.

Sipsong is a new spirit maker with serious botanical know-how.

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Interior of Duke's Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo.

Indira gin from local microdistillery Sipsong Spirits has become a favorite of local bartenders who are using it for a bevy of summer cocktails.

But what’s got us feverish for this beauty is drinking it on the rocks and appreciating the wild blend of botanicals that fairly leap out of the glass. Italian juniper, orange, bay, lavender, lime, cumin, and coriander are among the flavors of this grape-based spirit made by Tara Jasper in tiny batches at Sonoma Brothers distillery.

She describes the gin and the name of the company as “Distilling the Moment” — a moment we’re happy to experience repeatedly.

You can find it at Perch and Plow in Santa Rosa; Valette, Duke’s, and Barndiva in Healdsburg, Wishbone in Petaluma and many other top cocktail spots in Sonoma County and bottles are available at Big John’s market in Healdsburg, Oliver’s Markets, Bottle Barn and Wilibees, sipsongspirits.com.

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A Beignet to Rule Them All at Tips Roadside in Kenwood https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/a-beignet-to-rule-all-beignets-at-tips-roadside-in-kenwood/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/a-beignet-to-rule-all-beignets-at-tips-roadside-in-kenwood/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2018 17:30:23 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38504 Beignets at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

One of Sonoma County's favorite chefs has stepped out of the food truck and into the restaurant kitchen, reintroducing his very own version of Southern dining.

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Beignets at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

It’s barely 5:30 p.m., and Chef Thaddeus Palmese has a line of orders almost 3 feet long coming into his kitchen. Five line cooks listen over the din of clanking pans and the chatter of the dining room, answering his every order with, “Yes, chef!”

Chef Thaddeus Palmese expedites service at Tips Roadshouse in Kenwood. Heather Irwin, PD

Chef Thaddeus Palmese expedites service at Tips Roadshouse in Kenwood. Heather Irwin, PD

Sitting at the counter, watching the complicated dance happening just feet away, is both fascinating and slightly stressful. Flames leap into the air, knives are chopping, sizzling pans come within inches of arms. Inevitably someone gets burned, a dish doesn’t pass muster with Palmese and another gets sent back to be re-plated.

Welcome to Tips Roadside, where one of Sonoma County’s favorite chefs is finally getting a chance to come out from behind the food trucks — The Tri TipTrolley — that he’s been inside for the past five years, quietly honing his menus while serving the simple tri-tip-centric bowls of owner Andrew and Susie Pryfogle’s popular red trolley mobile kitchens.

Thicker than water cocktail at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Thicker than water cocktail at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

“The ad said they wanted a kick-ass chef,” said Palmese, as to why someone with classic chef training and the former chef of Starlight Diner in Sebastopol would work on a food truck. But its been a fun ride for Palmese, who’s now ready to reintroduce his version of Southern dining, with everything from creamy grits and Hoppin’ John Salad to fried chicken and beignets.

Located in the former Vineyards Inn in Kenwood, the restaurant has been gutted, overhauled and reborn as a clean, bright and modern roadhouse with two large dining rooms, a full bar and eventually, an outdoor patio. It’s been a long revamp for the team, who started reconstruction before the 2017 fires. In the first days of the fires, the Tri Tip Trolley team drove their trucks into fire zones to help feed first responders. Much of the art on the restaurant walls pays homage to the harrowing weeks during and after the fires, which affected many parts of the Sonoma Valley.

Grilled steelhead salad with chilled soft boiled egg, haricot vert, olives, frisee, mizuna, smoked tomato, meyer vinaigrette, tempura meyer lemon at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Grilled steelhead salad with chilled soft boiled egg, haricot vert, olives, frisee, mizuna, smoked tomato, meyer vinaigrette, tempura meyer lemon at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Now that they’re up and running, however, the restaurant has been flooded with guests — from early diners from Oakmont and nearby wine tasters to later waves of locals and tourists. There’s every indication that, like nearby Salt and Stone and Palooza, the newcomers are already becoming part of the fabric of Highway 12.

With an extra dose of Southern flavor, we’re confident they’ll be serving up Wine Country comfort food for a long time to come.

Best bets

Tri-Tip Bites with chpotle, creamy horseradish and garlic aioli at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Tri-Tip Bites with chpotle, creamy horseradish and garlic aioli at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Tri-Tip Bites, $14: Harkening back to their food truck start, these straight-up nuggets of flavorful beef were relatively unknown outside California until a few years ago. Inexpensive, but delicious, they’re even better with chipotle, horseradish and garlic aioli dipping sauces.

Grilled Steelhead Salad, $15: Palmese calls this his “Nicoise, Sort Of” Salad. Like the French salad of tuna, eggs, green beans, frisee and olives, it’s a kitchen-sink sort of dish, but becomes more intentional with the use of steelhead salmon, smoked tomatoes and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. The tempura-fried lemon slice is an added component that’s as tasty as it is pretty.

 

Hoppin John salad with a slab of housemade bacon at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Hoppin John salad with a slab of housemade bacon at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

 

Slab of House Bacon with Hoppin John Salad, $13: It’s hard to get more traditional than this Southern comfort dish of bacon, rice and black-eyed peas. Palmese deconstructs it, placing a thick slab of homestyle bacon and beans dressed with a mustard vinaigrette, pickled squash and red peppers. Puffed rice adds a bit of crunch.

 

True Grits, $15: This is the do-not-miss dish, whether or not you think you like grits. Because you haven’t had grits until you give yourself over to these fluffy, cheesy, buttery ground corn kernels that would make any Southerner homesick. Unlike polenta, grits are made with white corn, and have a softer, less coarse texture — which in less adept hands is a lot like Cream of Wheat. Infused with flavor, the addition of smoked mushrooms are a revelation, topped by bright spring peas, pea tendrils and Gouda cheese.

Fried chicken with mashed Yukons, peas and carrots at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Fried chicken with mashed Yukons, peas and carrots at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Night Market Fried Chicken, $17: A gluten-free crust takes this version out of the realm of Old School cast-iron fried chicken, but with a softer, lighter crust that doesn’t overshadow the actual chicken. The meat stays moist, with plenty of flavor, but the sides of Red Eye Gravy, smashed Yukon potatoes and fresh peas and carrots make this dish seem right out of Maw Maw’s kitchen.

Beignets at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Beignets at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Beignets, $8: Plan ahead, so you’ve got both the time and appetite to appreciate Palmese’s version of the classic beignet. Unlike others, that have more of a donut dough, these start with a pate a choux dough — a bit eggier and lighter, puffing into little balls of air and crust. A mouth-puckering Meyer lemon sauce is perfect spooned into the center. You’ll be tempted to snarf them in a single bite, which you will do exactly once, realizing that the insanely hot steam inside has burnt your tongue into next week.

Interior of Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heather Irwin/PD

Crafted cocktails have local monikers like “Sugarloaf Mountain” and Highway 12, using mostly local spirits from the restaurant’s full bar. We loved the Thicker Than Smoke with Sonoma Brothers Bourbon, St. George Raspberry, blackberry syrup and bitters ($12), though all the cocktails we tried leaned toward the sweet. Like sweet-sweet. A full page of local wines, spirits and beers make this a hotspot for tasting your way through Sonoma’s favorite tipples. Plus, free corkage on all Kenwood wines.

Needs Work: The menu, with dishes like smoked short ribs, fisherman’s stew and tomato soup, seems wintery for an opening summer menu, though the use of seasonal produce and local ingredients lighten the flavors somewhat. The restaurant can be very warm on hot days, so dress accordingly.

Owner Andrew Pryfogle speaks with guests at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heathe Irwin/PD

Owner Andrew Pryfogle speaks with guests at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Heathe Irwin/PD

Overall: Palmese gets a chance to spread his wings, showcasing his passion for the food of his Southern roots to Wine Country in a perfect roadside spot in the Valley.

Tips Roadside, 8445 Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-509-0078, tipsroadside.com. Now open for brunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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2 Sonoma County Spots Named Among ’38 Essential California Restaurants’ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/eaters-38-essential-california-restaurants-includes-two-sonoma-county-spots/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/eaters-38-essential-california-restaurants-includes-two-sonoma-county-spots/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2018 16:38:14 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38478

Two Sonoma County restaurants have made the very legit list of Eater's 38 Essential California Restaurants. 

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Recently, two Sonoma County restaurants, El Molino Central and SHED, made the very legit list of Eater’s 38 Essential California Restaurants. 

Now, I usually balk at “reporting” on the cringeworthy “Best Of” superlatives being tossed out like chicken feed to every restaurant in the Bay Area. At best, they’re usually just misleading; at worst, they’re thinly veiled advertising clickbait.

But occasionally, a food writer I respect spends some real time putting together a list of really great, destination-worthy restaurants. That’s what’s recently happened with Eater National’s 38 Essential California Restaurants, curated by dining editor, Bill Addison. 

After spending several months eating his way through the Golden State, Addison tagged “the most important and defining restaurants right this minute”. In fact, Addison made the additional stance of saying that California has surpassed New York as “setting the pace” for how we eat now.  Snap!

Of course, I could name many more amazing pace-setting spots in Sonoma County, but it came down to just two in the Eater list. First up, El Molino Central (11 Central Ave., Sonoma) gets a nod for its corn tortillas, which are hand-milled onsite and authentic tamales and seafood dishes.

“The masa wonderland has that unique quality of feeling simultaneously like a secret, but also like an essential destination — so charming that those in the know can’t bear to keep it to themselves, ” says the write up.

SHED (25 North St., Healdsburg) is “where all your “wouldn’t it be nice to live in Sonoma” fantasies come to life, better than you even imagined, if only for a couple hours,” according to the guide.

We agree wholeheartedly.

Nearby Hog Island Oyster Co. (Marshall), and The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena) also represented the North Bay. Other Bay Area restaurants included Atelier Crenn, Cala, Benu, Cotagna, Swan Oyster Depot, Tartine Manufactory, Zuni Cafe, The Cafe at Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Commis (Oakland), Manresa, Koi Palace in Daly City and Brown Sugar Kitchen (Oakland) among others.  

Sacramento’s Localis is noted for its farm to table philosophy, while Los Angeles gets a wild variety of thumbs-ups from simple strip mall Thai to the trendy Sqirl. 

Get the full list from Eater National.

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Paella So Famous It’s About to Be in an Amy Poehler Movie, Now Available in Santa Rosa https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/paella-so-famous-its-about-to-be-in-an-amy-poehler-movie-now-available-in-santa-rosa/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/paella-so-famous-its-about-to-be-in-an-amy-poehler-movie-now-available-in-santa-rosa/#comments Fri, 06 Jul 2018 22:00:28 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38436 El Pescador paella with sea clams, mussels, prawns, squid, sweet peas, arroz negro, peppers and aioli at Gerards Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Gerard's Paella has a permanent location in downtown, featuring tapas, paella and cocktails

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El Pescador paella with sea clams, mussels, prawns, squid, sweet peas, arroz negro, peppers and aioli at Gerards Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

A few weeks before the opening of Gerard Nebesky’s new Santa Rosa restaurant, the king of Wine Country paella invited a few industry folks to his Occidental home for a preview of the new menu. Not surprisingly, it included mostly discussions about paella, demonstrations of paella and eating paella. That’s a lot of talk about a traditional Spanish rice dish.

And while that was all fascinating and delicious, the true entertainment of the afternoon — and of his now-opened restaurant, Gerard’s Paella y Tapas — was Nebesky himself.

Gerard Nebesky of Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas. Photo Shana Bull, shanabull.com

With a mop top of curly white hair and a grin that rarely leaves his face, Nebesky is the kind of guy who invites you to his longtime camp at Burning Man after knowing you for 15 minutes — and really means it. He routinely dives for abalone and other local seafood for his paella, learned to make paella on a backcountry ski trip and, in 2008, bested Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a paella smackdown in San Francisco. If you’ve ever been to a big Wine Country event, you’ve probably seen him hovered over 4-foot pans of cooking rice and vegetables and shaking hands with pretty much everyone who stops by to say hello.

Interior at Gerards Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Interior at Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

To say he’s something of a celebrity is putting it mildly, even before he reveals that he’s also tight with former Saturday Night Live cast member Rachel Dratch (he catered her birthday party) and, with more glee than ego, he reveals that actor Jason Schwartzman will portray him in the upcoming Netflix movie ‘Wine Country.’ The Napa-based “dark comedy” directed by Amy Poehler recently wrapped in Napa Valley and stars Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and a host of other SNL folks.

“I’m the ‘Annoying Paella Guy,’” he says, holding up a caricature drawing of the cast — with himself in the corner as the Paella Guy. Meanwhile, pans of paella bubble away on his home burners, getting the perfect crispy crunch on the bottom of the pan. Those small paella pans, however, are pipsqueaks compared to the 10-foot pans he’s used at major events like the Maker Faire in New York City.

A large pan of paella from Gerard's Paella catering at Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

A large pan of paella from Gerard’s Paella catering at Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

“I can serve 1,200 with one of those,” he said.

With the restaurant now open, Nebesky is finding a new audience for his charm and his paella.

Having redesigned the former Persona Pizza in downtown Santa Rosa (also the longtime Arrigoni’s) into a welcoming spot with a cool sunroom, bright and open dining area and open kitchen, the made-to-order paella is as much spectacle as dining.

Just look for Nebesky as both ringleader and greeter behind the giant paella pan, and you’ll know you’ve arrived at the right spot.

Best Bets

The menu is divided into “pintxo” (little bites often eaten with long wooden picks) and tapas (heartier small bites) along with paella, salads, “bocadillos” (baguette sandwiches) and desserts. Lunch and dinner have the same menu. Beverages include several beers and wines on tap (Camlow Cellars rosé of pinot noir is tops) as well as by-the-glass and bottles.

Don’t miss the special cocktails, like the housemade sangria, a lemon and lager shandy and our favorite, white port, tonic and lime, which is the essence of summer in a glass.

 

Marinated mushrooms at Gerard's Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Marinated mushrooms at Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD


Pintxo (all $5)

Paella Croquettes: Rice and Manchego cheese are mashed into a ball, fried and doused with aioli. What could be better?

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers: Roasted red peppers stuffed with tart goat cheese and topped with dry cured olives and espelette chile, a mild pepper. Sweet, slightly spicy, creamy — it’s the whole package.

Pickled Mushrooms: Not for every palate, but if you like mushrooms and vinegar, these giant pickled fungus are so worth stabbing with a toothpick and savoring again and again.

Tapas


Papas Bravas ($8):
Any tapas spot worth its weight features these fried potatoes. The “Angry Sauce” isn’t so mean as to burn but has a stern bit of pimenton to get your attention. Aioli isn’t just mayo, but a true egg yolk and oil version that tastes like the summer sun of Seville.

Paella

Our only critique is the lack of crust on the individual servings. It’s truly our favorite thing about paella, and the quick fires just don’t seem to get the same char. We’ve tried it five times now, and though it’s improving, we want more crunch!

El Pescador ($14): If you get one thing at Gerard’s, get this (assuming you dig shellfish). Filled with clams, mussels, prawns and squid, the beauty of this dish is the “arroz negro”, or black rice, created with cuttlefish ink. It’s a classic, and the ink gives a slightly briny taste to the rice, complementing the fresh seafood.

A few dabs of aioli add richness and a hint of sweet, along with green peas for color and additional sweetness. We kind of can’t get enough of this dish.

El Pescador paella with sea clams, mussels, prawns, squid, sweet peas, arroz negro, peppers and aioli at Gerards Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

El Pescador paella with sea clams, mussels, prawns, squid, sweet peas, arroz negro, peppers and aioli at Gerards Paella Y Tapas in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Senorita Rosa ($13): The star of this paella is the chorizo Bilbao, made with smoked paprika, garlic and pepper. The chorizo grounds this lighter chicken, arugula and fennel paella, giving it some real muscle.

El Valedon ($15): The #flayslayer, this paella is a mix of seafood and marinated chicken with sweet peppers and garbanzo beans. Think of it as more of a crowd-pleaser with a variety of ingredients rather than a single point of view.

Overall: Half the fun of Gerard’s is the showmanship and stories from Nebesky, well-known to Wine Country for his award-winning paella catering business. But his casual, Spanish cuisine without the fuss is what keeps us coming back again and again.

Gerard’s Paella Y Tapas, 701 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-708-8686, gerardspaella.com.

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The New Naked Pig Cafe Opens in Santa Rosa https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-new-naked-pig-cafe-opens-in-santa-rosa-for-breakfast-brunch-and-lunch/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-new-naked-pig-cafe-opens-in-santa-rosa-for-breakfast-brunch-and-lunch/#respond Thu, 05 Jul 2018 18:21:15 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38425

A bigger space with the same urban-foraged goodness in downtown Santa Rosa

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The Naked Pig Cafe (2.0) has opened at 544 Mendocino Ave in downtown Santa Rosa (formerly El Capitan Taqueria) with a bigger, brighter and even more stylishly-decorated space than their original shoebox-sized cafe at 435 Santa Rosa Ave. 

We’ve always loved Jason and Dalia’s impeccably curated menus, filled with “urban foraged” flowers, fruits and veggies from throughout the nearby neighborhoods. The Eggs Benni ($15) with Meyer lemon Hollandaise, potatoes and salad were what we’ve come to expect in terms of preciousness and deliciousness. 

A wild fermented sparkling wine ($10) was a unique change of pace from the usual Mimosa. A ruby-colored, unfiltered beverage its somewhere between cider, beer and wine, with a tart, fermented (natch) flavor reminiscent of their “hooch” at nearby restaurant Flower and Bone.

Service can be snail-paced on busy mornings, and the restaurant has taken some hits on Yelp for long waits, but this is slow food after all. For a 20 percent included gratuity, however, we’d be flattered to get just a teensy bit more waitstaff love (and homemade ketchup) with our Benni next time. Nothing over-the-top, mind you. But I’m pretty fond of tiaras and ermine robes.

Open Wednesday through Sunday, 8a.m. to 3p.m.

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Great Fried Chicken at a Santa Rosa Gas Station? It’s True https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/great-fried-chicken-at-a-santa-rosa-gas-station-its-true/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/great-fried-chicken-at-a-santa-rosa-gas-station-its-true/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2018 16:17:18 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38412 Krispy Krunchy Chicken shops are typically in gas or convenience stations. Courtesy photo.

It’s a curious combination, but one worth seeking out just for the culinary adventure.

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Krispy Krunchy Chicken shops are typically in gas or convenience stations. Courtesy photo.

Californians tend to get scrunchy faces when you mention any sort of food sold in a gas station. It’s a pained look at your obvious ignorance for even suggesting such a horror.

Not so when you venture east of the Mississippi, where a fill-up means more than just petrol. In fact, gas stations from Pennsylvania to Louisiana routinely have some of the best homemade fried chicken and barbecue at small-town pitstops where restaurants are few and far between. Among the most popular: Krispy Krunchy Chicken, a Louisiana-style fried chicken spot with more than 2,300 locations in 41 states.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken shops are typically in gas or convenience stations. Courtesy photo.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken shops are typically in gas or convenience stations. Courtesy photo.

What may shock and surprise you: It’s pretty darned good.

Sonoma County now has two of its very own, in Geyserville at AJ’s Mini Mart (21079 Geyserville Blvd.) and the newest at the Fuel and Food Market (4856 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa).

What makes KKC worth a stop? We loved the crispy crust and tasty seasoning that made it a stand out even among more bespoke versions at local restaurants, and definitely a step above KFC. The breast meat was a little drier than ideal, but ours had also been sitting under a heat lamp for a while. Also impressive were “boudin balls” (think poor man’s arancini, made with ground pork and rice and fried into a crisp, mouth-blistering nugget. Plus, its a bargain for a quick lunch or family, with a two piece combo with biscuit just $3.99 and a 12-piece family combo with biscuits and fries for $16.99.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken sides include black beans and rice, honey biscuits, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and fries. Courtesy photo.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken sides include black beans and rice, honey biscuits, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and fries. Courtesy photo.

What makes the Redwood Hwy. KKC especially notable is that you can load up on fried chicken, honey biscuits so short you’ll wonder if there’s a single can of Crisco left in the universe while also stocking up on Indian food staples like ghee, basmati rice and aloo bhujia (fried potato snacks).

It’s a curious combination, but one worth seeking out just for the culinary adventure. Just make sure to grab a few napkins.

My very own KKC. Heather Irwin/PD

My very own KKC. Heather Irwin/PD

If you go: The family that runs the Larkfield gas station still seem a little mystified about some of the dishes and fresh chicken can be a little limited at lunch, but if you ask, they’ll fry up some fresh in a jiffy. There’s a little picnic table outside, but we suggest taking it to go and finding your own little bit of heavy to enjoy your KKC.

Related Images:

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Fremont Diner Was a Victim of Its Own Success, Say Owners https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sonomas-popular-fremont-diner-in-flux/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sonomas-popular-fremont-diner-in-flux/#comments Wed, 27 Jun 2018 21:25:29 +0000 http://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38383

One of Wine Country’s most popular pitstops unexpectedly closed its doors last Wednesday.

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A week after the surprise closure of one of Wine Country’s most beloved roadside restaurants, the Fremont Diner owners opened up about their decision to shutter the space as well as plans for the future.

The husband-wife owners Chad and Erika Harris said the diner had been a victim of its own success, with demand quickly outgrowing both the space and staffing.

“It was incredibly successful to those who visited, but the model was hard to sustain,” owners said in an email Tuesday.

A culinary media darling since opening in 2008, the funky diner was lauded by Oprah magazine, Gywneth Paltrow’s Goop and Food & Wine magazine, which named it one of the best diners in America. An Instragram-worthy menu with the couple’s comfort food dishes gave them even more cachet, as diners from around the world ventured to the cozy country cafe.

Halfway between the Sonoma and Napa valleys off Highway 121, the Fremont Diner oozed nouveau decrepitude with a heavy dose of John Deere chic and the irresistible lure of a butter and pork-soaked menu. Selling charming local jams, sauces and coveted Rancho Gordo beans, it was a must-do on many Wine Country itineraries, but also had a pull-up-a-chair vibe that regularly brought in locals.

Instagram post from the Fremont Diner's @thefremontdiner page.

Instagram post from the Fremont Diner’s @thefremontdiner page.

However, the couple said they often found themselves covering multiple shifts day in and day out with the diner, something they say was difficult to sustain, especially with small children at home. Facing ongoing short-staffing, which has plagued the Wine Country restaurant industry especially since last year’s wildfires, the couple decided it was time to shutter.

The Harrises own the Fremont Diner location, which they ultimately plan to revamp.

“Closing the diner is truly a lifestyle choice at this point, and a chance to create something fresh and new for our community; we’re not done quite yet,” said Chad Harris, the restaurant’s chef.

He said it was a decision for their family, first and foremost.

Their 13 full-time and 17 part-time employees were notified about the diner’s closure early June 27, which set off a frenzy of social media questions when visitors found the breakfast and brunch spot locked and two orange traffic cones blocking the door. Looking for the legendary chicken and waffles that made this former hot dog stand a well-known destination, they knocked to no avail.

Questions about the restaurant’s future then began emerging on Facebook posts. When staff took to social media seeking new employment, even more questions emerged.

Though the Harrises were mostly mum last week, they now say employees who were present at a meeting about the closure spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon reminiscing over beverages. They said they’re supporting staff in finding new positions in the Valley.

“The Fremont Diner began as an endeavor to reimagine the good food and nostalgic atmosphere of classic American diners. Over the past ten years our plans for the future have taken shape with the Diner — as have our personal and family goals — and so today we are closing the doors on what we consider to be a very successful chapter,” the owners said in the email.

Erika Harris said the response to the closure has been overwhelming, but they also have received support for a plan to reopen the diner space with a fresh food concept that will “allow us to bring people together, live life to the fullest and do both over a really good meal.”

They’re also moving forward on a project in downtown Sonoma, but don’t have a timeline, yet.

In 2017, Harris and her husband announced plans to open a second restaurant in Sonoma after purchasing a half-acre lot currently housing the Union 76 gas station at 899 Broadway. The city planning commission last year approved their application to make significant renovations to the site that could include a 52-seat restaurant and nanobrewery.

“We are still working on the gas station and are waiting on environmental clean up to be finished before we can proceed,” Erika Harris said.

The same day the restaurant closed, a sign at the gas station confirmed, “Gas business closing down for good limited hours now ’til June 30.” Signs for Union 76 were being removed as well.

“We are so grateful to all of the customers, supporters, staff, and friends who have reached out about the closure in the past week,” Erika Harris said. “We have been heartened to hear so many good stories and an outpouring of memories from those who shared a meal with us and worked alongside us over the years.

“We look forward to creating something in the future that not only sustains us, but can once again serve those who have supported us along the way,” she added.

Writer Sarah Stierch contributed to this article.

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