Sonoma’s Lunch Aquatic: Pool, river & waterside dining

Where to eat by the water in Sonoma County

nickscove.jpgThere are few better dining companions than water — running, tinkling, crashing or merely reflecting brilliantly — it’s a built in backdrop and entertainment that turns even every day food into an event.
With the big, golden orb suddenly reappearing in the sky (after how many months of rain?) it suddenly seems like a good time to head outside again and enjoy some poolside, oceanside or riverside dining.
Here are some top spots for dipping your toes in while nibbling away the day…
Snuggle up to a serious burger and local brew at Petaluma’s riverside favorite: Dempsey’s.  The outdoor patio is has a tableside view to the local river, which babbles and laps along quietly as you eat. 50 East Washington Street, Petaluma, 765-9694.
Across the river, Water Street Bistro continues to be a favorite breakfast and
lunch spot for locals, with Parisians bistro-inspired daily specials, solid soups, fresh bread, and a homemade touch to everything. The cozy outdoor patio overlooks the water, but bring a jacket because it can sometimes get chilly! 100 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma, 763-9563.
A bit more upscale is Calistoga’s Sol Bar, the in-house restaurant for the Solage Spa. But don’t expect just iced tea and lettuce here, Gary Danko-alum Brandon Sharp oversees a ying-yang menu that respects the health-consciousnesss of the spa-set (beet and orange salad, tuna carpaccio, grilled salmon) while also offering heartier fare after a long day of poolside lounging (confit of foie gras, pork belly, shortribs). The zen-like surroundings will put you at peace while the kitchen feeds your soul. 755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, 226-0850.
Located in Sonoma’s the swank El Dorado Hotel, El Dorado Kitchen is tops for cocktail hour nibbles and drinks. Head out to the garden courtyard for a poolside retreat with seasonal juice martinis (berry cosmo, peach jalapeno) and tasty bar bites. 405 First Street West, Sonoma, 996-3030.
Under the radar is the Water Tower Restaurant at the ultra-luxe Fairmont Sonoma Misison Inn. Whether you’re post-peel or just relaxing by the pool (you can buy a day pass to use the facilities if you’re not a guest), there’s plenty to love about the fresh salads, wraps, burgers bbq pork and frothy cocktails. 100 Boyes Blvd. (Greger St.), Sonoma, 938-9000.
Don’t let it’s shabby looks deceive you. Inside the Marshall Store oyster shack are some of the best oysters to be found in the area. Barbequed, Rockefellered or raw (or all three), they’re prepared while you wait and served up with hearty local bread for dipping all that juice. And the best part? The view is free. Located on Highway 1 in Marshall, Open seven days a week, 10am to 6pm.
Nearby, if you’re feeling adventurous (and have made a reservation well in advance) Hog Island Oysters sells fresh-from-the-bay oysters onsite and has a popular picnic spot right on the bay for grilling them up yourself. Not lucky enough to get a picnic spot, it’s worth crunching over the oyster shells in the parking lot and stopping in just to see the “Farm” where the oysters spend their last 24 hours in huge tanks getting cleaned. Note: You can’t buy prepared oysters here (aw shucks!)
The Farm: Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm; located on Highway 1 in Marshall, about 15 minutes north of Point Reyes Station and
45 minutes south of Bodega Bay. (415) 663-9218.
Sea Ranch: There’s no quick way to get to this remote ocean-side resort, so chances are you’ll be starving by the time you arrive. About thirty miles north of Jenner, along scenic Highway 1, Sea Ranch Lodge hugs the rugged northern California coastline, offering panoramic views from the restaurant and more casual solarium. If you’re just stopping by, grab an exceptional burger from the tavern menu and warm up in the bar. Overnight guests and residents of the seaside community can linger at the white-linen restaurant for grilled pork chops, rib eye and local seafood. Highway 1, Sea Ranch, 785-2371.
Cafe les Jumelles, recently relocated to the charmingly ramshackle riverside restaurant formerly known as Nit’s Thai, is a morning beacon for locals and weekenders looking to recharge. Huevos rancheros and omelets are top vote-getters, along with the banana split. Don’t expect to eat and run, however. Here things go at their own pace and everyone knows that you’ll get your breakfast when you get it. Consider the wait part of the charm. 15025 River Road, Guerneville, 869-9511.