On balmy spring nights it’s not surprising to find more people waiting outside the tiny Glen Ellen Star than seated inside. With just eight dining tables and a handful of seats around the open galley kitchen, every inch is prime real estate (update: A new seating area has been added)
At the glowing heart of the restaurant: Chef Ari Weiswasser’s 650-degree custom-built wood oven that perfumes the entire block with its smoke. Combining classic French techniques, razor-focused attention to detail, and exotic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices in every dish, Glen Ellen Star is one of Wine Country’s perennial must-tries.
On the menu: Cast iron quick bread with local feta and zaatar ($6); spring pea soup with ricotta gnudi (a sort of large gnocchi), mint, and mascarpone ($10) that’s the sweet essence of spring in a bowl. Tapping (dad-in-law) Mike Benziger’s biodynamic farm for much of the produce, the wood oven vegetables section is a revolving lineup of whatever is in season — from fava beans with brown sugar bacon marmalade and golden beets with harissa crumble to fennel crusted fennel with chili and Meyer lemon oil ($8). A special of grilled zucchini with spicy yogurt and crisp pita was outstanding. Pizzas steal the show, with a simple Margherita ($12) or White Pizza with guanciale and arugula ($16) easily feeding two. If you’re up for something more substantial, Brick Chicken ($21) goes beyond the usual pallid poultry with tender meat and a crackling crisped skin seasoned with urfa, a Turkish pepper. Roasted lamb meatballs, couscous with dried fruit and a sweet-savory soffrito of tomatoes, onions and peppers ($18) turns this Italian standard into something extraordinary.
Everything’s available for takeout, including dessert, half-pints of house-churned ice cream in flavors like malted milk, maple vanilla bourbon, salted peanut butter, espresso and strawberry sorbet ($6). The wine list is well-curated to reflect the food and ambiance and include locals (Benziger, Imagery, Gundlach Bundschu), nearby (Radio Couteau, County Line, Copain) and a handful of Italian, French and Germans.
Don’t expect much too formality, however, as the blue-aproned Weiswasser and his staff turn out expertly charred pizzas, roasted lamb meatballs and padrone peppers from the oven. Nearly every table is within view of the buzzing pick-up station and its a challenge for staff to maneuver through tight quarters — especially with piping hot dishes from the oven. Expect a few errant nudges from neighbors and staff as part of the charm…and this star to continue to rise.
13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. Reservations strongly recommended, 343-1384. Bar available first-come, first-serve. Open for dinner Sunday-Thursday, 5:30 to 9pm, Friday and Saturday until 9:30pm.