Whenever I stray away from my home eating grounds, like many people these days, I ask my Facebook friends to suggest a place where they love to eat. So in planning a whirlwind 20 hours away from home in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Co., I asked the Facebook oracles for their recommendations and lo, shining in the distance was the Glen Ellen Star.
This pretty restaurant opened up in May of this year and by the look of things, under the rain-drenched tarpaulins is an awesome deck we’ll try in warmer weather. On this sopping wet December night however, we were glad to be inside with a great view of the wood-fired oven. The ambiance remains light and airy, even on a gloomy winter’s night. There’s a high barn-style ceiling with exposed rafters, whitewashed walls, and simple wooden tables wrap around the open white-tiled kitchen affording a great view of the action.
According to the restaurant’s web site, Chef Ari Weiswasser’s wife, Erinn, is from the Benziger wine family whose biodynamic winery is just up the road, so not surprisingly the wine list features some of their more hard to find wines.
The menu is simple yet inventive and makes the most of local produce. After a hearty late lunch at The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, I was happy to see that the first five items on the menu were all veggies from the wood oven. We chose to start our meal with Red Kuri Squash with Pomegranate Molasses and Candied Pumpkin Seeds, and Roasted Cauliflower with Salsa Verde.
The squash was cooked perfectly, and I loved the slight tartness of the pomegranate molasses – something I’d never heard of until five days ago and have since had twice. Funny how that happens. For me, there were just a few too many pumpkin seeds and I probably would have preferred them with olive oil and sea salt vs. being candied, as the squash was already sweet enough.
As for the roasted cauliflower, I’m a huge fan of cauliflower. (Did you know it’s a great detox food providing liver support? Admittedly not when accompanied by a great glass of Benziger pinot noir!) I liked the combination of the salsa verde with the cauliflower, which offered a blank canvas to highlight the sauce, but I felt a little less sauce could have provided the same effect without being as cloying.
Ordering a pizza from the wood-fired oven seemed a must. Monkey opted for the margherita with fresh mozzarella and basil, which looked and smelled pretty darn good although he said that there was too much sauce, and despite his youth I trust his instincts as a food critic. I took a tiny bite (trying to keep to my gluten-free ways) and the sauce tasted fresh and homemade and the crust was very light.
Next came a grilled flat iron steak with fingerlings and a romesco sauce that apparently sits in the cooling embers of the oven overnight to slowly extract all the flavors from its ingredients. The steak was tender, the potatoes had a little crunch, and we basically ended up negotiating with my brother to offer us more bites than he was willing to give away!
For dessert, we ordered a ½ pint of ice cream which seemed an indulgent amount for one person even at Christmas. Monkey was adamant about having eggnog flavor, which came in its own cardboard container and was very soft (perhaps a bit too soft) but delicious none the less.
We staggered back to the Gaige House during a break in the storm and luckily just before our food comas kicked in. We will most definitely be back to the Glen Ellen Star. I’m excited to have discovered something new within striking distance of home and will be adding it to my tour of Sonoma Co. when we have guests to stay.