It’s been over two years since I published my last list of favorite North Bay restaurants, and in part, it’s because the restaurant scene doesn’t change too often north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure there are openings and closings, but they tend to be inconsequential. So with holiday dining season coming up fast, here are my must-visit eateries. And this time, I’ve expanded the list to the north, east and west of Petaluma. In no particular order…
1. Shed, Healdsburg
Shed opened a few years ago in a beautiful, purpose-built building just off the main square in Healdsburg. Lofty, light, built from glass, metal and natural wood, and jam-packed with insanely curated beautiful objets for the kitchen and garden, I loved it the minute I stepped foot inside. You can eat, grocery shop and spend a fortune on things you never knew you wanted, all under one roof.
It has a gorgeous, shiny deli counter with cured meats and other picnic delights from around the world and closer to home. A great cheese selection, delicious local bread, locally grown vegetables and more. Over the past couple of years, its dining offering have gotten better and better. We were there recently for brunch, sampling the biscuits and sausage, and a wonderful poached egg dish.
2. Sir and Star At The Olema
West of Petaluma, in Marin County, is the wonderfully unique Sir and Star at the Olema, which I reviewed here. Staying on the hip side of eccentric, the restaurant is housed in a gorgeous old Victorian inn in the tiny village of Olema, and features locally foraged and harvested delights. Simply reading the whimsically-crafted menu is all part of the fun, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Plates are priced at $10 and $20 and are great to share. On Saturday nights, there is a prix fixe Saturday Night Supper, priced at $85.
If you want to avoid the drive home, there are now rooms available to stay in upstairs, although finding out more about them is practically a treasure hunt. I found this site, describing Olema Druids Hall, a collection of rooms around the village. I’m intrigued.
3. Central Market, Petaluma
A permanent fixture in Petaluma, which itself is undergoing a renaissance with new restaurants and stores opening daily, Central Market is owned and operated by ever-present chef/farmer, Tony Najiola. Najiola doesn’t believe in taking time off, so rare is the evening you walk in and don’t see him directing proceedings at the pass. The main benefit of this, of course, is consistency and quality – day-in and day-out.
The menu doesn’t change too much, and frankly, that’s a bonus too, because whether it’s the spicy lamb cabbage rolls ($14.50), divine sea trout crudo ($12.50, or wood-fired pizzas (upwards of $16.50), I guarantee you’ll find a favorite you want to order time and again.
Oh, and the bread and butter here is not to be missed. Slow fermented dough is baked in the wood-fired oven making for a delicious moist crumb with a wonderful crusty exterior (sorry, been watching too many episodes of the Great British Bake-Off).
4. The Shuckery, Petaluma
On some level, The Shuckery is almost too new to include in this list. It just opened in August 2016, located on the busy corner of East Washington and Kentucky. Yet I can’t ignore it, because it’s the hottest thing to have happened to Petaluma dining in years. Beautifully decorated on the interior, with a fair menu focused around oysters and fish, you can read more about it here.
Rumors have it, that the restaurant is already on to its second chef, but I have to say that explains the small improvements that I noticed between my first and second visits so here’s hoping that The Shuckery continues to hold its own and becomes a firm favorite with locals and tourists alike. Prices start at $3 per oyster all the way to $34 for a whole roasted rock cod.
5. The Restaurant At Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
Housed in the original Victorian farmhouse, the restaurant at the Farmhouse Inn, is Michelin-starred and intimate with just 14 tables. It’s definitely a ‘special occasion’ destination, with three courses priced at $95/head and four courses for $110/head, so if you can find reason to celebrate, this is a great place to visit.
The style of cuisine is more traditionally French fine dining, while making the most of local ingredients, and that in itself brings a certain flair and elegance. There’s also a hotel attached, and given the somewhat rural location, making a weekend of it, can certainly make for a more enjoyable time if you don’t want to worry about driving afterwards. What’s more, hotel guests get access to the fire pits for s’mores after dinner, so you can enjoy a nightcap under the starry Sonoma sky.
5.5 Almost on the list
There are a number of restaurants that nearly made it on the list, but I chose to exclude from the top 5 because I’ve found their service or food to be occasionally inconsistent. The hallmark of a great spot, after all, is the ability to confidently make a recommendation and trust it will be great every time. However, if you find yourself in the proximity of any of these spots, you won’t go too far wrong.
- The Spinster Sisters, Santa Rosa – a cool space with a focus on contemporary Cali cuisine
- Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen – good clean local food, much of it roasted in a wood-burning oven
- Barn Diva, Healdsburg – gorgeous outdoor space and lofty interior with a focus on local food
- Rosso Pizzeria, Petaluma – great family dining in downtown Petaluma. Great pizzas and g-f options
- Osteria Stellina, Point Reyes Station – reliably good Italian food in a central location on the main street
Oh, and, yes, I know I haven’t mentioned anything in Sonoma, but I’ve never come across anything there that’s truly amazing. Please feel free to set me straight. As for Napa Valley, that’s a whole other story in its own right…