Willi’s Wine Bar isn’t new. It doesn’t have a maitre d’, a cheese cart or a celebrity chef. It’s inconvenient to get to and the whole “small plate” thing can add up to a damn fortune.
But day after day, season after season, year after year, the cozy Santa Rosa bistro just keeps on cranking out sure-fire crowd pleasers that feel so-worth it. And for a jaded foodie, that’s about the highest praise a restaurant can get. Especially after dropping 90 bills for-um-lunch.
After nearly six years (a lifetime in the fickle restaurant biz) Willi’s doesn’t have to keep trying as hard as it does. Folks would probably keep going, just out of habit. But Chef Mark Stark and his crew do keep trying. Instead of just getting four small plates–filet mignon sliders with seared foie gras, the must-have macaroni & cheese, Dungeness crab tacos and Moo Shu bacon–we got four meticulously-arranged little works of art that tasted just as good as they looked. Dessert, which often seems such an afterthought, was even more beautiful. And, even more tasty–a plate of ricotta beignets with apricot crème, rosemary-studded pistachios and violet honey.
Now that the warm weather is upon us, the covered outdoor patio is a perfect spot to share a few glasses of wine and the camaraderie of crossing forks across the tiny plates. Even if it’s the tenth, or the hundredth time you’ve done it. Because every time is different, and so darned worth it.
Keep in mind: Voted Sonoma County’s Top Chef by you, Chef Mark Stark reigns over Willi’s Wine Bar, Willi’s Seafood in Healdsburg, Monti’s in Santa Rosa and a forthcoming steak house. Of the existing restaurants, BiteClub has found Willi’s to be the most consistently outstanding. Willi’s Seafood is a top spot for raw oysters, lobster rolls and stimulating cocktails. Monti’s has never found a spot in BiteClub’s heart, after several trips that suffered from poor service and uncharacteristically disappointing food.
Willi’s Wine Bar, 4404 Old Redwood Hwy., Santa Rosa, 707.526.3096
Willi’s Seafood, 403 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, 707.433.9191
Monti’s, 714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 707.568.4404