It’s a funny thing. Surrounded as we are, in Sonoma County, by organic farmers, ranchers, dairy famers, cheese-makers, olive growers and even beekeepers, finding top notch restaurants can be a little hard. It seems that all that earthy, too good to be true, produce and meat immediately makes it way down the 101 to the competitive restaurant scene of San Francisco.
But fear not, I have been doing my due diligence–all on your behalf of course–and I present to you my top five restaurant choices within 20 miles of Petaluma. The furthest from my front door is the Sir and Star at Olema, which, as it turns out, is exactly 20.0 miles according to Google Maps. So there. I can stand by my 20 mile radius claim. In no particular order, except vaguely arranged in driving distance (closest first)….
- Central Market in the heart of Petaluma, is hands-down the best place to eat dinner in this little town. Owner, Tony Najiola, proudly presides over every dinner service making a point to check in with just about every table to ensure things are to the diners’ satisfaction. Not only do his dishes epitomize the ‘farm-to-table’ style of cooking, he actually owns the farm as well as the table. He raises the pigs that he turns into tasty dishes – from crispy pig’s ear shoestrings to pork chops – and tends to the greens before picking them and bringing them to his kitchen. And he doesn’t forget the ocean either, with the likes of temptingly fresh sea trout crudo served on a bed of smashed avocado and chiles. When the Victorian brick building suffered an attic fire last year, closing the joint for close to four months, locals (myself included) were bereft. Lucky for all of us, Tony and the team are now seriously back in business.
- The Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa is tucked away in a quiet corner and you would never find it unless I told you about it. The tables are arranged around the outside of a large square communal bar that dominates the center of the space. Brussels sprout chips are my favorite, not least because of the tangy aioli dressing, and the burgers are great too. If you’re vegetarian – a massively under-catered for demographic in my opinion – there’s plenty to tempt your palate.
- The Glen Ellen Star, which you may not be surprised to find is in Glen Ellen, burst onto the Sonoma County dining scene in 2012 and is now featured on the Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list. Housed in a simple corner building on the main road that runs through this quiet village, the small restaurant manages to squeeze a wood burning oven into its open kitchen. Just glancing at the menu you can tell that this is a chef who revels in making the most of the local, sustainable ingredients that are virtually growing in his backyard. A backyard, which incidentally, also includes his wife’s family biodynamic winery: Benziger. The menu is jam-packed with fresh vegetables prepared simply yet with infinite layers of flavor and taste. You’ll also find pizzas and simple grilled and roasted meats and fish. Absolutely delicious.
- Osteria Stellina, Point Reyes Station. I love this place so much that I’ve written about it twice. It never fails to please. Another chef, another kitchen, and yet more ways to make the most of the bountiful generosity of Mother Nature, this time with an often Italian twist. A recent visit yielded fresh oysters, spiced beets in a salad topped with hazelnuts and ricotta and divine desserts. The bread and foccacia is enough to make you give up being gluten-free for life. Not least because of the dark green, peppery, deeply spicy olive oil that comes with it. Make sure Osteria Stellina is on your “must eat at” list.
- Sir and Star at The Olema is just south of Point Reyes Station in Marin. Housed in an imposing former Victorian hotel, now painted a striking, handsome dark grey, the interior reminds me a little of a Tim Burton set. Maybe it’s the china doll sitting on the hostess stand, or the waitstaffs’ heavy felt tunics, or the dried seaweed dangling from the light fixtures. Whatever it is, it works. The food is locally grown, fished or foraged, and coaxed into perfection. The way the menu is written is a bit, shall I say, prosaic. For instance: Hot Smoked Crab, Plucked From Surrounding Seas Now Clawing at a Dip of Local Meyer Lemons Both Brought to You with Broccoli at Its Best, but what the hell, just go and have fun with it. The soft serve ice cream was to-die-for even if you can feel your arteries hardening as you swallow one spoonful after another.
So that’s my top five. Would love to hear of your finds so please share in the comments.