Just four months after opening in its new location, Willi’s Wine Bar feels like it’s always been part of the neighborhood. According to owners Mark and Terri Stark, Willi’s Wine Bar has settled into its new spot at Santa Rosa’s Town & Country center just fine, thank you.
It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, but after two years of upheaval, emotion and devastation following the loss of their original Larkfield location in the 2017 wildfires, there’s no lingering sense of turmoil hanging over the restaurant.
Instead, couples lounge on the convivial patio with dogs at their feet, Tunisian carrots and Moroccan lamb are as delicious as ever and wine glasses clink in every corner of the restaurant.
“We picked up where we left off, so it’s like moving into a new house,” said Terri Stark. “But we know who we are and what we’re trying to do.”
That means many of the same staff, the same kitchen crew and the same management who were so familiar. Regulars have returned, as well as a whole new batch of “regulars” says Stark.
Dishes like mac and cheese, curried crab tacos, mu shu bacon and flatbread are just as you remembered. The desserts are just as decadent and the truffle aioli with fries just as dangerous.
“The favorite dishes are still the favorite dishes,” she said.
The wine list is just as extensive and the inevitability that you’ll find someone you know sitting at the bar is just as likely.
Willi’s Wine Bar is a symbol for what we’ve all been through–rising from destruction, finding renewed community and trying to slowly regain our footing. Even though nothing is the same, we’re finding comfort in a new normal.
Best Bets: Willi’s isn’t about experimentation, because they’ve had more than 20 years to figure out the menu. The Starks know what works and what doesn’t, and though seasonal changes and surprises are always in the lineup, they follow the tried-and-true methods that have made the Starks’ restaurants go-to eateries.
Curried Crab Tacos, $14: Real crab smothered in creamy curry mayo with bright notes of cucumber and mint. Blistered wonton shells are the key to the crunchy, irresistibility of these babies.
Maine Lobster Creamed Corn, $14: Cream, lobster, sweet corn. What could go wrong? I could make a daily meal of this.
Skillet Bread with Green Olive Tapenade, $7: Yeasty soft rolls with a crispy, buttery bottom.
Goat Cheese Fritters with Smoked Paprika and Lavender Honey, $9: Pungent goat cheese melts into a soft, gooey puddle inside a crisp, salty exterior.
Cambozola Mac & Cheese with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, & Focaccia Bread CrumbsMac & Cheese, $11: Required. My favorite mac and cheese. (This was originally misidentified as “lobster mac and cheese”, which is not on the menu. Apologies.)
Tunisian Roasted Carrots with Pine Nuts and Mint, $10: One of the most beautiful dishes you’ll ever see. Just as tasty with hints of cinnamon and clove.
Pulled Duck BBQ with Polenta, $12: Ridiculously creamy polenta loaded so full of cream, butter and cheese it’s criminal (and so good). My only small gripe is that on one occasion the duck was a bit dry and gristly.
Morrocan Lamb Chops with Preserved Lemon Couscous, $17: Even if you think you don’t like lamb, you’ll like this. Seared, but rare lamb with citrusy couscous. You’ll be transported to another land.
Mu Shu Bacon with hoisin BBQ Sauce, $12: Pork belly with sweet hoisin sauce gives this bacon an Asian twist.
Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake, $9: The perfect lemon dessert.
Willi’s Wine Bar is at 1415 Town and Country Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096.