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  • Writer's picturethe_maestro

Sonoma Restaurant Week: The Best Dining and Deals

When it comes to food, the residents of Northern California are spoiled. Some of the greatest produce you can find is grown on area farms and the local markets overflow with it year-round. In smaller towns, many people keep vegetable gardens, and it's not unheard of for people to leave their reapings out in a box on the sidewalk for neighbors to share. Here in Petaluma, two of the best organic dairies in the country are just minutes from my place, and the "Happy Cows of California" feed on rolling pastures of emerald green in the winter.


And then, of course, the wine!


With such a bounty of exceptional ingredients, it's little surprise that the restaurant scene in California is among the best in the world. Here in Sonoma County, luxurious wine country restaurants like SingleThread number among the best restaurants on Earth, but the same types of local sourcing and innovative, seasonal cooking can be found across the spectrum of establishments, from taco trucks to strip mall Thai joints to Michelin-starred temples of fine dining.


Last month, Sonoma Restaurant week gave residents and visitors alike seven days' worth of opportunities to sample some of the most wonderful food in the county at sometimes significantly discounted prices––participating restaurants are tasked with coming up with three-course menus for $25, $35, or $55. Since I am a creature of habit in my local restaurant choices, I made a point of only visiting places I'd never been––though there was one exception for a deal that was too good to pass up!


As a result, I experienced some wonderful new restaurants, all within 30 or so miles of my domicile in Petaluma, and often with the company of good friends. Restaurant Week is a chance to engage with your community and share food with excellent people. What more could you need?



Tuesday


On my way up to Calistoga for a blind tasting party, I stopped in Santa Rosa's city center to charge my car and munch on some Peruvian fare at Kancha, a new spot focusing on elevated tapas based on classic dishes from the country and, interestingly, sparkling wines.



Santa Rosa is trying really hard, and there are some lovely restaurants right off Courthouse Square, but it still lacks the charm of the smaller Sonoma towns like Healdsburg or Petaluma. Still, I was happy to catch a few kilowatt-hours for the "golf cart" and snack on one of my favorite world cuisines.



I found myself very impressed by the modern, clean aesthetic of the space, which also had some elegance in emerald green and brass touches. Nothing about it felt necessarily "Peruvian," but I can definitely see this space billed as a Champagne bar.



In NorCal, $35 for a three-course dinner is unheard of; better still, I found myself visiting during happy hour, so ordered a few half glasses of bubbly in a flight to sample some of their beverage program offerings. The first of the bubbles paired brilliantly with a classic ceviche served with my favorite root vegetable for chips––taro.




Arroz Norteño was my entrée choice, a rice dish overflowing with shellfish and tart red onion salsa and drizzled with the liquid gold condiment of Peruvian fare, aji amarillo. Delicious and refreshingly light, and wrapped up perfectly by a strawberry ice cream dessert.



A great way to sample a place I might otherwise never have discovered! The combination of a Champagne bar and Peruvian food is certainly new to me, but it works, and the happy hour in particular is a stellar draw!



Wednesday


Chef Charlie Palmer might be best known for his Michelin-starred Aureole in New York City, but here in Sonoma, locals have been flocking to his Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg for over two decades. Indeed, this place is legendary, and for denizens of northern Sonoma serves as a memory of what things were like before the Napa-ization of Healdsburg. Remarkably, even amidst the rise of countless fine dining spots popping up right and left in town, Dry Creek Kitchen's tables remain full, and the food is just as good as ever. It was an easy choice for one of my restaurant week dinners.



I love Petaluma, but Healdsburg has my heart, and I am always happy when I visit. After stopping to see my homies at the Marine Layer tasting room, I sauntered across the redwood-shaded square to Hotel Healdsburg to settle in for my second dinner of Restaurant Week.


One of the best things about Dry Creek Kitchen is they won't charge you corkage for a bottle of Sonoma County wine, which is such a classy move, especially for a restaurant with a cellar of their caliber. While technically this wine is from Napa County, it's grown in Carneros, a region which spans both, and so "Carneros" was enough for me to get the free corkage! This 2016 Hyde is among my favorite merlots I've had in California, with gorgeous fruit, medium weight, and an obvious but well-balanced peppery note.



For $55, I'm not sure there was a better deal for dinner on the restaurant week roster. The three-course menu started with a helping of their in-house focaccia in a pan, which was entirely unexpected and fantastic. And yes, I did eat the whole thing. #nofoodwaste



A beautiful crudo of kanpachi with blood orange, sliced fennel, basil leaves, and a healthy drizzle of local olive oil was my choice for an appetizer, which was fragrant, fresh, and a perfect mélange of flavors to support the toothsome raw fish.



The filet, however, served with a green peppercorn au poivre sauce and a crispy potato pave, was the best dish of restaurant week. Perfect steak, mouthwatering sauce, and one of my favorite preparations of potatoes––and dynamite with the merlot!



I also appreciated that dessert was not an afterthought, but an event. Yuzu is my favorite citrus, so it was an easy choice––cheesecake scented with yuzu sat atop a black sesame crust with black sesame ice cream, dotted with yuzu and mandarin gel and meringue. Stunning, both in presentation and flavor. I even got a little selection of mignardises at the end!




Dry Creek Kitchen is not necessarily reinventing the wheel with their food, but even after twenty-plus years the kitchen is still putting out some of the most impressive seasonal fare in the county.



Thursday


I finally found a dining companion for my Thursday meal! I've been building a close friendship with a fellow member of the industry from Ohio, and he and I have spent buckets of time together so far in 2024. He accompanied me to Seared, a Petaluma mainstay offering all manner of grilled meat, focusing on steak. The décor here would be just as appropriate in a little midwestern or southern town––it's homey and unpretentious, but still attractive, and a cadre of locals occupied the lively bar chowing down on restaurant week specials.



We happened to visit during happy hour, so we supplemented our meal with some happy hour–priced calamari and mac and cheese, which were both tasty, before we graduated to a butternut squash and pear bisque and a spinach salad with pears, winter citrus, and gorgonzola. Both were delicious, and we were happy to split them.



We both got the hanger steak for a main course, which suited the wine that Cole contributed––a fantastic Ballentine Reserve cabernet from the stellar 2019 vintage. The steak had a fantastic char and was topped with green peppercorn demi and local mushrooms alongside a healthy helping of truffle fries. The photo doesn't do it justice.




Our favorite thing of the meal, however, was dessert, and one dessert in particular––an aromatic pistachio pot de crème. The other dessert, chocolate mousse cake with berries, was also good, but it was the pistachio dessert we fought over.



Seared is a wonderful neighborhood spot I'd definitely not hesitate to visit again, particularly at happy hour, when their prices are close to what you'd get during restaurant week!



Friday


Restaurant Week is a great chance to rub elbows with the gilded class visiting wine country (much like the caddies visiting the pool in Caddyshack) and I was happy to see the restaurant at the Montage Healdsburg––Hazel Hill––was offering a $55 three-course meal. Better yet, I got three of my buddies to join me!



The Montage property, looking east over vineyards in Alexander Valley, is beautiful, and with a lovely bar on-site, Lucienne and I dropped by early to grab a drink or two overlooking the property.



At the restaurant, we settled in on the patio with winemaker friend Natalie and her hubby Evan and popped a bottle of Marine Layer bubbly I'd picked up at the tasting room earlier in the day. We added an olive boule loaf with duck fat butter as well as some local mushrooms to share. The best addition, though, was the Mt. Lassen trout crudo served artfully in hearts of palm.



We all went our own direction for the prix-fixe dinner without a ton of sharing, but I was happy to focus on my selections, both of which were excellent. The cauliflower soup was my choice for a starter, which was an excellent example of how magnificently creamy the brassica can be.



For a main, the roulade of veal breast drizzled in a superb mustard sauce and served with slightly sweet wild rice caught my fancy, and though I don't often go for veal, this was a delicious offering with a mouthwatering sauce that I could have finished off with a rubber spatula. It paired brilliantly, too, with the pinot noirs from Red Car and Dehlinger that I and Natalie brought to share.



I am living for banana-based desserts (and cocktails) these days, so a banana mousse dessert was an easy choice, and the caramelized banana was a particular hit.



Hazel Hill is a wonderful splurge in Healdsburg, with one of the best patios in town and fantastic food. For $55, it was one of the best deals for Restaurant Week, and I was thrilled to share it with some of my favorite people!



Saturday


Outside of IKEA, how many of y'all have visited a bona fide Swedish restaurant?


Stockhome, just a ten minute walk from me on the fringes of downtown Petaluma, is the only Swedish restaurant in the county, and maybe in California! The approach, too, is delightful––while they feature Swedish classics like meatballs or skagen, much of their menu focuses on the immigrant cuisines you might find as street food in Stockholm, particularly from the Middle East––falafel, kofta, kebabs, etc.


The problem with Stockhome is that while the food is some of the best in Petaluma, the prices are just as Swedish as the food, which is to say quite high, even by Northern California standards. So for Restaurant Week, even though I'd had dinner at Stockhome a handful of times before, I broke my rule and took the chance to have a $25 lunch.



Stockhome does delicious "Swedish sodas" with sparkling water and various distinctly Swedish syrups and then charge you $6 for 10 cents worth of product. Still, I couldn't resist the lingonberry


Stockhome offered a Swedish option and a Middle Eastern option for their two-course lunch. I went for the Middle Eastern selections and started with a mezze plate complete with babaganoush, hummus, and tabbouleh alongside their fantastic pita. Delicious.



The falafel platter with roasted veggies was an excellent, hearty, and healthy choice for lunch, with a lovely salad and delicately seasoned rice to accompany. The falafel was aromatic and perfectly crispy, and dressed with a wonderful tomato-based sauce.




Sunday


It wouldn't be a week in Sonoma without a delightful home-cooked meal. For "family" dinner with my landlords, I bathed some local chicken thighs in an impromptu marinade of Meyer lemons from the garden and Calabrian chilis for several hours and slow-roasted them on the grill, finishing it off by letting the flames crisp up the skin and scattering rosemary over the top. Paired with a local pinot from Marine Layer, it was a great way to wrap up a week of killer food, even if it wasn't at a restaurant!





Restaurant weeks and other similar events are a great way to sample new places in your locale, and I encourage everyone to seek out and participate in these types of things to expand your horizons and find new places to enjoy. Who knows, your new favorite restaurant might be waiting out there!

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