Madrona Manor lately? [Healdsburg]
My wife and I, along with my daughter and her husband, visited there in June. It was great, rivaling Cyrus. The food was imaginative, the service great, and the setting on the porch was beautiful. The ice cream presentation was woderful, but the nitrogen was poured on the custard, though supposedly it dissipates before touching.
We ate there in early 2011 and found it pretentious and overwrought. Very 1990's, with unidentifiable curlicues all over the plates.. The vaunted cart service is used for coffee or ice cream, neither of which is remarkable. We are certainly NOT talking La Bourgogne or Le Cirque type tableside service. It actually was comic watching them bang the carts into the doorframes and bump chairs as they maneuvered through the (small) dining rooms - like all classic Victorians, doors are narrow.
The ingredients are high end and there is talent in the kitchen. A couple of the dishes in our 12-course meal were excellent. But a lot of it was fussy and overdone, especially the endless and forgettable amuse-bouches.
I think it all depends on how old you are and where you've eaten. If you usually eat at inexpensive ethnic or even casual 3-star bistro-type restaurants, you could find Madrona very impressive. It's an absolutely gorgeous setting, with magnificent gardens.
If you're like DH and myself, who are hitting the 400+ restaurant mark in a three-year period, along with forty years of dining out at all price levels, then you'll know there are better places for the money that don't need gimmicks or showy displays for impressing tourists.
Thanks for the feedback, extremely helpful. We're not as experienced of diners as you but have hit a few of the big guys - La Folie, Robuchon, and a couple others so I understand what you mean. We certainly aren't impressed by a coffee cart if the food isn't there, and that's the impression I've been getting so I think we'll skip it.
Definitely, if you have eaten at La Folie and Robuchon you will not be impressed by most of what Madrona serves. We were impressed by the Parmesan foam in the carrot soup - a beautiful way to disperse the flavor of a fine Parmigiano-Reggiano smoothly through a puree - and the fish course was very good.
But to take the coffee cart as an example: They wheel out a cart. They give you a few beans to smell. They use a hand grinder to grind the beans. BUT - they don't use those grounds for the French press! It's all just for show. They bring the press to your table. They promise to come back at precisely the right time to press the plunger down for you.
In our case, they forgot to come back, LOL! Fortunately, we happen to like our coffee really strong and black, so after eight minutes I pushed the plunger down myself and we served ourselves coffee. It was good, but to be honest Flying Goat and several others are better.
Now this might impress someone who drinks Folgers or Maxwell House. But in the Bay Area, home of Peet's and its spawning of so many artisanal roasters? C'mon, it's nothing more than pretentiousness.
For your 40th, there are many other better places to celebrate. We just ate at Aziza, which is now only very remotely Moroccan and very much brilliant CA fusion cuisine. An amazing meal! We're also very fond of Fifth Floor, which has replaced Boulevard/Prospect as our "CA bistro" of choice. It's a little less old-fashioned than La Folie and a good place to bring a group - quiet, comfortable, but contemporary and stylish.
Sadly, I don't get into the City too often any longer so we haven't tried a lot of the newer restaurants. If you're concentrating on the Sonoma area, have you thought about Meadowood? Going somewhat further afield in Sonoma Cty, we had an amazing meal at French Garden in Sebastopol, of all places. Set in a converted house, it's a beautiful dining room - actually two large rooms, with a bar area and fireplace set apart by a glass wall and doors, so it's visually open but keeps the noise separate. More gracious in decor and better food than Corks, which gets a lot of buzz but we found it inferior to French Garden and Bistro 29/Santa Rosa. But the latter is a tiny, true French bistro, so I'd only recommend it if you had no more than 6 or 8 at most. The chef at 29 does Breton food authentically executed with skill and passion. His monkfish in Amoricaine sauce is luscious! We think he's a far better cook than Ryan Fancher at Barndiva/Sonoma.
Anyway, have a happy and memorable 40th!