It’s no secret that Napa and Sonoma are home to the some of the best restaurants in the world, thanks to a local culinary scene that highlights fresh ingredients, innovative flavor combinations, and perfectly paired wines. But where to begin with your pre-nuptial food adventures? Borrowed & Blue, the online resource for Napa weddings and Sonoma weddings, asked me for a local take on the best spots in Wine Country. Here’s my Q&A with Borrowed & Blue:
Describe Sonoma’s food scene in six words.
Ground zero for local, organic produce.
Describe Napa’s food scene in six words.
Old favorites. New stars. Wine-centered. Glamorous.
What single food embodies Wine Country the most? Why?
It’s impossible to name just one food, but what stands out for me is the insanely fresh, organic, seasonal produce that has only to travel a few miles before it lands on your plate. The best chefs in the area work with the farmers year-round, perusing seed catalogs to determine what they would like cook, many months in advance. They only prepare what is in season, or what has been preserved using age-old techniques like canning, preserving and pickling.
What’s the most quintessentially Sonoma restaurant around?
The Glen Ellen Star is one of my favorites. Named for its location in Glen Ellen, it’s just down the road from the Gaige House hotel, which is a wonderful place to spend a couple of nights. The restaurant stands out for me because of the simplicity of preparation—many dishes are prepared in the wood-fired oven—which makes the food the hero. And along with its unpretentious food, comes affordable prices. All in all in, it’s a must-visit.
What’s the most quintessentially Napa restaurant around?
It would be hard not to name a Thomas Keller restaurant for quintessential Napa. While The French Laundry is the obvious choice, my vote goes to Ad Hoc + Addendum, which serves a reasonably priced set menu for $52 per head. There are typically a couple of extra dishes available to add, along with wine pairings should you so choose. The food is impeccably prepared, and food intolerances are accommodated with a smile.
Where’s the best local place for brunch?
There are a numerous places to choose from, depending on your locale. The Naked Pig Café in Santa Rosa is well worth a visit for artisanal fare with a focus on time-honored traditions like home-made biscuits and preserves, locally-cured bacon and free-range eggs. The joint is small so come early or late. The Wishbone Café in Petaluma has upped its game since I wrote this review and is a good option if you’re in the area.
What about a casual lunch?
You can’t write about Sonoma County without mentioning Healdsburg, and specifically, The Shed. A provisions store, a deli, a café, a thoughtfully curated store of household, garden and kitchen goods. This is a great place to while away a couple of hours, including lunch. You can either eat picnic-style at the tables outside, or take a seat for waiter service.
An upscale dinner?
The Michelin-starred restaurant at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville in Sonoma County, is a veritable treat, with a choice of three or four courses for $79 and $94 respectively. Staying overnight means you get to sample the delicious breakfast, and toast s’mores by the fire after dinner, which makes it all doubly worthwhile.
What’s your favorite place to eat in the area?
This is a really hard question to answer! So I will pick my local favorite, here in Petaluma. Central Market is housed in a high-ceilinged, old building in the heart of downtown. Owned by chef Tony Najiola, who also has his own farm and features his produce on the menu, does a remarkable job of turning out consistently good, tasty fare, day in, day out. The farinata, ocean crudo and cabbage lamb rolls, keep me coming back.
For couples saying “I do” locally, what’s the one dish they must serve at their reception that truly embodies the Napa and Sonoma food scene?
Freshness and seasonality is what stands out for me, so plan your menu according to the season. If you get married in spring, find a way to feature items like artichokes, ramp, peas and tender greens. In the summer, you have an abundance of squashes, lettuces, insanely flavorful sun-kissed tomatoes and so on. The fall lends itself to harvest with its gorgeous autumnal shades which are reflected in the produce too: think butternut squash, pumpkin and dark leafy greens.
If you were designing the most quintessential three-course Wine Country menu, what would you include?
Three words: local, seasonal, organic. There are so many purveyors, farmers, cheesemakers and artisans, working their magic with the bounty delivered by this stunning region, if you follow these three principles it will be impossible to go wrong. Oh, and don’t forget gorgeous flowers by a local floral designer like Venn Floral (pictured at the top of the article).
Now that you have an idea of what the ultimate Napa and Sonoma menu looks like, check out all of the Napa wedding caterers and Sonoma wedding caterers who can make it happen (these suggestions are courtesy of Borrowed and Blue). And thanks again to Borrowed & Blue for the chance to share all my favorite spots.