Sonoma County boasts some of Northern California’s best wineries: Kenwood Vineyards, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, and Gloria Ferrer, to name a few. It's also home to some of the best restaurants north of San Francisco. If you're looking for a great meal while you’re vineyard-hopping, or you're just in NorCal on vacation, here are five eateries offering well-prepared meals, ambiance, and, of course, excellent wine.
Situated on Sonoma’s historic central plaza, La Salette serves Portuguese dishes from a wood-fired oven. Try the fisherman’s stew with sea bass, scallops, and lobster. Or, sample feijoada completa, a dish of stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage, and black beans. Another reason to visit: Manuel Azevedo’s restaurant is a deal. In 2012, Michelin named it a “Bib Gourmand” restaurant, which means it offers excellent food at a good value.
It's hard to say what makes the bigger impression: the antique bar, where you can order signature cocktails and French aperitifs, or the salon du fromage where the cheesemonger presides over a selection of cow, goat, and sheep’s milk cheeses. The menu leans towards French country-style dishes like pork tenderloin with cranberry beans and figs, or duck confit with spinach spaetzle. Pair the meal with a Rhone varietal; the restaurant is known for its Rhone-focused wine list.
When you arrive, there’ll likely be a line out the front door, and for good reason. The Fremont Diner has received a lot of buzz lately for its simple comfort foods like mac-n-cheese, hamburgers, and chile con carne. A chalkboard menu over the counter lists your options – try the Nashville Hot Spicy Fried Chicken, or the BBQ platter, which is only available Thursday-Saturday. Although the diner caters to the beer and milkshake crowd (a nice respite), you can still order a glass of wine.
You might have a hard time finding Park 121, which is located at Cornerstone Gardens, but make the effort – it's worth it. This café offers casual, indoor and al fresco dining where you can order "The Best Adult Grilled Cheese," with Carmody (a cow's milk cheese), bacon, and quince paste on wheat bread. If you’d rather pick something up for the road, the Park 121’s market has to-go items, including spicy beef empanadas, salumi, and cheeses. Wine figures prominently into the dining experience – after all, Chef Bruce Riezenman authored the smartphone app, Pair It!, for Food & Wine.
Minimalist describes Café Le Haye. The small restaurant is simply decorated and has only a few tables, so reservations are more or less required. The menu is similarly limited with selections based on what’s fresh and locally available. Expect to find a pasta dish, a daily risotto special, and some meat options, like filet mignon or pan-seared salmon. Add a bottle of wine to your meal for as little as $30, and save room for dessert. Café Le Haye is known for its sinfully good sweets.