Sonoma Magazine BiteClub https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub Restaurant & Dining Reviews for Sonoma, Santa Rosa and the Wine Country Mon, 17 Sep 2018 22:18:43 +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 Secret New Dining Spot at Marin’s Oldest Bar Worth a Coastal Detour https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/secret-new-dining-spot-at-marins-oldest-bar-worth-a-coastal-detour-to-tomales/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/secret-new-dining-spot-at-marins-oldest-bar-worth-a-coastal-detour-to-tomales/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 17:13:49 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38942

William Tell House is an old favorite with a new vibe.

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It’s been exactly three weeks since Ted Wilson reopened the historic William Tell House in Tomales. It’s seven days until his wedding and five minutes since he got the beer tap flowing.

So, at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, in this tiny hamlet of 204 people, it’s Miller time. Actually, it’s Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ time, and Wilson, his two-person kitchen crew and a random guy at the end of the bar are downing a cold one. They actually look a little surprised when I crash this charming tableau. I’m a little surprised, too, because the place really wasn’t what I expected, which is a good thing.

The William Who House?

William Tell House in Tomales. Courtesy.

“You know the William Tell House,” says my friend as I’m wondering why I’ve never heard of this super minimalist pop-up in Tomales of all places. “You’ve been to the William Tell House,” she says with a small sigh, “Everyone’s been there.”

There are many places I have been, but nope, not this one. I’d remember wondering exactly what was inside that completely nondescript two-story clapboard building I’ve missed a hundred times while rubbernecking at all the bicyclists swarming around Tomales Bakery.

William Tell House in 1902

For the last eight years, “Marin’s Oldest Bar” was a favorite locals spot for a night of prime rib with the family — pretty much what it had been for the last 140 years or so — as a bar and restaurant (and sometimes hotel). Named for a Swiss folk hero who had a thing for apples and arrows, it’s the oldest continually-serving bar in the county, having opened originally in 1877. The place burned to the ground in 1920, but was quickly rebuilt.

Ceviche tostadas with pickled cabbage, pumpkin seeds, radish and Bolinas rock cod at William Tell House in Tomales, Claifornia. Heather Irwin/PD

The spot has changed hands only four times in the last century, so when the building came up for sale last year, San Francisco chef, caterer and restaurateur Ted Wilson got a call from friends in the area where he grew up.

As co-founder of Oakland’s Metal and Match Catering, founder of food incubator, The Hall in SF and newly-minted head of The Alice Collective, Wilson already had several plates spinning when he opened a limited-menu “pop-up” featuring “humble casual” food sourced from the farms, fields and beaches of the region.

Seafood chowder at William Tell House in Tomales, California. Heather Irwin/PD

Working with local chef, Austin Perkins, an alum of Cyrus and Nick’s Cove, along with consulting beverage director Ethan Terry (AQ, Slanted Door), the opening menu has less than 10 items along with a couple of daily specials that are simple, but impressive. William Tell House is doing a preview opening for about three months while expanding the kitchen to be able to serve a more extensive brunch, lunch and dinner lineup, according to Wilson. But already, the inside has become a bright, cheerful spot for chowder, duck chili, Bolinas rock cod ceviche, the “daily” dog, seasonal cocktails and the aforementioned beers on tap.

Chalkboard to share a drink at William Tell House in Tomales. Heather Irwin/PD

Just get there before the day-trippers fill up the leave-a-drink chalkboard.

Best Bets

Seafood Chowder ($10): Why is it that you can’t get a decent cup of chowder at the coast? Though we’ve had a handful of pretty good versions, the standard seems to be lumpy, floury, deeply uninspired chowders that make us want to cry. This is not one of those. A haul of Bolinas rock cod, Manila clams, mussels and Gulf Shrimp honor this creamy white chowder studded with homemade Applewood bacon and potatoes. Stunning.

Ceviche Tostada ($13): Citrus-marinated rock cod is a bold choice. Though the pieces were cut a tinge too large for the preciously small corn tostadas, pickled cabbage, pepitas and avocado mousse (mostly holding the chips down), they make for a tasty, local seafood bite worthy or sharing.

Liberty Duck Chili ($8): Jim Reichardt’s storied Liberty Duck farm sits just a few miles from Tomales, but duck in chili? A crispy confit sits atop thoughtfully-spiced bean chili with a dollop of pasilla pepper creme fraiche. Warm and filling, you’ll want to take some home for later, because it’s even better after a stint in the fridge.

Smoked oysters with hummus, peppers, pickled onions and cilantro sprouts at William Tell House in Tomales, Claifornia. Heather Irwin/PD

Local cheese and charcuterie plate ($13): While we didn’t get the advertised blackberry-jalapeño preserves (quince paste was served instead) or caramelized vegetables, but the stars of this show are the local cheeses (Bleating Heart, Cowgirl Creamery) and the hard-to-find pink pearl apples, which have a rosy pink interior and sweet-tart flavor.

Smoked Oyster and Hummus ($12): This daily special is exactly the kind of thing you dream of stumbling upon during a coastal getaway. Cold, smoked oysters get a piggyback on homemade red pepper hummus atop a toasted baguette. Simple presentation, complex flavors.

Worth Trying

Raw Drake’s Bay Oysters ($16 half dozen): Incredible local oysters with fennel-smoked tomato mignonette.

Daily Dog ($10): On my visit, the daily hot dog included pineapple. I don’t do hot dogs, especially with pineapple. Your experience may differ.

McFarland Springs Trout Dip ($11): One of the best local(ish) fishes, this tender pink fish is perfect as a creamy dip with house-seasoned potato chips.

Bar at William Tell House in Tomales. Heather Irwin/PD

William Tell Cobb ($15): Braised Petaluma chicken, fried egg, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, fried egg, garden tomatoes, avocado buttermilk dressing.

Cioppino ($26): Similar to the chowder, but with a spicy tomato broth.

Cocktails ($10-12): The William Tell includes Laird’s Apple Brandy, maple, black walnut bitters, Angostura bitters; the Black Betty is bourbon with lemon and seasonal jam; and your choice of thick or thin Bloody Marys with vodka, gin or mezcal.

This summer and fall, William Tell House is previewing what we hope will be a new and exciting, family-friendly, “kids and dogs running around,” grab a beer in your flip-flops destination on the way to the coast.

26955 CA-1, Tomales, 707-879-2002, williamtellhouse.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner from 11a.m.

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Sonoma’s Fremont Diner Reopens as Boxcar Fried Chicken and Biscuits https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sonomas-fremont-diner-reopens-as-boxcar-fried-chicken-and-biscuits/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/sonomas-fremont-diner-reopens-as-boxcar-fried-chicken-and-biscuits/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2018 19:09:38 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38931

Hooray, they're back!

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The beloved Fremont Diner has been reborn as Boxcar Fried Chicken and Biscuits,

Owners Erika and Chad Harris closed Sonoma’s much-loved Southern-inspired diner in late June saying the spot was a victim of its own success. Now, however, they’re back in business with a pared-down menu featuring some of their most popular dishes — fried chicken, biscuits,  sandwiches, and sides like pimento cheese, collard greens and baked beans.

The key is offering fast service, something that plagued the Fremont Diner. The restaurant opened Wednesday, and we’ll have more details and pictures coming soon. Open Monday through Friday from 11a.m. to 3p.m., 2698 Fremont Dr., Sonoma, boxcar-friedchicken.com

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Learn to Cultivate Worm Poop and Guerrilla Garden at Santa Rosa’s Heirloom Expo https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/learn-to-cultivate-worm-poop-and-guerilla-garden-at-santa-rosas-heirloom-expo/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/learn-to-cultivate-worm-poop-and-guerilla-garden-at-santa-rosas-heirloom-expo/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2018 17:31:41 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38872

Annual seed-saving, squash-towering, family-gardening event comes to town again.

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It’s gardeners and farmers gone wild at the annual National Heirloom Expo, held Sept. 11-13 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. With hundreds of exhibits, speakers and the annual squash tower this gathering of soil nerds, seed savers, beekeepers, no-tillers and food activists returns to Santa Rosa for the eighth year.

What we love about this gathering are the passionate speakers, exhibitors and vendors who find kinship in this earth-forward, future-thinking, inclusionary event that looks to our agricultural past to create a road toward a more sustainable tomorrow.

 

For example, the potential dangers of herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup and wide use of genetically modified crops have been at the forefront of the Expo’s agenda for years, with speakers warning strongly against the unknown (or unreported) longterm hazards for humans and the planet. With the recent landmark case that awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper to alleged that the weedkiller resulted in his terminal cancer diagnosis, more and more Americans are taking notice. Recently Santa Rosa banned the use of Roundup in city parks. A discussion on Sept. 12 at 7-.m. by consumer activist and author Jeffrey Smith will focus on “How to Heal from GMOs and Roundup”.

Other discussions include Doug and Stacy, Midwestern YouTubers who live on an 11-acre  off-grid compound; Vanessa Harden on how a group of individuals secretly plan flowers, shrubs and veggies in neglected urban spaces; eating a plant-based diet with local nutritionist and Veggie Queen Jill Nussinow along with talks on raising poultry, permaculture and seed-saving.

On Thursday evening, compost connoisseur Jeff Lowenfels will talk about worm poop — aka worm castings — and why every gardener should have some, also explaining the soil food web and how to create have a healthy relationship with fungi. Watch a few of his YouTube videos about what may be the world’s most unsexy subject and you’ll get that he’s truly a, ahem, fungi fun guy.

There’s an entire Kids’ Pavillon with plenty of fun activities for your burgeoning young green thumbs and a demo marketplace helping raise money for local school gardens. Plus, 4,000 varieties of heirloom vegetables, giant pumpkins, a dahlia flower show, fruit carving, globally inspired cuisine, live music, and seed swapping.

All this wholesome, family-friendly fun is $15 for a one day pass and $30 for a three-day pass. Children are free. Details at heirloomexpo.com.

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Healdsburg’s Coolest Pie and Ice Cream Shop, Noble Folk, Coming to Santa Rosa https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/healdsburgs-coolest-pie-and-ice-cream-shop-noble-folk-coming-to-santa-rosa/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/healdsburgs-coolest-pie-and-ice-cream-shop-noble-folk-coming-to-santa-rosa/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2018 22:29:19 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38860 Christian (front) and Ozvaldo (thumbs up) in front of the forthcoming Noble Folk. Courtesy photo.

Noble Folk and new Indian restaurant are among the upcoming additions to the already burgeoning restaurant scene in Santa Rosa.

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Christian (front) and Ozvaldo (thumbs up) in front of the forthcoming Noble Folk. Courtesy photo.

Downtown Santa Rosa’s food scene has undergone an extensive makeover in the last year, with plenty of sparkle, rouge and lipstick in the additions of swell destination spots like Perch & Plow, Gerard’s Paella, Parish Cafe, Acre and Naked PigBut wait, there’s a whole lot more in store and we’ve got the, er, scoop.

Pie at Noble Folk in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

Pie at Noble Folk in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

This week, Healdsburg pastry and ice cream wunderkinds, Ozvaldo Jimenez and Christian Sullberg (Noble Folk, Moustache Baked Goods) announced the opening of a new Noble Folk on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa. Pause for head explosion.

Known for their ridiculously delicious house-made ice creams (strawberry miso, Thai tea, raspberry lychee sorbet) and pies (peach bourbon with streusel, vanilla sweet corn custard with strawberry compote), along with sleek aesthetics and community-minded activism, the 30-somethings say they’ve long contemplated expanding, and when restaurateur Sonu Chandi offered up the former salon next to his upcoming Bollywood Bar & Clay Oven, they jumped.

Noble Folk will be opening in Santa Rosa in fall 2018. Courtesy photo.

Noble Folk will be opening in Santa Rosa in fall 2018. Courtesy photo.

“Imagine if Moustache and Noble Folk had a baby,” said Sullberg, standing outside the 539 Fourth Street location, which they’ve already started rehabbing. “That’s the idea, a little bit of both,” he explained, offering up the pies and ice creams they’ve become known for at Noble Folk along with some cake creations along the lines of Moustache.

The co-owners and Sonoma County natives say they’re glad to bring some additional family-friendly sweetness to downtown. We say, Santa Rosa just got its kitten heels and a sassy hair flip with Noble Folk as part of its food reboot.

Concurrently, the Chandi Hospitality Group (Beer Baron, Bibi’s Burger Bar, Stout Bros, Mountain Mike’s) is working on a Bollywood-themed Indian restaurant to take over the former County Bench (535 Fourth St.). Sonu Chandi said that they have hired Chef Niven Patel, a Florida-based proponent of farm-to-table Indian cuisine, to create the menu and seasonal cocktail guru Scott Beattie (Cyrus, Ramen Gaijin) to create Indian-inspired drinks. Having tried their “secret Indian menu” at Bibi’s, call me enthusiastic.

The opening menu includes dishes like ghost pepper cheddar naan, local vegetable pakora, gooseberry chutney, lamb samosas with mint chutney, pomegranate biryani, whole turmeric-marinated grouper, channa masala and pork belly vindaloo. The restaurant is also slated to open in November.

Related Images:

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After a Decade, Barndiva Gets a New Chef. You Won’t Believe Who It Is https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/after-a-decade-barndiva-gets-a-new-chef-you-wont-believe-who-it-is/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/after-a-decade-barndiva-gets-a-new-chef-you-wont-believe-who-it-is/#comments Tue, 04 Sep 2018 22:28:30 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38828 Mark Hopper, owner and chef at Vignette, puts salt in his casserole made from earthquake kit ingredients, in Sebastopol on Thursday, October 2, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Sebastopol chef will be new exec for top Healdsburg restaurant.

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Mark Hopper, owner and chef at Vignette, puts salt in his casserole made from earthquake kit ingredients, in Sebastopol on Thursday, October 2, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Okay, I’m sorry for the clickbaity headline, but this one’s a bit of a heavy hitter we’re pretty excited about.

Remember Vignette in the Barlow? A while back, it seemed to disappear overnight along with its chef/owner Mark Hopper. The website went dark, the Facebook page wasn’t updated, and pretty much no one we asked knew exactly where Hopper had landed.

Surprise! News came out yesterday that Hopper will be the new executive chef for Barndiva in Healdsburg following the departure of Chef Ryan Fancher. Hopper has a stellar resume, working closely with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, the opening of Las Vegas’ Bouchon and executive chef for casual dining at the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. He was also instrumental in the opening of Farmshop in Marin, and the late Vignette, which opened in 2014, was a BiteClub favorite for his handmade pizzas and wood-fired veggies.

It’s a solid fit, as Hopper is dedicated to sustainable, local sourcing and should jive with the Barndiva aesthetic.

Stay tuned for more details on Hopper’s introduction to Barndiva.

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Taste of Sonoma 2018: Highlights and Food Pix https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/taste-of-sonoma-2018/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/taste-of-sonoma-2018/#respond Tue, 04 Sep 2018 21:27:04 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38818 Pork belly potstickers at Taste of Sonoma 2018 at the Green Music Center. Heather Irwin/PD

Missed Taste of Sonoma? Here are our favorite bites from this year's event.

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Pork belly potstickers at Taste of Sonoma 2018 at the Green Music Center. Heather Irwin/PD

Another great year at Taste of Sonoma, which happened Sept. 1, 2018 at the Green Music Center. Highlights included a rose tasting panel, great showings by Ramen Gaijin, Stockhome (Chef Roberth says they’re doing up to 400 covers a day at the new Petaluma restaurant), Jam’s Joy Bungalow, Chef Tom Schmidt of John Ash & Co, Gerard’s Paella and many others.

Enjoy the gallery above for some food pix.

 

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Cotati’s Down to Earth Cafe: Best Poutine Ever? https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/cotatis-down-to-earth-cafe-best-poutine-ever/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/cotatis-down-to-earth-cafe-best-poutine-ever/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2018 21:54:25 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38804

Down to Earth Cafe is a Cotati gem worth discovering again and again

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For the last 18 months, Down to Earth Cafe has been a cheerful neighborhood cafe with a fairly straightforward menu of sandwiches, salads and entrees. It doesn’t scream for attention by fussing over how their house-cured pastrami takes 16 days to make or how their butterscotch pudding is made with cream and butter and not butterscotch chips. There’s no indication that chef/owner Chris Ball has worked in some of the best restaurants in Europe, and has worked for years to perfect his shatteringly good fish and chips. Which is exactly why it’s escaped the radar for this long.

Strawberry salad at Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

When the dazzle of six-figure restaurant makeovers, precious farm-to-table menus and a never-ending lineup of pedigreed Wine Country chefs is a constant, simpler neighborhood cafes can be lost in the shuffle. Also, they’re also usually not run by a Lark Creek Inn and Fish (Sausalito) alum, so there’s that.

“I just want to feed people,” says Ball, as we chat for nearly two hours on a Saturday afternoon between services. He’s been freshly featured on Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network, a local chef honor not uncommon since it is filmed in Santa Rosa, but Ball also worked for nearly a year with Fieri on a seasonal menu for Tex Wasabi’s when it was shelved during ownership changes.

He is stunningly knowledgeable about food,” says Ball of the Food Network chef.

Down to Earth is housed in the former Nicolino’s in downtown Cotati (and briefly Stax), revamped from kitschy Italian to a cozy walk-up cafe where service and the menu are casual, but the technique behind the food is anything but.

Fish and chips at Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

Take the fish and chips — something I rarely order after years of flabby, greasy, anvil-heavy disappointments.

“Most of them are like sad pancakes on bad fish,” he says sensing my trepidation. Here, fresh North Coast rock cod is dipped in a light beer batter (and plenty of cornstarch) giving it a lacy, fizzled crispness that’s crackles in your mouth rather than laying there like a sodden blanket.

The fish is clean and whisper light rather than a rubbery mess smelling of low tide. It’s a bit of a revelation served with hand-cut fries (pretty much no one goes to the trouble of making fries anymore), spicy remoulade, a wedge of grilled lemon and coleslaw.

And Ball knows his fish. “We used to bring in fish two times a day,” says Ball of his time at Scotland’s most famous restaurant, the Witchery. During his stint at Sausalito’s Fish Restaurant, he would be awakened before dawn with day boat captains ready to drop their entire catch within a few hours.

Chef Chris Ball of Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

Chef Chris Ball of Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

The Grand Rapids, Michigan native, however, doesn’t feel the need to overcomplicate things at the 49-seat restaurant.

“It’s like turning a carrot into a carrot,” he says of his time in fine dining, where a simple carrot would be manipulated 20 times to become, well, a carrot, albeit with foams and gels and pumpernickel “dirt”.

“This is Cotati, I’m trying to feed people here. I want to make really good food. I want everything to be what it is, with just a few components that go together, and you have to put love into food,” says Ball.

Best Bets

Strawberry Balsamic Salad ($9.50/$11.50): This is a popular seller for a good reason. Sweet ripe strawberries are the star of this simple salad that plays ping pong on your palate with sweet candied pecans, pickled onion, creamy herbed goat cheese, peppery arugula, bitter frisee and a sweet, sour balsamic reduction.

Pastrami Reuben ($14): Ball’s house-cured pastrami is thinly sliced and slightly crisped, stacked with sauerkraut, Swiss and spicy remoulade on marbled rye. Each element of this sandwich plays nicely with its neighbor, rather than anyone trying to steal the show.

Shells and cheese at Down to Earth Cafe in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

Slow-Braised Short Rib Poutine ($13/$19): This is the show-stopper. Throw out everything you know about Canadian gravy fries, because this is possibly the most elevated dish on the menu. Handcut Kennebec fries, Cabernet gravy that I have contemplated writing an ode to, blue cheese cracklings and a chunk of slowly braised short ribs so sweet and tender you’ll want to send it a Hallmark card. Speaking of which, if you’re more of an entree kind of person, you can get a giant plate of short ribs, mashed potatoes and grilled veggies for $19.50.

Shells and Cheese with House-Cured Bacon ($13): Check out the Yelp reviews. You’ll see a particularly loving review or two of this blockbuster for good reason. Let’s just say Ball knows his way around a Béchamel sauce. A throwback with the addition of a grilled hot dog for us 70s kids.

Butterscotch pudding at Down to Earth Cafe and Deli in Cotati. Heather Irwin/PD

Butterscotch Pudding ($7): Like we said, no melted butterscotch chips, which tend to give short-cut puddings a gritty texture. Smoother than Michael Buble doing a Sam Smith cover in silk pajamas.

Needs Work

Fried Chicken Sandwich ($13): It’s not that I didn’t like this lovely little torpedo roll with crisp fried chicken, but both times I tried it, the use of chicken tenders, rather than the whole breast made the whole thing unwieldy. Java BBQ with Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese also got a little heavy handed.

We’ll Be Back For

Sunday brunch is simple, but Pastrami Hash ($13.50) with crispy potatoes, piquillo pepper and eggs has our name all over it, especially with a side of Meyer Lemon Hollandaise.

Overall: Chris Ball is a top-notch chef who uses his classic training to create comfort classics with a light touch and an earnest heart. A Cotati sleeper that’s snoozing no more.

Open daily. Monday through Thursday, 11a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 9 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Catering available. 8204 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, 707-753-4925, dtecafe.com.

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Freaking Tacos: Freaking Awesome Tacos and Sopes in Santa Rosa https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/freaking-tacos-freaking-awesome-tacos-and-sopes-in-santa-rosa/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/freaking-tacos-freaking-awesome-tacos-and-sopes-in-santa-rosa/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2018 18:46:11 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38789

Cheap tacos , killer sopes and al pastor are delish at this hard-to-find taqueria.

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$1 tacos usually raise alarm bells for me. Then again, so do $6 tacos.

Somewhere in between is the sweet spot, where value meets a reasonable expectation of deliciousness and sustenance. I’m happy to announce that I’ve found a $1 taco — at least until the end of August — that is both good and cheap at the newly opened

You’ve got to buy 5 for the deal, but that gives you the chance to hit up nearly all of the taco meats, which include asada, chicken, al pastor, carnitas and birria (they also have a veggie if you’re so inclined). Al pastor (shaved beef with pineapple) is a riff on Lebanese schwarma, and here it’s saucy and rich and perfect on a taco.

Sope from Freaking Taco (YELP)

Birria is typically a stew meat (here it’s beef) with a mildly spicy kick. Both are favorites, along with the asada. Carnitas (shredded pork) misses the mark a bit, lacking the crisp fattiness that true taquerias get so right, but for $1 it’s worth a try.

Sopes are $3.25 and maybe my very favorite thing on the menu. A tiny corn bowl that soaks up all the meaty goodness piled on top — meat, sour cream, lettuce and queso fresco. You can also grab wet-rittos (saucy burritos), quesadillas and nachos for $7.25, but really, the tacos and sopes are the freaking stars of Freaking Taco. Don’t expect anything fancy, this is definitely a walk-up or take-out spot, but for the price, its a steal of a deal.

400 W. Third St., Santa Rosa, 707-890-5003, freaking-tacos.business.site.

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200 Sonoma County Wineries and 60 Chefs at Taste of Sonoma https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/200-sonoma-county-wineries-and-60-chefs-at-taste-of-sonoma/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/200-sonoma-county-wineries-and-60-chefs-at-taste-of-sonoma/#respond Fri, 24 Aug 2018 21:01:57 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38772

The annual eat, drink, repeat event is a who's who of Sonoma's wine and food scene on Sept. 1

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Taste of Sonoma is coming Sept. 1, 2018, and we’re set to nibble, nosh and sip our way through more than 200 wineries, 60 local chefs, along with a smattering of beer, special tastings and musical interludes from noon to 4p.m. on Saturday.

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when Sonoma winemakers and chefs team up to celebrate the harvest and give us all a taste of our county. Yay! And certainly better than the aroma.

The Taste of Sonoma at the Green Music Center on the SSU campus on Saturday, September 2, 2107. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Last year was its first at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, and the intense 105-degree heat was a bit of a buzz-kill. Thankfully, they’ve added a cooling station in the music hall lobby, along with crisp rosé tasting from Rodney Strong throughout the day. Temps are slated to be in the luxuriously cool 70s this year.

Kelli Bailey prepares carrot lox from the Drawing Board at the Taste of Sonoma at the Green Music Center on the SSU campus on Saturday, September 2, 2107. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Taste of Sonoma’s chef lineup features a few heavy hitters including Sebastopol’s Handline, John Ash & Co, Pullman Kitchen, Tisza Bistro, Drawing Board, Ramen Gaijin and the new Stockhome restaurant, but has veered toward more casual eats from Biteclub-approved spots like Jam’s Joy Bungalow, Cookie Take a Bite, Criminal Baking and Gerard’s Paella along with a number of other pastry chefs, caterers and winery chefs.

Andrea and Roberth Sundell at Stockhome in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Andrea and Roberth Sundell at Stockhome in Petaluma. heather irwin/PD

Want to go? Details online at tasteofsonoma.com. Tickets range from $225 for club reserve to $180 for general admission ($150 if you use a Visa Signature card). Shuttles available from Healdsburg, Sonoma, Santa Rosa and even Rohnert Park (to avoid parking delays).

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Hoffman leaving SHED for Boonville via France https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/major-healdsburg-chef-leaving-shed-heading-to-france/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/major-healdsburg-chef-leaving-shed-heading-to-france/#respond Wed, 22 Aug 2018 00:51:10 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38761

Chef Perry Hoffman has been a defining factor in the longterm success of Healdsburg's "modern grange".

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A blow for Healdsburg as Chef Perry Hoffman of SHED says au revoir to Sonoma County at the end of August.

Hoffman, who earned a 2018 Bib Gourmand for his stellar work at the cafe and previously earned a Michelin star for Domaine Chandon’s Etoile restaurant, plans to spend some well-deserved off time in France with his family before returning to his Boonville roots in early 2019.

Taking over in the interim is longtime chef de cuisine Bryan Oliver, who will assume the position of acting executive chef while SHED searches for a new culinary director. Oliver worked with Hoffman during his time at Etoile.

“He and I have cooked side by side for years; he speaks the same language, and through look and taste, he knows where to take a dish,” said Hoffman. “We have shared so many high points together since he started with me at the beginning of his career at Etoile. I know SHED will be in good hands.”

Chef Bryan Oliver will take over as interim chef of SHED in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

Chef Bryan Oliver will take over as interim chef of SHED in Healdsburg. Courtesy photo

It’s a bittersweet goodbye. Hoffman’s humble sensibility and brilliant use of of-the-moment, intensely local produce was a defining factor in the ongoing success of SHED. After several false starts with other chefs, Hoffman brought stability and focus to the “urban grange” in 2015. It’s frankly hard to imagine the spot without him.

But its also a perfect time for Hoffman to return to his well-known foodie family – which includes grandmother Sally Schmitt, co-founder of the French Laundry in Yountville and Philo Apple Farm in Boonville. The farm has been a longtime culinary mecca Sally ran with her husband Don, who died in early 2018. Much of the work of the farm has been allocated to other family members, and the ever-expanding Schmitt-Bates-Hoffman clan are also owners of the Boonville Hotel, Farmhouse Mercantile and other businesses in the funky hamlet. We’re doubting Hoffman will wait for work options.

In a family photo taken several years ago at The Apple Farm in Philo, Perry Hoffman, left, stands with his uncle Johnny Schmitt, grandfather Don Schmitt, aunt Karen Bates and grandmother Sally Schmitt. Courtesy photo

Hopefully, the next exec chef of SHED will take a page from Hoffman’s playbook, which earned him ongoing accolades from the Press Democrat as well as the San Francisco Chronicle, four Good Food Awards for SHED products last year.

SHED co-owner Cindy Daniel stated, “We are deeply grateful for Perry’s many contributions to our culinary program over the last three years. Under his leadership, the cafe has grown by leaps and bounds since opening five years ago, and we have a strong and dedicated team that has helped take everything to the next level.”

“Doug and I look forward to seeing what’s next for Perry in his collaboration with his family, and we wish him all the best,” said Daniel.

So do we all.

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The Perfect Tomato? Gleaned On a Secret Sonoma County Estate https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-perfect-tomato-gleaned-on-a-secret-sonoma-county-estate/ https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/the-perfect-tomato-gleaned-on-a-secret-sonoma-county-estate/#comments Mon, 20 Aug 2018 18:24:03 +0000 https://www.sonomamag.com/biteclub/?p=38746 Dani Wilcox from Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

Excess bounty gets plucked by Sonoma gleaning organization to feed those in need

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Dani Wilcox from Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

ON A PRIVATE ESTATE somewhere in the Alexander Valley, I’ve appointed myself Chief Cherry Tomato Tester. “This one’s good,” I’m telling Dani Wilcox, Program Director for Farm to Pantry, a nonprofit food gleaning program that collects 60,000 pounds of produce each year. Still warm from the sun, the golden fruit bursts open with the slightest pressure, releasing sweet, sour juice that’s better than any candy and exactly nothing like a grocery tomato.

Gleaning with the Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

Gleaned heirloom tomatoes donated from the Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

With Wilcox and Gwen Garloff, program assistant for the Healdsburg-based program, today’s gleaning targets include Truett-Hurst’s winery garden and a private residence to collect tomatoes of all stripes — from the tiny Sungolds and massive Oxhearts to Romas, Brandywines and wee red Teardrops. In the mix are also early apples, a few stray squashes, the last of some hot peppers and just a handful of leftover strawberries that will go to a nonprofit meal assistance program.

Gleaning is a fancy word for gathering the leftovers of a harvest, bit by bit. It’s an ancient practice to collect every bit of food, but has made a comeback in recent years as the cost of nutritious, fresh, organic produce has skyrocketed and food waste has hit an all-time high.

Gleaning with the Farm to Pantry team at Truett-Hurst Winery in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

Since 2008, Farm to Pantry has collected more than 170 tons of produce that is distributed weekly to 23 local organizations that provide food to low-income and in-need residents. Founded by Melita Love, the grassroots organization uses volunteers to collect surplus produce throughout the year.

It’s an arduous process, but intensely rewarding as our small team gently treads through impeccably maintained rows of vegetables and fruits that have continued to produce, and produce, and produce throughout the long summer. Though Wilcox and Garloff collect throughout the winter and summer with volunteers and school children, the peak season of harvest is clearly getting close. Though clearly we’re not the first to have come through picking produce, tomatoes hang heavy on the vine, eager for harvest.

Gleaning with the Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

Gwen Garloff weighing food with the Farm to Pantry team in the Alexander Valley. Heather Irwin/PD

Sometimes it isn’t quite clear if something is ripe enough, which is where I’m eager to volunteer. A green apple, not so ripe. A few green tomatoes, not at all ripe. But finding those perfect specimens right from the vine at their red carpet moment? There’s nothing in the world like it. A few smushed and broken veggies get thrown to the goats who are eagerly standing by to test whatever fruit we don’t need.

After three hours in the August sun, it’s time to call it a day. We’ve gathered more than 100 pounds of produce that’s more perfect than anything you could buy at a store, and that would have otherwise gone to waste. With itchy arms, tingly fingers (we did pick a few Scotch bonnet peppers) and stray leaves in our hair, it’s been a good glean.

Wilcox and Garloff will begin again next week (they glean Tuesday through Thursday) responding to calls from some of the world’s most exclusive wineries, estates, farms and wherever else they’re invited to pick, pluck and collect, all for the benefit of those who need it most.

If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more about Farm to Pantry, go to farmtopantry.org for details

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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/#comments 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.

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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.

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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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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/#comments 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.

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