BiteClub’s Best Sonoma County Chef 2007

Congratulations to Chef Mark Stark, (Willi’s Wine Bar, Willi’s Seafood, Monti’s) voted BiteClub’s Top SoCo Chef for 2007.

Just a handful of votes behind, in second place, Syrah’s Josh Silvers (who sportingly told BiteClub he was proud to have lost to his friendly SR rival, Stark). And, in a close third place, Cyrus’ Douglas Keane.

In all, BiteClub tallied 3,000 votes for Top Chef in a little more than a week–a pretty impressive showing for SoCo restaurant aficionados. Securing just over a third of the total votes, Stark, Silvers and Keane have clearly made an impression not just on out-of-towners looking for a quintessential Wine Country experience, but on those of us who live and eat here every day. No small feat.

Other top contenders in the poll: Dino Bugica of Santi Restaurant, who garnered the most write-in votes; Mathew Bousquet of Mirepoix, Jeff Mall of Zin and Tony Ghilarducci of Shiso in Sonoma.

And the rest? BiteClub ended up more surprised at who didn’t make the Top 20, than who did. Did some restaurants have a smaller fan-base (at least who read BiteClub)? Fewer employees and family who voted for them? Lower profiles and less glad-handing in the dining room? Or, slipping reputations? One has to wonder what the deal was, because some pretty high-profile restaurants didn’t make the grade in your eyes. Hmmm.

Here’s my takeaway: Sometimes it takes more than great food to make a great chef. It’s about a chef’s personality, reputation and community involvement as much as it’s about how beautifully he (or she) plates foie gras. It’s about how eating at that restaurant makes you feel and whether or not you want to go back again and again. And ultimately, it’s about whether people feel like the chef is an integral part of their dining experience-or just a name on the menu.

With that said, here are The Top 20 Vote-getters in BiteClub’s Top Sonoma County Chef 2007

1. Mark Stark: Willi’s Wine Bar/Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar/Monti’s, Santa Rosa/Healdsburg
2. Josh Silvers: Syrah Bistro, Santa Rosa. Absolutely Crabulous
3. Douglas Keane: Cyrus, Healdsburg. Cocktail hour at Cyrus
4. Dino Bugica: Santi, Geyserville. Pig out
5. Matthew Bousquet: Mirepoix, Windsor Top 10 Most Romantic
6. Ryan Fancher: El Dorado Kitchen, Sonoma
7. Jeff Mall: Zin, Healdsburg. Comfort Food Without Apology
8. Tony Ghilarducci: Shiso, Sonoma
9. Norm Owens, Café La Haye, Sonoma
10. Carlo Cavallo, Sonoma-Meritage, Sonoma
11. Jesse Mallgren, Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
12. Steve Litke, Farmhouse Inn, Forestville 10 Most Romantic Restaurants
13. Gary Chu, Sake’O/O’Sake/Gary Chu’s, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg Sushi Smackdown
14. Tony Najiola, Central Market, Petaluma
15. Karen and Lucas Martin, K&L Bistro, Sebastopol Michelin Dining, No Wait
16. Preston Dishman, General’s Daughter, Sonoma
17. Jeffrey Madura, John Ash, Santa Rosa
18. Jeff Reilly, Equus, Santa Rosa
19. Michael Quigley, Pacific Market, Santa Rosa/Rohnert Park/Sebastopol
20. Fred Langley, Langley’s on the Green, Windsor

Watch for continued reviews of some of the Sonoma’s Top 20, Mark’s Award Ceremony (coming soon!) and BiteClub’s ongoing commitment to finding the best bites in Wine Country (top chef or not).