BiteClub, What's New in Sonoma County

How to Restaurant Now: Local Takeout Triumphs

Some food doesn’t translate well for takeaway. Here are some pro-tips on where and how to order the best takeout.

 First, the good news: takeout is getting great

Pre-Christmas takeout meals are shaping up to be pretty spectacular this year. From roasted Mount Lassen Trout with creamed kale, five-spice carrots and olive-oil potatoes from the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma and Wagyu prime rib from Seared in Petaluma to cider-brined pork shoulder and apple strudel from Franchetti’s in Santa Rosa and Snake River Farms beef Wellington from Glen Ellen Star, all those little sugarplums and hunks of meat are dancing in our heads!

More good news: Pop-up kitchens are popping up all over Sonoma County

We’re huge fans of Chef Jennifer McMurry’s underground meal delivery service. The former Viola and Pharmacy chef is back in business, serving up dishes like short ribs with crème fraîche mashed potatoes, homemade butternut squash gnocchi, chicken pot pie, pork sugo, hearty salads and comforting soups. She works out of a commercial kitchen, so you’ll have to get on her “nice” list via social media (@chefjennifermcmurry on Instagram) to place an order. Menus come out weekly and deliveries are on Fridays. Each order comes with McMurry’s salted caramels.

TC Provisions (@tcprovisions on Instagram) has popped up for takeout at Wishbone in Petaluma with beef bourguignon, lobster bisque and trout en croute. More pop-up kitchens are set to launch soon.

Finally, with the current ban on dining outdoors at restaurants, over the next few weeks we’ll highlight some of the best takeout in the county from restaurants like Catelli’s, Sweet T’s, Single Thread, Valette and Folktable in Sonoma at biteclubeats.com. Share your faves with me at heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com.

The bad news: hibernation

Expect an increasing number of restaurants to go into hibernation soon. Takeout isn’t sustainable and the winter months are always slow. John Ash & Co., Central Market, La Rosa Tequileria and Geyserville Grille all have proactively shuttered, with more restaurants to come. We hope to see them all back soon.

The ugly news: delivery continues to disappoint

On a recent sleepless night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the delivery meal I’d paid nearly $90 for and ended up throwing in the garbage. I actually laughed when I opened the sealed bag because everything looked so disappointingly unappetizing. It smelled off. It tasted worse. I stopped laughing.

I don’t blame the restaurant. I blame what restaurants have been forced to become. This wasn’t even close to being the first poorly packaged, miserably seasoned, soggy, not-what-the-picture-looked-like, ridiculously overpriced delivery disaster I’ve had recently. The same thing happened the night before. And the week before. And the month before. It’s predictable at this point.

What hurts even more is that the restaurant probably lost money on this transaction, with high fees and low margins. Nobody won except Door Dash.

Most restaurateurs take great pride in their food, but nine months into the pandemic they still haven’t quite figured out delivery. In many ways, they can’t.

Restaurants may have one order or 100 and are usually working with a skeleton crew. Ingredients may run out or go bad on shelves waiting for orders. Drivers show up late or not at all. Packaging is tricky, everything gets soggy and the half-hour drive leaves everything jostled and upended.

Yes, the system works well for tried-and-true delivery businesses like pizzerias, fast-food joints, taquerias and Chinese restaurants. Mary’s Pizza Shack always rocks it, and we are frequent, happy guests. The same is true for spots like Taqueria California and Amy’s Drive Thru. It’s about expectations, too. I can tolerate a sloppy $20 pizza but not a $90 disaster from a fast-casual restaurant.

Sadly, this is where we are and where we’ll probably be for at least a few more months. So before you give up on restaurants, let’s get smart. Here’s how:

1. Preorder: Support chef-run restaurants who want to make you happy. Dustin Valette of Valette Restaurant has a huge following for his Michelin-quality takeout meals, which are actually less expensive than some bad delivery I’ve had. Try Spinster Sisters’ Family Meals. They need preorders to make takeout work, so they know how to staff and what ingredients to order. Plan and order at least a few days ahead; some restaurants sell out, so even a week ahead is good idea. Yes, it takes a little thought, but I’ve created a calendar to remind me. Plus, contactless pickup and it’s all prepaid. Win!

2. Pick up your food: Get off your tush and go get it. Restaurants save the delivery fees and you don’t wait around or end up paying $50 for a $35 meal. Plus, it’s fun to sniff all that goodness on the car ride home. I recommend the Audible fairy tale comedy “Heads Will Roll” from Kate McKinnon (not for kids) to keep you company on the drive.

3. Spread the love: Consider getting out of your everyday area. See what’s available in Sonoma if you live in Santa Rosa. Take a trip to Healdsburg. Get down to P-town.

4. Be Nice: Every meal won’t be perfect. But hold your Yelp nastiness and let the restaurant know directly instead. Online reviews are forever, and your meal may have been a slip. A good restaurant will address your concerns. If they blow you off, then hit Yelp.

5. Share the love: Had a great meal? Share it on social media, tell a friend, go to Save Sonoma County Restaurants on Facebook and post a quick review and a picture. Tell me at heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com. Word-of-mouth is more valuable than gold.

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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