Eating has become very primal for me lately, but that doesn’t mean I’m starting some ridiculous caveman-inspired diet. Instead, I’m following my deepest intuition about what I’m craving, what I’m desperately yearning for and dreaming about that drives me to venture forth into the world and snatch a takeout bag to bring home to my lair.
Most recently that was an egg salad sandwich I crammed into my face in a parking lot. I’d dreamed about it for a week. It lived up to the hype.
In uncertain times, I think we’ve all become a little more focused on things that feed our souls rather than just our bellies. To that end, you’d be amazed what a little outdoor patio time (socially distanced, of course), a glass or wine, a beautiful banh mi or a perfect ceviche can do to make life in quarantine a whole lot less dismal.
This week, I’m highlighting three great spots, from affordable to luxe, that I think will bring a smile to your face, even if it’s hidden behind a mask.
It’s a rare Mexican restaurant that really impresses me, but this little mom-and-pop spot on Santa Rosa Avenue is worth the trip. Though I’ve driven by this unassuming drive-through thousands of times, it was a post on the lively Facebook page “Save Sonoma Restaurants” that really piqued my interest as diners argued over the best Sonoma County Mexican food. I’m officially tapping La Plaza as a top contender. Even our giant takeout order (which apparently briefly closed the restaurant) was perfectly packed and incredibly flavorful and impressive.
My first indication that the food might be good? Ceviche Vallarta with brunoise crujiente (crunchy, small-diced vegetables). Someone has some knife skills, clearly, but it was the harmonious citrus marinade strong enough to “cook” the raw shrimp and whitefish without blistering the palate. It was so good I actually drank the remaining marinade the next morning.
Also great: grilled panella cheese with chili-lime salt (we missed the part about the chipotle salsa and flame-grilled tortillas to go with it, but it was great just plain).
Twice-cooked potatoes with barbecue sauce, crema and chipotle aioli were a perfect match to St. Louis spare ribs with tomato onion jalapeno sauce, and chicken in chipotle cream with mushrooms was a decadent foil to hotter dishes. Our only complaint was that the chicken seemed a bit overcooked. There are plenty of taqueria favorites as well, including fish tacos, burritos, chile relleno and quesadillas along with a fun dessert of cinnamon tortilla chips with cajeta caramel and chocolate drizzle. Our massive order (which included several more entrees) was just over $100.
Menu online at laplazasantarosa.com, call to order, 707-578-1551. Pickup at the drive-through, limited inside dining available. 2930 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa
The grilled cheese sandwich with cherry tomato salad never made it past the Highway 101 onramp. With crunchy, griddled sourdough bread and Gouda and Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel cheeses, it seemed a sin to let it linger in a steamy to-go box. Good call for me. Bad call for my car upholstery. Some sacrifices must me made.
Newly-established at the former Ulia’s Deli in a Petaluma office park, the kitchen has some serious talent making crave-worthy sandwiches and salads. Another of our favorites was the Billionaire’s BLT, with crunchy sweet bacon, juicy heirloom tomatoes (finally in season) and smoked tomato jam.
We fought over the barbecue pork banh mi on a soft French roll, but it was the Aloha Plate, with fresh mac salad, coconut rice and fried chicken we really went crazy about. As Ohana regulars, we appreciated April Pantry’s fresh approach, and that rice — oh, that coconut rice. Easy online ordering, breakfast specials and giant cookies the size of your head, plus catering services.
Patio dining or takeout. 1000 Clegg St., Petaluma, 707-658-1326, aprilpantry.com
Paris on the Terrace, Jordan Winery
Winding oaks shade the patio of this carefully groomed property overlooking idyllic Alexander Valley hillsides. Inspired by historic ivy-covered French estates, it’s perfect for a Parisian-themed outdoor bistro featuring Chef Todd Knoll’s straight-from-the-garden dishes that are almost too heartbreakingly beautiful to eat.
Each course is paired with Jordan wines, from their AR Lenoble champagne to a well-balanced 2018 chardonnay and lip-smacking cabernet sauvignons. What took our breath away were the perfectly of-the-season dishes with estate vegetables, a charcuterie plate with local Journeyman meats and duck confit with stone fruit and quinoa.
What made it so special, however, was the luxuriousness of an afternoon spent with an old friend as a cool summer breeze and plenty of catch-up chatter wound around our wine glasses. It almost felt like old times. Almost.
$110 per person, reservations required, limit of 12 people per seating. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Thursday through Monday, until Sept. 7. Details at jordanwinery.com/visit