New restaurants, new dishes and favorite spots for the holidays. Click through the above gallery to find out what to order.
Chef Christian Caiazzo didn’t spend 35 years behind the stoves of Michelin-starred restaurants to become a barista, but that’s where the former owner of Point Reyes’ celebrated Osteria Stellina has found himself — slinging cappuccinos and lattes in downtown Petaluma. And he’s OK with that.
Standing behind the espresso machine at his new bakery-café, Stellina Pronto, Caiazzo is back in the game and pumping out orders. After closing their critically acclaimed restaurant in August 2020, citing the pandemic and other pressures, Caiazzo and his wife, Katrina Fried, opened the ever-evolving Italian bakery early this summer. “This is me reinventing myself,” he said recently at the cafe, as he made a perfect foam with extra-rich milk from Straus Family Creamery. It is, admittedly, pretty delightful.
Customers stream regularly through the doors, eager to get their hands on still-warm morning buns, chocolate hazelnut cornettos, olive oil cakes and cookies. There is also warm focaccia, buns filled with pastry cream, and a changing lineup of Italian-inspired sweets and savories. Sandwiches and salads appear later in the day.
There’s no table service, no line cooks. The staff is limited, and the focus is on high-efficiency output to keep costs low. But don’t confuse Stellina Pronto with a massproduction operation—Caiazzo is passionate about Slow Food, high-quality ingredients, and supporting the regional food system.
They buy much of their produce from Green String Farm in Petaluma and local markets.
“The support we’ve received from Petaluma has exceeded our every expectation,” says Fried, as Caiazzo continued filling drink orders from behind the espresso machine. “We’re working our hearts out to keep up with demand, and we’re having a ball.”
Open Thursday through Monday from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 23 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707-789-9556, stellinapronto.com
El Dorado Cantina
This takeout only, side-street cantina at the El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen gives executive chef Armando Navarro a casual outlet for approachable, crave-worthy tacos, ceviche, enchiladas, pupusas and burritos. Think high-end flavors and ingredients— duck carnitas, barbacoa short ribs, rock cod ceviche—to eat with your hands in the park across the street.
Best bets include crispy vegetarian taquitos with fresh corn tortillas, potatoes ($9.95), caramelized onions, crema and cotija cheese; crispy fish tacos ($12.95), chicken enchiladas with mole or suiza sauce ($14.95), and chicharron pupusas with pork belly, cheese corn, spinach and black beans ($15.95). Grab a margarita ($12) to wash it all down, and don’t miss caramel-sauced churros ($8) for dessert.
Open daily from noon to 7:30 p.m., 405 First Street West, Sonoma. 707-996-3030, eldoradosonoma.com/cantina
The original Willie Bird’s on Santa Rosa Avenue served up Thanksgiving dinner 52 weeks of the year for nearly 40 years. That restaurant has now closed but, good gravy, The Bird has risen from the ashes at a new location in Rincon Valley that boasts the same gritty authenticity that turkey lovers have come to expect. The tables are wobbly and the banquettes are worn in spots, but the vibe is welcoming.
Expect to go down a tryptophan rabbit hole on your visit. Favorites include a surprisingly addictive turkey dip served with house-made potato chips ($9.50); the Mama Bird sandwich ($16.25), which is like a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey breast, stuffing, and cranberry sauce between two slices of toasted bread; or turkey scaloppini ($23.95), a homey plate of sautéed turkey breast and mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce with creamy mashed potatoes that’s cozier than a pair of slippers. The turkey pot pie ($17.95) is a hangover miracle or marathon fuel. The Bird has also added pulled pork throughout the week and barbecue on Fridays.
4776 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa. 707-542-0861, thebirdrestaurant.com
El Meson de los Molcajetes
Sonoma County has struggled to attract high-end, regional Mexican cuisine, which is a tragedy considering the number of talented chefs who have immigrated here from Oaxaca and Jalisco. These coastal western states, renowned for their food, are home to flavorful seafood dishes, a variety of mole and, of course, sizzling molcajete stews, made with a volcanic stone mortar and pestle of the same name.
In other words, there’s a lot more to Mexican cuisine than burritos and street tacos, just like there’s more to American cuisine than burgers and fries. The owners of new Santa Rosa restaurant El Meson de los Molcajetes want to fill the gap by introducing diners to the rich and diverse cuisine of Mexico. The menu, delivered with graceful service, includes thoughtfully-prepared regional dishes such as their signature molcajete and two types of mole, luxurious cocktails and well-sourced ingredients. The restaurant strays a bit with fusion preparations, like chimichurri filet mignon and salmon with tropical pico de gallo, but generally stays close to its Mexican roots.
There are lovely moments of transcendence with dishes like the Jalisco mole rojo ($26) and the grilled octopus with lime-chile salsa ($29). The Mexican fresh ceviche ($18) is a cocktail of raw fish marinated in citrus, nicely balanced with avocado instead of being overpowered by too much heat or acid. The Mexican cinnamon donut ($14) is more of a sweet bread ( pan dulce), with a layer of cajeta (Mexican goat’s milk caramel sauce) slathered in the middle. On weekends, the brunch menu gets rave reviews for its chilaquiles and shrimp tacos.
1950 Piner Road, Santa Rosa. 707843-4716, elmesonmolcajetes.com
Little Thai & Sushi
It’s Thai food. It’s sushi. It’s both? We’re rarely fans of disparate cuisines trying to be all things to all people, but we’re willing to be a bit flexible in the case of Little Thai & Sushi because it’s a takeout dream for picky families. The food is solid, if not stunning, as long as they put the hot entrees in a different bag than the cold sushi for your takeout. Because no one likes a melted California roll.
Best bets include basil chicken with anise-flavored Thai basil and oyster sauce ($12.95); cashew nut chicken ($12.95); and papaya salad Laos-style ($13.95). Made with a fermented Laotian crab and fish sauce, it’s an intensely stinky, muddy-colored mess with crunchy green papaya, green beans and lime sauce. This version will arm wrestle your taste buds and perfume your refrigerator for weeks.
1791 Marlow Road, Unit 4, Santa Rosa. 707-541-6242
Four long years in the making, Chef Dustin Valette’s epic The Matheson and Roof 106 finally opened in early September. The three-story concept includes the Matheson on the ground floor, a private mezzanine, and Roof 106, a casual bar and café.
The Matheson’s open kitchen serves high-end New American cuisine as well as Japanese-inspired dishes — including nigiri stunners created by Hana Japanese chef Ken Tominaga and executed by sushi chef Daisuke Somato. The Tamanishiki rice porridge ($19), a risottolike starter of black rice, a single perfectly-cooked day boat scallop, and preserved lemon, was the star of the night. Seasonal tomato salad with whipped burrata, lovage, sea beans, and rye “soil” ($15) also was excellent. The tasting menu, always a solid choice at nearby the chef’s nearby Valette restaurant, includes a “best of” with sashimi, tomato salad, king salmon, Sonoma lamb and a dark chocolate pavé for $95. Reservations are recommended.
Upstairs, Roof 106 is first come, first serve, with both lunch and dinner menus. Diners here will find a more casual indoor-outdoor setting, with a cozy bar inside and a mix of sofa-style and chair seating outside under an airy, extended pergola.
Opening dishes include a tasty fried sweet corn with citrus crema ($9); Tominaga’s hand rolls ($4-6); and wood-fired pizzas like the cured pork belly with Gruyère, red onion, and roasted-garlic crème fraîche ($21).
Larger plates of steak, crispy pork belly and a burrata and peach salad round out the menu, along with entertaining frozen “push pops” ($5) of our youth in grown-up flavors like coconut-rum mojito and yuzu-strawberry. Roof 106 also serves up their own list of cocktails, among them the Modern Margarita ($10) with tequila and clarified lime, a molecular-gastronomy take on a classic. Don’t miss the beehive-themed details either, including the hexagon-shaped tiles surrounding the bar.
106 Matheson St., Healdsburg. 707723-1106, thematheson.com