Dining editor Heather Irwin picks three top spots for dining out in Sonoma County in early 2024. Click through the above gallery for a peek at a few favorite dishes at each restaurant.
The name of Mark and Terri Starks’ new restaurant tells you a lot about the Santa Rosa French bistro. It’s a cheeky reference to Auguste Escoffier, the 19th century French chef and restaurateur whose distinguished legacy casts a godlike shadow over the culinary community. The esteemed Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur isn’t really a guy I’d want to crack a cold one with. But Augie? He spikes the office party punch with Beaujolais Nouveau and likes to hug things out.
That is to say, Augie’s isn’t about fiddly French food, lifted pinkies, and meticulous plating. It’s about hearty onion soup, braised boeuf Bourguignon with creamy potatoes, and bowls of steaming mussels swimming in creamy Dijon sauce that’s begging to be soaked up with a crusty baguette. Augie’s is a truffle-buttered bear hug of a restaurant where the Champagne starts flowing at 3 p.m. and the skinny fries come in a goldhandled rondeau pan because they can.
To step inside is to leave Santa Rosa behind and enter a timeless Parisian moodscape. The interior of the former Portofino restaurant is long and narrow, with few windows. But the result is a cozy, nest-like atmosphere, with metallic butterfly wallpaper climbing the stairs to a low balcony level, and bulbous gold beehive lights casting a warm glow. A zinc-topped bar and apron-clad servers round out the Gallic vibe. With its welcoming atmosphere, classic-yet-approachable French cuisine, and excellent service, we think both Escoffier and Augie would approve of this new spot.
Warm red onion “tarte Tatin,” $16: Just yes. A lovely whirl of red onion slices topped with whipped Boursin cheese is the perfect appetizer.
Black truffle butter escargot, $18: Mark Stark is wild about his escargot menu. I am, too. I like escargot simple, with just garlic and butter, but the slightly scary-looking yet absolutely delicious black truffle butter version is my favorite.
Beef cheek bourguignon, $38: This braised beef with vegetables is that unicorn dish that’s homey and satisfying but something far too labor-intensive to make at home. A high point of the meal.
Liberty Farms duck confit, $29: This was the entree that disappeared from our table first. Two meaty legs and thighs with crisp skin and soft, juicy meat that only a confit can produce. Served with roasted figs and a sublime pan sauce.
535 Fourth St., Santa Rosa.707-531-4400, augiesfrench.com
Many chefs have a thing about porchetta—a boneless pork roast that’s wrapped like a jelly roll, with crispy skin inside and out. I knew I had to get to this new Italian-style cafe and deli, from the owners of nearby Stellina Pronto, as soon as chef Mark Malicki described his porchetta sandwich— served with salsa verde on Della Fattoria rosemary bread, with juices running down your wrists. Heaven.
The sandwich lived up to the hype. Called Il Michelangelo ($18), it comes wrapped neatly in paper and is delivered pronto to whichever lucky seat (there are only about four in the whole place) you’ve grabbed. Other sandwiches come on house-baked schiacciata (think focaccia), like the “La Bellucci” ($16) with grilled artichoke relish, roasted mushrooms, truffle pecorino cream, and mushroom pâté.
There are also tasty Italian-style salads, antipasti, and charcuterie boards, along with fried risotto balls with chili aioli. The Panzarotti (little potato cakes with Parmesan, mozzarella, and mint) are also a standout. And seeing a fresh cannoli stuffed with cream arrive at the table next to me? Well, let’s just say that I had my own within minutes.
Before you leave, check out the dried pasta, tinned fish, and other Italian grocery specialties, plus wine and Italian beverages to go.
160 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma. On Instagram @stellinaalimentari.
Marla’s Railroad Square neighborhood cafe is bathed in golden light as early morning rays sift through the windows. If you look just right, a single flicker holds on the pastry case, causing their signature crebble (knotted croissant dough sanded with sugar) to glisten fetchingly.
Marla’s is a place to linger with a steaming cup of milky chai and a plate of scones, dark chocolate brownies, and bagels for hours of carbohydrate-filled pleasure. The welcoming bakery is the first retail outlet for Amy Brown and Joe Wolf since they moved to Sonoma County in 2020. The couple operated out of their Windsor bakery through the roughest days of the pandemic, feeding many locked-down pastry lovers with weekly walk-up sales of bagels, coffee, and other breakfast treats.
The former Miracle Plum location has been gently renovated to add comfortable seating and tables and shelving for gourmet grocery items. Baguettes and hearth-baked bread, including sourdough batards and walnut boules dusted with flour, sit on nearby shelves waiting for their crisp crust to be cracked open, revealing a moist, airy crumb.
The bakery also sells coffee beans from Cute Coffee, tea, natural wine, beer, cookies, and baguette sandwiches. You’ll have a hard time choosing, but the welcoming vibe makes you want to return again and again.
208 Davis St., Santa Rosa. marlabakery.com