2 great little chef-owned/operated restaurants: Cafe Des Jumelles (Monte Rio) & Rendezvous Inn (Fort Bragg)
I just got back from a week (too short!) in/around the SF Bay area, and while I enjoyed some wonderful meals (Cyrus in Healdsburg, for instance :) and had some good food that I wouldn't otherwise have been able to find in my corner of New England (e.g. Aziza's in SF), I really wanted to put in a HUGE plug for two small, chef-owned/operated restaurants that - to me - exemplifies food cooked with passion and a restaurant that's a real labor of love.
At Cafe des Jumelles (on Highway 116 in Monte Rio, near Jenner/the Marin coast and Sonoma County), we had perfectly-cooked, fresh, brunch-y breakfasts (perfect poached eggs, excellent chicken fried steak (yes, in CA!) and personal, friendly service from the chef and owner's children.) At Rendezvous Inn (in Fort Bragg, a few miles north of Mendocino) we had fabulous wild boar terrine, impeccable pork loin and an enjoyable long conversation with chef Kim Badenhop.
Both places showed off the chefs' background/training/experience in top-flight restaurants, but - perhaps sometimes just as, if not more, importantly - highlighted the passion, dedication and craft that these men and their partners brought to the profession.
If you find yourself in/near either of these towns, run, don't walk, to talk to and support these talented and passionate folks.
I just love Cafe des Jumelles! I live right nearby, so I have eaten there quite often at brunch and lunch. My husband agrees that the poached eggs are perfect, and I think they have the best corned beef hash ever! Last Friday we went for dinner for the first time and loved it just as much. We both started with the appetizer portion of the ceasar salad. The whole, pale green inner leaves of romaine were served with fresh grated parm and an olive tapenade (which I suppose was standing in for anchovies?). A single crouton and the dressing were on the side. I was particularly pleased that I watched the chef emulsify the dressing and then put it in the little containers immediately before it was served to us. My husband got the filet of beef with tarragon sauce and proclaimed it perfectly medium rare as he requested. I had chicken piccata which was moist and delicious. Both at dinner and at brunch, they do wonderful things with potatoes. The potato cakes that are available at breakfast were also on the side with the chicken piccata. They are fluffy inside and lightly crispy outside with a nice buttery taste. The vegie on both entrees was broccoli, wonderfully fresh and just cooked, with a light char on some of the stems. We have found that the service at brunch and lunch is perhaps a little unpolished but very friendly. At dinner, the service was still friendly but much more efficient. This is the restaurant we've needed in Monte Rio for a long time. P.S. They have a small wine list, but there is no corkage if you buy your wine at Sophie's Cellars, just down the street, and bring your receipt.