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Willowside Cafe

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Brandon Jul 31, 2000 07:44 PM

Hounds!

It's been a while since I've made a real contribution. Here is a gem.

My lovely girlfriend and I finaly tried a meal at the Willowside Cafe (3535 Guernneville Rd., Santa Rosa). It was the best meal I have had this year!

I'll drop more details on you all when I have more time. In the mean time please chime in and share your 411 if you have eaten here. I think it's a gem. Your opinions?

CHOW!!!

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    Melanie Wong RE: Brandon Aug 1, 2000 02:23 AM

    I'm really happy that you had a good time. This was one of my favorite places. But under the new ownership, no longer. I've had several friends tell me they won't go back either. They don't like the attitude of the new owner and the wine list is no longer adventurous.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
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      Brandon RE: Melanie Wong Aug 7, 2000 04:14 PM

      I agree with your take on the wine list, but I find few I like. I not a fan of the "big 3"; chardonay, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. I love the wines, but these three varietals aren't particularly very food friendly. The sales of these pricey bottles do however mean a lot to the bottom line.

      I know of the menus of the previous chef, they looked to be quite creative. The mussel,coconut milk soba dish, and the 3 rice timbale dish looked like something special.

      I'm not going to give a blow by blow of our meal, I'm simply going to offer this. A favorite restaraunt of mine was recently bought out, closed, remodeled, and opened under a new name. If I hadn't tried the new joint with friends who insisted on it, I would have never gone there. I would have missed out. I hope you who were faithful to the Willowsides old guard don't do youselves that way. Give it a go and judge it on it's own merits/shortcomings. They treated us like old friends.

      Chow!

      1. re: Brandon
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        Vanessa RE: Brandon Aug 9, 2000 11:51 AM

        You are absolutely right Brandon. It is wrong to pre-judge. I probably should go back. Many people I trusted steered me away, but perhaps their pre-conceived notions got in the way of their judgement.

        1. re: Brandon
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          Melanie Wong RE: Brandon Aug 14, 2000 09:34 PM

          That's a good policy. Now tell us about the restaurant that opened under the new name...

          1. re: Melanie Wong
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            Brandon RE: Melanie Wong Aug 22, 2000 03:32 AM

            No more protecting the names of the "innocent"

            My old favorite was "Augustinos". A great mid range italian (better than "Mary's Pizza Shack" not as "infamous" as "Bistro Don Giovanni". This was my version of "Cheers" everone knew your name. I was also sentimental about the place. I took a lot of dates there. My little sister had her rehersal dinner there. It had a great deck if Mother nature was kind enough to offer a warm evening. The (uh oh! Z word) Zagat would rate the food at 18 or 19.

            The new place is "Zins". It shares many of Auggies old charms. The staff is great. The setting is unchanged. The menu is more "relevant" to the foodies. The Zagat may soon find this place with a 20 to 22 rating. But this is now the same kind of menu I see all over town. It resembles any place that serves "California cuisine with mediterranean and Asian influences". Good food, but no longer unique to it's niche.

            I'm sure North Beach in the city is lousy with places just like Augustinos. Napa isn't. Zin's is nice, and I'll go again soon, but I'll always be a little bitter.

            CHOW!!!

            1. re: Brandon
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              Melanie Wong RE: Brandon Aug 22, 2000 04:15 AM

              Thanks Brandon. Actually, it's not that easy to find red sauce in North Beach any more.

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        Vanessa RE: Brandon Aug 1, 2000 10:37 AM

        I have to agree with Melanie. I haven't been back there since the place sold, and nobody I know goes there, but I'm glad you had a really good experience. Probably part of it is that the locals here thought of it as their place, and loved the old owner so much that any change would be unwelcome.
        Now here's an insider tip: The old owners of Willowside (Mike & Carol Hale) and partners are opening a restaurant in downtown Healdsburg this Fall. It is sure to be excellent. They are pros and great people. I'll post when its open.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Vanessa
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          Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 2, 2000 12:32 AM

          Vanessa, you make a very good point about it being the local roadhouse. I'd had a few friends who told me they thought they didn't get the same service that locals do. I believe the original chef left last November.

          Thanks for the tip about the new opening - which site are they taking in Healdsburg?

          1. re: Melanie Wong
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            Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 2, 2000 10:56 AM

            Yes, the original chef, Richard, stayed on for one year after the new owner bought in, so November sounds about right. That's not very nice to make non-regulars feel unwelcome. I hate that.
            The new restaurant will be in the old CK House Chinese restaurant. It's on the East side of Healdsburg Avenue in the block just North of the square near the corner of North Street (which is the street that Ravenous and the Raven theatre are on) I don't know anything else about it, other than rumor of a very good chef, which I won't say until it is confirmed, but I feel sure they will make a welcome addition to the dining scene here, and I can't wait.

            1. re: Vanessa
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              Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 3, 2000 02:47 AM

              Thanks for the tip, Vanessa. I'm not very current these days - mostly I grab a couple tacos when I'm passing through Healdsburg or stop in to see Robin & Patrick at Charcuterie. Haven't been to the "new" Catelli's, Zinfandel or Santi yet.

              1. re: Melanie Wong
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                Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 3, 2000 11:14 AM

                Melanie,
                Your welcome. Have you been to Mariposa? It's my favorite.
                I've been enjoying your SF tips too, especially the latest Chinatown one. We are sorely lacking in affordable delicious food here in Sonoma County. I get really bummed out about it sometimes.
                Hey, maybe I'll bump into you sometime. Seems like we travel in circles that are somewhat interlinking.
                I'm going to take one of Tim Hani's culinary workshops soon.
                Thanks again. I always enjoy your posts.

                1. re: Vanessa
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                  Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 5, 2000 01:40 AM

                  Haven't been to Mariposa - I know two couples who went there once and said they'll never go back. Also know two couples who say it's their favorite special occasion place. Your vote is tipping me towards trying it. I understand that the owners are committed to building a bigger place in Windsor's planned downtown development.

                  I'm sure we'll bump into each other sometime. Which winery is your spouse affiliated with?

                  Tim Hanni's on the docket for tomorrow morning. But there are competing concurrent session and I haven't decided which I'll take in yet. I'm exhausted after today.

                  I'll post separately on my favorite cheap eats place in the county.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
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                    Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 5, 2000 10:43 AM

                    I didn't know the Mariposa people were building a bigger place. You don't live up here do you?
                    My husband works for Armida Winery on Westside Road in Healdsburg.
                    Are you going to be at the Cheese Conference in Napa next weekend?

                    1. re: Vanessa
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                      Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 7, 2000 01:27 AM

                      My house is up near Asti, but I've been spending most of my time in San Francisco. This summer I haven't been to a single Saturday farmers' market in Healdsburg yet and I'm having Downtown Bakery sticky bun withdrawal!

                      Gosh, it's been a couple years since I've visited Armida...nice Pinot and I liked playing bocce ball there.

                      Sadly, I'll miss the cheese conference. I have a Port thing and then a Champagne thing to attend, and wine trumps cheese these days.

                      I'm sure we'll cross paths sometime. If you should spot a 40-something Asian femme at one of the wineries taking notes furiously, good odds to be me. I've often had someone ask, "are you Melanie Wong?", and take a moment to introduce themselves.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong
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                        Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 7, 2000 12:32 PM

                        The farmer's market seems to be even more of a "gentleman's farmers" market than last year. Really expensive, but still fun and a social event. I'm always torn between the sticky buns and the Donut muffins.
                        Armida is making some really nice wines right now.
                        I look forward to bumping in to you sometime.

                        1. re: Vanessa
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                          Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 7, 2000 03:23 PM

                          I had a chance to stop by the Santa Rosa saturday market at the Vet's hall recently and was surprised at how much it's changed in the three years since my last visit.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong
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                            vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 9, 2000 01:12 PM

                            Haven't been there lately either. If you are ever in the Jimtown Store, and want to say Hi, just ask for me. I'm the chef there.

                            1. re: vanessa
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                              Melanie Wong RE: vanessa Aug 11, 2000 04:55 AM

                              Great - how long have you been there? The olive spread (on goat cheese/crostini) has saved me more than once when I needed quick hors d'oeuvres.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 11, 2000 12:00 PM

                                Been there two years, but only been the chef for one year. We have some new spreads too. The olive salad is still my favorite.
                                Stop by sometime.

                                1. re: Vanessa
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                                  Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 14, 2000 09:56 PM

                                  Will do. Did you make it to the cheese conference?

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                    Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 15, 2000 12:01 PM

                                    Yes, it was quite a lot of fun. Great jovial people, and wonderful large, but very sweaty room. Tasted some very good cheeses from all over the country. People in the central valley here in CA are making some nice things. I fear they won't do well without a little marketing, as places like Hanford and Visalia don't quite have the cachet of Sonoma and Napa.
                                    Vermont Shepard did very well award wise, as did our own Redwood Hill.
                                    All the wines were Kendall-Jackson or Artisans and Estates (Stonestreet, Cambria, La Crema, KJ, and one other I can't remember)

                                    1. re: Vanessa
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                                      Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 15, 2000 07:51 PM

                                      I'm sorry I missed it, but after three back-to-back wine tastings last weekend, it felt good to not have to drive furiously to the next thing. Did KJ pour Edmeades, their Mendocino property? Sometimes that's my favorite of the line-up.

                                      Like your point about the lack of marketing cachet for Hanford and Visalia. Visalia is a pretty name though, I'm sure someone can give it a romantic image cheese-wise.

                                      I'm actually typing this from the Healdsburg Library, ,waiting for traffic to clear before heading back to the City. Attended Dry Creek Valley trade tour today - was all tasted out when I spotted the bottles of Armida and thought I'd better sample 'em too or you'd never forgive me. I really liked the barrel sample of 99 Armida DCV Zin - hope they can get all that lusciousness into the bottle

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong
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                                        Vanessa RE: Melanie Wong Aug 16, 2000 12:30 PM

                                        Sadly, no Edmeades. One of my favorites too. Also, the Stonestreet. I'm glad you tried the Armida. I think they can get the deliciousness into the bottle.
                                        Hope the traffic wasn't too bad

                                        1. re: Vanessa
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                                          Melanie Wong RE: Vanessa Aug 20, 2000 10:28 PM

                                          Traffic was easy. I was happy to catch the tail end of the Tuesday night farmers market in Healdsburg plaza and cleaned up on heirloom tomatoes.

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          wonki RE: Brandon Aug 1, 2000 11:33 PM

          i don't like to do this, but i must disagree. although to be sure, i know their menu changes weekly so maybe i just went on a bad week or chose the wrong items from the limited menu, BUT i would have to say that judging from what i and my fiancee had that i couldn't imagine it really being that much better.

          i was there this past saturday and was really disappointed. i had the eggplant, tomato and garlic soup to start. first of all, there was barely enough soup in there to satisfy a hungry ant. second, the "soup" was basically the three aforementioned ingredients stuck in a blender. neither the texture nor the flavor were very appealing. my fiancee's heirloom tomato salad, on the other hand, was nice and fresh, and the dressing was nice and light - a simple, satisfying dish.

          my entree, the striploin, was rather uninspiring and very unmemorable. the only good part was the yorkshire pudding cooked in bacon drippings (mmmm, bacon). my fiancee's opah in curry sauce was equally disappointing. although the curry sauce was done well, the fish's texture was off and the pairing of lentils was just a bad call.

          even desserts weren't redeeming, and i agree with melanie that the wine list was lacking.

          it's really too bad, because i liked the place and service was fine, and i was really looking forward to it as well. hope you caught it on a better day, though i don't expect to be back anytime soon.

          ciao.

          wonki

          2 Replies
          1. re: wonki
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            Melanie Wong RE: wonki Aug 2, 2000 12:28 AM

            You were in Russian River Valley last weekend and you didn't call, write....!!!

            1. re: wonki
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              Brandon RE: wonki Aug 7, 2000 04:21 PM

              We ate off the same menu. But our ordering was quite different. The special the Sunday we were there was guinnea hen stuffed with fois gras served with a mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. It was grrrrrreat! There was also a hummus and tahini appetizer that was quite good. The desserts were nothing special, good, but not great.

              Chow!

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