Farmhouse Inn or Seaweed Cafe?
I'll be camping out at the Sonoma Coast State Park this weekend with my husband, and we'd like to have at least one great meal while we're up there, on Saturday night. My thoughts immediately turned to the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, which we're been meaning to try, and I made reservations. However, searching the board reminded me of the Seaweed Cafe in Bodega Bay, which also seems to be well regarded, and would be a much shorter drive from the park, on a less windy road. (We thought about brunch there, so we could hit both, but it starts too late.)
So my question is, for those of you who have tried one or both: should we do the expedient thing and eat at the Seaweed Cafe for dinner instead, or is the food at the Farmhouse Inn so spectacular that it's worth the extra drive? I've seen great posts on both and can't make up my mind! Oh, in case it makes a difference, we eat fish but not meat.
Had a delicious lunch at Seaweed Cafe on Saturday. Everything we ordered including drinks was off the blackboard.
I got a grilled sardine bruschetta, came with two salads, one of al dente flageolet beans and cherry tomatoes, the other of simply dressed sunflower sprouts. I think that was $11. My wife had a shrimp salad sandwich that was battered and fried like a croque madame on one side. Bread was from Della Fattoria. I had a glass of Tremani pinot gris ($9?), it had such nice acid and balance that I thought it was Italian. My had an Anderson Valley High Rollers wheat beer ($8.50? for a 22-oz. bottle).
The desserts looked so good we had to try them and they were as good as they looked. Fig galette, strawberry cobbler, both were barely sweet, little or no added sugar. The cobbler came garnished with a piece of candied burdock, the galette with basil seeds plumped in syrup--sounds goofy but both were good matches.
Total bill with 20% tip was $39. Great value. I was really impressed to find this quality of food and service in that area. I'll definitely be going back next time I'm anywhere nearby.
re: Robert Lauriston
The menu gave little clue to the styling of those sandwiches, thanks for telling us about them. They sound great. This year the chef seems to be highly inspired by beans; last year it was grains.
The owners at Seaweed told me they used to have to drive to Petaluma to pick up the bread themselves at Della Fattoria. But Jim Reichardt (Liberty Duck) does them a big favor by bringing it out to the coast when he makes his duck delivery.
P.S. The olive oil's from McEvoy.
Thanks for the report, Joanne! When we stopped by last weekend to peek at the posted menus, Chef Dierkhising was standing at the door. But I neglected to ask if he oversees all the meals or dinner only. Dinner menu looked worthwhile, if conservative, which I guess goes along with the location as you point out.
We did take a look inside. Where I thought I'd most like to sit would be in the bar. The corner windows have an unobstructed and perfectly framed view of Bodega Head. The bar bites menu looked interesting enough and reasonable.
We went to the Blue Water Bistro in Bodega Bay for lunch on Thursday. We had fish n chips, fish tacos and a BLT. All were ok but nothing spectacular. Fish was very crunchy and the fries were very crispy. No Oysters on the lunch menu. The special was ravioli. Soup was chicken something - no clam chowder. The BWB is at the Bodega Links golf course so lunch has ringings of good country club food. Edible but not fantastic. It has a poor wine list by the glass so if wine is required expect to order a bottle. The food might be better at dinner - the menu was more promising.
since you'll be on the River, if you choose The Farmhouse Inn,
...consider Mosaic Restaurant & Wine Lounge, 6675 Front St. (Highway 116), Forestville; 707-887-7503. Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Main courses: $19-$29...I'm hoping for a recent report from chowhounds on this new restaurant!
re: Melanie Wong
I've been meaning to report back--thanks for the reminder! We ended up at the Seaweed Cafe -- it turned out to be less than two miles from the campground, which was too close to pass up. In general, I'd agree with your assessment: the food is creative and the ingredients impeccable, but things didn't alway quite come together on the plate. Here's what we had (I've lost my notebook, so this is from memory):
Amuse bouche: A demitasse of gazpacho--the perfect taste of the season, simple and well executed.
Appetizers: I got the english pea soup, which was simple (perhaps a little too simple, but the drizzle of truffle oil and creme fraiche on top brought it along) and comforting on a chilly night, but it was closer to vichyssoise with an accent of peas than the fresh pea soup I'd been craving. (To be fair, our server said that the soup was made with a base of leeks and potatoes, so I was warned.) My husband got the salmon tartarte, which I think was my favorite dish of the evening--finely chopped salmon studded with capers, onions, and ginger, and topped with wasabi tobiko and a quail egg. I really liked the play between the crunchiness of the tobiko and the richness of the salmon. However, there was a bit too much ginger in the salmon, which overpowered the other flavors somewhat.
Entrees: I got the salmon steamed in a cedar box, served with a (tea-based??) broth and vegetables. I wanted to like this, but it didn't quite come together for me--the broth didn't really complement the other elements, and while I'm sure the intent of steaming the salmon was to give it a custardy texture, in practice the outer two-thirds was overcooked, with only the center not too firm. Even worse, the vegetables served under the salmon were nearly raw--one of my pet peeves. (No, I don't think vegetables should be mushy, but they should be toothsome, not crunchy!!) I preferred my husband's entree of halibut with fingerling potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The potatoes were fantastic and chanterelles were well flavored (although they could have used a bit more salt). The halibut was good, although it was also a bit overcooked.
Wine: I really like the concept of their wine list (only wines from Sonoma County west of 101), and there were several interesting bottles. However, we were set on Pinot, and there were no bottles in the middle price range -- there was a bottle at $28, and then the price jumped to around $80. I consider this problematic, since on a regular night out, we're usually looking for something in the $45-60 range--one of the liabilities of a small wine list, I guess. We decided to splurge a little, and the sommelier(/owner??) steered us to what turned out to be a fantastic bottle, the Cobb Wines Coastlands Pinot (03 or 04, I can't remember, $90). In fact, we were a little disappointed to find out that the restaurant markup was so reasonable--about 50% over retail--since we were thinking of tracking down a few bottles, and that puts it out of our price range except for special occasions!
Overall, we mostly enjoyed the experience--the space is great and service was warm if a bit scattered. We would consider returning if in the area, although we'll probably try the Farmhouse Inn first. Honestly, if the prices had just been a few dollars cheaper per item, I think I would be more forgiving of the missteps. But the prices -- soup for 9, other apps for 11-15, entrees around 30 -- are what we'd pay for a good meal in the city, and in that price range, I guess I expect the fish to be appropriately cooked, and that the dishes be better integrated. I appreciate that sustainably sourced, organic foods are going to be expensive -- but sourcing is only half of the equation -- they need to be well prepared too, and in that regard Seaweed was a little too hit or miss.
re: Emily Hope
Emily, thanks for a great report! I had dinner at Seaweed on Friday and will get my photos together soon to post. I didn't love it quite as much this time, as the execution faltered in a few places, though corrected immediately when I pointed it out. I noticed that the assistant chefs have turned over since my visit last year, which may have amped up the inconsistency. Like you, I do expect a bit more at this price point. As far as the price shock for the Pinot Noir, unfortunately, that's the state of Sonoma coast pricing these days. We ordered three whites from the list and brought our own red wines.
re: Melanie Wong
I also wanted to report back on a few of the other places we stopped at during our weekend in Bodega Bay. Thanks to the recs on the board, we had some great food and fun -- I'm always amazed at the depth of knowledge here!
We stopped in for fish and chips at The Boat House (1445 Highway 1, Bodega Bay). I had high hopes for this based on other reports, but was somewhat disappointed. The fried items we got (fish and onion rings) were very clean tasting--clearly someone is changing the oil frequently, and I liked the beer batter. However, they were a touch greasy, not too much, but enough to keep them from being transcendent. The rock cod (still being sourced from WA/AK) had just enough of that "muddy" taste that rock cod can get to keep me from enjoying it. Hubby enjoyed his BBQ oysters (and I confirmed that I do NOT like giant oysters!).
If anyone is looking for smoked fish at the Crab Pot, I'm afraid that I have to report that it's no longer in business. Craving smoked fish, we ended up on a vision quest that took us all around the piers, to no avail. We ended up with some so-so smoked albacore from the deli in the little shopping area on the south side of town.
On the way back from the coast on Sunday, we decided to stop in Sebastopol for some breakfast and a trip to the farmer's market. The farmer's market was small, but cute. Not a huge selection, and we were somewhat suprised to find prices rivaling the Ferry Plaza. (My huband spent part of his youth in Sebastopol, and is ever amazed at how upscale things have gotten in the intervening years -- including the Whole Foods across the street from the market!) Nevertheless, we loaded up, and ended up getting what are still, a month later, the best tomatoes I've had this season (from a very thin man with piercings and measuring-tape suspenders, if that means anything to those more familiar with the market).
Not finding any breakfast options that seemed promising in Sebastopol, we ended up at the Willow Wood in Graton, and I'm so glad we did! We've been to the Underwood before for dinner and weren't so impressed, but brunch across the street was outstanding. Some of the best Eggs Florentine that I've had in quite a while, and my husband also enjoyed his huevos rancheros. Highly recommended!
Finally, on the way out of the area, thanks to Melanie's advice, we stopped at the Sebastopol Berry Farm on Ross Station Road for blueberries and ice cream. The blueberries, small and intensely flavored, are the best I've had since leaving the East Coast, and my only regret is not buying more of them to enjoy and to freeze. The ice cream was equally good, with a pure, deep blueberry taste. A perfect way to end a great weekend!
re: Emily Hope
Emily, thank you again. Your comprehensive posting will be a great help for future visitors to the coast and west Sonoma County.
Here's the photo I took from the tiny dining area of The Boat House. If brianj's looking on, this twisting bit of road (you can see the back of the RV as it disappears around the bend) is typical of Hwy 1 north of Bodega Bay.
Image of the view from The Boat House -
The description of the tomato guy isn't ringing any bells in my head. I will say that the tomatoes grown farther north in cooler climes around here seem to have better acid balance that makes the flavor pop out more. Well-tended hybrids can be as delicious as some heirlooms. Maybe you caught my earlier post about Stephen Singer and Jonathan Waxman doing a restaurant project in Sebastopol, hope it will be in affordable range for the rest of us.
Here's my old post on the eggs florentine at Willow Wood with a photo if you want to revisit that memory.
I haven't worked my way up to the huevos rancheros yet. This spot endures as one of my favorite spots for quality and value.
I'm glad you caught the last of the blueberries and ice cream. Sadly, I missed it by a day and will have to wait until next year.
Speaking of food strictly, Seaweed is really mediocre. We had high expectation this past Thursday. Being the only table there for the first 30min, one dish every hour is not "slow food" nor "falls behind" because there was not other people. Chilled vegetable soup was good. Halibut tartar was way too salty with dice pickle and halibut's texture too tough for tartar. Skade Wing came to the table cold. Sardin was overcooked closed to canned sardin. Yes, they are very friendly but the waiter asked us "do you need something?" when we were standing by the door at our reservation time. It was weird. Our next dinner at Stormy's Tavern was much much better, wonderful lamb chop and prime rib. It was too much meat for us but the quality was so good we stuffed ourselves silly.
Yep, this is a tough call.
I had a dinner at Seaweed a few weeks ago and swooned. It was really that tasty. In the last year I have had also a couple of brunches which were pleasant, but I left feeling so happy. The thing of the Seaweed is it is so small and personal I just have to like it - you walk in and gotta be charmed. The wine list is only west of 101 but the selections are terrific. They have a small but thoughtful cheese list. One partner runs the kitchen and the other the front. It isn't a fast paced place either.
The Farmhouse is more sophisticated, but I don't know that the cooking is better. The wine list longer, then again I never struggled at SW.
Maybe for me it is a routing for an underdog that gets me with Seaweed?
Either way bon appetit
The good news is that you do not have to weigh off convenience against quality, because Seaweed cafe is actually one of the most interesting, personal, high-quality dining establishments in the bay area. If it were a little closer I would eat there all the time. Very welcoming, very unpretensious, and supremely delicious. Very deft touch with a broad range of vegetables and local foods. Interesting, well-priced wine list with lots of by the glass options. Can;t recommend it highly enough.
Emily, there's another choice in Bodega Bay, Blue Water Bistro. I haven't tried it, but I did like Chef Mark Dierkhising's cooking at All Seasons in Calistoga and Equus in Santa Rosa.
Here's Jeff Cox's review, which is generally positive and that I would take as a sign that it doesn't suck.
Has anyone tried it?
Were you at Seaweed in the last year, that is, since the dining room was expanded and more service and kitchen staff were added?
I like both very much, but certainly Farmhouse Inn gets the nod for both polished cuisine and service. However, Seaweed has very original cooking geared to the coast, but not everything works. I'll be staying out at the coast again later this summer and we'll go back for dinner but not for brunch.
Dinner at Seaweed Cafe -
Monday night at the Farmhouse Inn -
We have been to both. If you are going strictly on quality of food and service Farmhouse is very good. I found the food at Seaweed to be mediocre and we had to wait forever for our meal. It is more casual and the service is friendly, but the kitchen quickly falls behind. They are two very different experiences. I would go back to Farmhouse, but not to Seaweed.