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7 Sonoma Restaurants to Try Right Now

New restaurants, new dishes and favorite spots at harvest time.

New restaurants, new dishes, and favorite spots at harvest time. Click through the above gallery for “best bets” at each restaurant.

Burdock

Burdock, the newly opened sister eatery to Duke’s Spirited Cocktails, is Healdsburg’s version of Harry Potter’s Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, existing only to a self-selecting crowd. Once inside, you see there’s a bit of magic about it. Wedged between Duke’s and the former Brass Rabbit, the restaurant is in an impossibly long and narrow passage, a secret alleyway edged in brick where wanderers discover a secluded market for top-shelf bourbon, tiki drinks, and caviar puffs.

Last April, Duke’s was left rudderless when its founders left the business over a dispute with their investor. The founders had been slated to open Burdock soon after, but the debut was pushed back to late June, when it opened with chef Michael Pihl and beverage director Michael Richardson. Both are ridiculously overqualified for the gig: Pihl with stints at the former Michelin-starred Cyrus and Napa’s Mustards Grill, and Richardson of Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas.

We went wild for Richardson’s custom tiki drinks. These aren’t the farm-to-glass cocktails you’ll get next door at Duke’s, but more serious mixed drinks that show off Richardson’s hefty experience. And each bite from the menu was truly, truly stunning. It’s rare to be moved by such minuscule portions, but sometimes less is absolutely more.

Best Bets 

Crispy Pork Belly, $14: Fatty, meaty, crispy squares of pork belly with soft pineapple and the lasting flavor embrace of a sweet-savory mole. A steal of a deal.

Akaushi Beef Carpaccio, $26: It’s perhaps a splurge, but so memorable: Whisper-thin slices of premium raw beef, gooey egg yolk, and the earthy note of mushroom and tangy pecorino cheese. If swagger had a flavor, this would be it.

Ahi Tuna Tartare, $17: Three little spoons with barely a bite of raw tuna had us snorting in disbelief. Really? Then we ate them. Oh. A flavor bomb of clean and briny tuna with a zing of sweet-tart Meyer lemon and a crunch of popped farro. The richness would have been overpowering in a larger portion.

Baked Oysters Cubano, $4.50: Plain and simple little oysters get a mink stole of mustard butter, Gruyere, and Serrano ham. Lucky little oysters.

109A Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707-431-1105, burdockbar.com

Custom rum drink with warm spices at Burdock Bar in Healdsburg. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)
Interior at Burdock Bar in Healdsburg. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Central Market

Within the overall food landscape of our county, it’s a mistake to overlook the restaurants that succeed year after year, the dining rooms that become part of our lives day after day. Such it is at the iconic, beloved Central Market, where chef/owner Tony Najiola has spent 18 years of his life.

The signature entrée is Najiola’s slowcooked Angus Short Ribs ($32), with meat that falls to pieces at a mere touch of the horseradish gremolata and leek potato gratin. Fresh burrata ($16) is so simple it’s ridiculous, with buttery cream-stuffed mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, capers and crostini. Batter-fried Alaskan Halibut ($18.50) features pieces of delicately fried whitefish nestled into butter lettuce cups with fresh herbs and gribiche (a vinegary sauce with hard-boiled eggs), eaten in a couple of dainty bites. The menu changes frequently, so you’ll likely see some alterations as the seasons pass. Just don’t wait 18 years to get there.

Open Wed.- Sun. 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., 42 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707-7789900, centralmarketpetaluma.com

Burrata at Central market in Petaluma. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen

Windblown cypress jut into the horizon line just above Dillon Beach. Standing on a bluff above one of of the state’s only private coastal beaches, you can see children playing below, birds flying above and silver ripples reflecting the evening sun. And at the Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen, new chef Jennifer McMurry, formerly of Viola Café and The Pharmacy, makes food as satisfying as the view. The food’s beautiful not just visually — most dishes are dressed with pretty edible flowers and greens — but also in the flavors each one incorporates. McMurry always has known how to balance her creations delicately, adding a pop of citrus, a hint of salt, a little crunch, or a surprising sweetness.

If you’ve never been out to Dillon Beach, this is an ideal opportunity to get to know the resort, which owns the kitchen, along with cottages and a general store/surf shop. Though the beach is private, visitors can get a day pass for $10, and the resort is very dog-friendly. Looking out the picture windows onto the vast blue ocean and even bluer skies, it’s hard not to sing an off-key rendition of “Perfect Day” (you know, the early 2000s song by Hoku on the “Legally Blonde” soundtrack). Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen is, no doubt, the place to finish off your perfect day.

Best Bets 

Fried Chicken Sandwich, $18: This is my new favorite, with a thick and juicy slab of white meat, spicy pickles, a mound of shredded cabbage, aioli and greens.

Fish & Chips, $21: The rock cod is super fresh, with a lovely flake and mellow taste. After sampling so many dishes, I was dreading a big bite of fried fish, but was pleasantly surprised at how light and yielding the breading was, after a squeeze of lemon.

Beet & Avocado Toast, $13: People who dismiss avocado toast as millennial frippery do themselves no favors. A thick (but not too thick) slice of airy pain de ville from Santa Rosa’s Goguette Bread is topped by a generous schmear of fresh avocado, thin-sliced pickled yellow beets, greens, and edible flowers. It’s a work of art with enough nourishment to get you through an afternoon of surfing or sandcastle-building.

Clam Chowder, $12: “ This is the best chowder I’ve ever had,” my dad said. “And you can quote me on that!” We’re not throwing any shade by saying that Bob Irwin likes his food simple, flavorful, and mostly uncomplicated. He knows what he likes, and the chowder was a hit. What impressed him, as well as the rest of us at the table, were the briny clams and applewood-smoked bacon, with lots of chunks of potato and leeks mixed in. Even though the bacon does overpower the chowder a bit, we’ll still go with Bob’s take on this seaside staple.

Open Fri. through Sun., 12 p.m. – 7 p.m., 1 Beach Ave., Dillon Beach. 707878-3030, dillonbeachresort.com

Strawberry goat cheese salad at Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen in Dillon Beach. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery

Deep in the Dry Creek Valley is a place to reclaim inner quiet at a series of special Sunday fall brunches, running through the end of October. Enjoy a meal and wine tasting on the patio at the Italian-inspired winery estate, Villa Fiore, surrounded by meditative gardens, fountains, and meandering paths. Dishes include a prosciutto Benedict made with eggs from the estate’s own chickens, a brunch pizza with Journeyman bacon, or a delicious herbed porchetta sandwich on ciabatta bread with truffle aioli and pecorino cheese.

Seatings on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., reservations required. $85 per person. 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. 707-433-6700, ferrari-carano.com

4th Street Social Club

Earlier this year, chef Jeremy Cabrera decided to reinvent his entire plant-based menu, bringing a fine-dining feel to this pint-size downtown dining room. You pretty much can’t look away from his Instagram feed @4thstreetsocialclub, featuring tweezer-rific plating in eye-popping rainbow hues. Cabrera is clearly a tinkerer, for example, using blue pea flower to color strawberries sourced from owner Melissa Matteson’s gardens and his own foraging.

The food is astounding, including the “Zuke” ($14) with roasted and torched asparagus, fermented chiles, cherry relish, mint aioli and a shoyu-cured egg yolk. Cracking the purple yam lace and releasing the salty umami yolk onto perfectly cooked asparagus is so enjoyable. It’s this kind of precision and attention that recently won the restaurant the Slow Food Snail of Approval in recognition of sustainable, slow food practices.

Open 6 p.m.– 10 p.m. Thurs. – Sun., and 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sat. and Sun., reservations recommended. 643 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707-978 3882, 4thstreetsocialclub.com

Jalapeño margarita at Fourth Street Social in Santa Rosa. (Heather Irwin / The Press Democrat)

Sushi Rosa

There’s an extra set of hands, er, a chargeable wait-tron, helping out at the new Sushi Rosa restaurant on Fourth Street. Excuse us for the childish glee in getting a plate of nigiri deftly rolled to us from the sushi bar by a friendly roving robot that guides itself right to our table. The sushi here is solid, if not Hana Japanese level, with page after page of rolls and nigiri, including a vegetarian “nigiri” plate as well as more traditional dishes like dried squid with vegetables (ika sansai), Japanese pickles (tsukemono), a whole mackerel with fried bone and pickled vegetable maki.

Open 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Tues. through Sun. and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tues. through Sat. 515 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707-843-5132, sushirosa.com

Tony’s Galley Seafood & Bar

Tony Ounpamornchai, executive chef and co-owner of SEA Thai Bistro and three other local restaurants, has been thinking about opening a seafood-centric spot for years. Now, the chef has fulfilled his briny ambitions with Tony’s Galley Seafood & Bar. The menu is a mix of Ounpamornchai’s familiar Southeast Asian flavors and chef de cuisine Hunter Bryson’s American take on classic dishes like lobster rolls, steamed mussels, fish and chips, clam chowder and, of course, surf and turf.

Highlights include the LGBLT lobster roll ($26), with Village Bakery rolls, garlic butter, bacon, tomatoes, and a pop of tobiko. Bryson’s favorite dish is the crab poutine ($16), with hand-cut fries as a carrier for creamy lobster gravy and fresh crabmeat. And the steamed mussels ($16) feature the gentle heat of a light, flavorful Panang curry with onion, fennel, and garlic. Overall, it’s another win for Ounpamornchai and a chance to see longtime local Bryson show off his culinary chops.

Open 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. daily. 722 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 707-3037007, tonysgalley.com

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