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Jan 13, 2009 08:06 AM

Wine Country - CHALLENGE

My wife, 2-year old daughter and I (NYC foodies, based in Brooklyn) will be meeting up with my wife's Zurich-based mother, father and brother for a three-day stay at Portuguese Beach (5 miles north of the town of Bodega Bay) from February 16 - 18, 2009.

So the challenge is to find Hound-worthy restaurants that will be accommodating to this group - 5 adults and a toddler - in the vicinity (no more than a 40 minute drive) and that will be open for our various breakfast/lunches and dinners. We are definitely looking for a splurge or two (and my wife and I may even break away from the group for a special dinner) but generally would like to find high-quality, reasonably priced places for the family. We eat everything - though would be hoping to find tastes and menus that wouldn't generally be available to us back in NY. We'll also have a designated driver, and are huge wine fans (especially the Europe based contingent), so will want good wine lists as well. Is this all too much to expect/ask for? If so, what places do you think are the best we can do?

We will also be taking day trips - so any recommendations for wineries/restaurants in Napa/Sonoma that are family friendly and worth visiting would also be warmly welcomed.

Thanks in advance...and looking forward to trying your favorites...

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  1. Here are some places in Bodega Bay. If you click on the name it will take you to the Place record which will usually have linked reports and websites with menus, if any.

    You might read the post at the very top of this page and then search or scroll through the board for Napa and Sonoma suggestions for wineries and restuarant. This question gets asked almost every day and sometimes multiple times a day, so there is lots of info out there to help you narrow down your choices.

    As you get away from the coast, for the most part, the better the food with many more choices.

    1. Sonoma County is quite big. From Bodega Bay and the coast it is at least a 40-minute drive to wine country towns such as Healdsburg & Sonoma. From Bodega Bay to the town of Napa is at least a 1-hour drive.

      I would do "Search this board" searches for towns such as Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Occidental & Sebastapool. Also search for Russian River Valley and Guerneville. The Central Market and Risibisi in Petaluma are good dining options.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        I haven't been in Bodega Bay for a while, but I was thinking that 40 minutes wasn't going to really get anyone into wine country proper especially with the twisty roads. I did this map on Sonoma County wineries for myself so it might give the OP an idea of what is where.

        1. re: rworange

          HI - OP here -- Thanks for the responses so far -- Just to clarify one point: I know that 40 minutes wouldn't get us into wine country proper from BB, which is why I mentioned that we would be taking day trips. We will take the long route to get to Bodega Bay through Napa Valley (up Hwy 29 to Calistoga, then head west) and we will spend one day in Sonoma.

      2. In Bodega Bay, the Spud Point Crab Shack has the best clam chowder I've EVER eaten. It's VERY informal, just a little shack near the harbor, and I haven't tried anything else there because I must always get clam chowder. Other than that, I'm not too familiar with Bodega Bay, but just a few miles inland is Duncan's Mills, where Cape Fear Cafe is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For weekend brunch, the big draw is the benedicts with grits instead of English muffins. There are several variations, I've tried most and found them all very good. While not fancy, this place is a bit nicer than the usual coffee shop, with very skilled service.

        Then, just a few miles east is Monte Rio, where Cafe les Jumelles is my very favorite coffee shop. Your 2 year old will be perfectly welcome. This place is extremely casual, and the service can be a bit, well, overly casual. But the food is definitely a cut above the ordinary fare. For example, all the salad dressing is house made, as is all the bread. The salads are fresh and have a variety of greens along with extras such as house made marinated onions. I usually go for breakfast or lunch, but have also been several times for dinner. At breakfast, I highly recommend the (you guessed it, house made) corned beef hash. There are so many good choices at lunch, but if you are craving a burger you will get a delicious, high quality burger with high quality toppings, cooked exactly as you order it. One night for dinner the special was chicken braised in red wine, and it was delicious. There is a small but pretty decent, and reasonably priced wine list. So far we are talking 15-20 minutes max from Bodega Bay.

        Then you can either head out on the Bohemian Highway into Occidental, where Bistro des Copains serves bistro fare for dinner. I haven't been there since the chef changed, but have always been very happy with dinner there. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been more recently.

        Or, you can continue east on Hwy 116 and soon you will be at Korbel Winery. They have a very nice deli there if you want to pick up a picnic, and an interesting tour. I usually start wine tasting there simply because it's nearest to my house and gets us started - the wine is certainly not earth shattering, nor is it bad. From there, I'd do a search on Russian River wineries and you will come up with all kinds of recommendations.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kathleen M

          OP here -- thanks for these suggestions - I will look into these!

        2. The Farmhouse Inn in Forestville is by Google map 20 plus miles and 40 minutes away. It is highly recommended. Here is a peek at their wine list.

          Farmhouse Inn
          7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

          5 Replies
          1. re: wolfe

            After I posted my suggestions above, I thought that I should have suggested Farmhouse Inn for the special dinner. It is absolutely wonderful. We found the sommelier very knowledgeable and helpful. Everything I have ever eaten there (I've been three times) was sublime. As I mentioned, I'm not too well versed in dining options in Bodega Bay, but it is the closest place that I know of that I would recommend for the special occasion dinner.

              1. re: Kathleen M

                Definitely a third for Farmhouse Inn from me. The sommelier is one of the best around, and recommended a fantastic low-alcohol riesling for us one evening after we told him we'd been tasting high alcohol zins and pinot all day and wanted something as far from that as possible, while matching the foie gras and soft-shelled crab we were eating. The food's fairly expensive, and maybe doesn't compete directly with some of San Francisco's best offerings, but outside of Cyrus is perhaps the best high-end place in Sonoma County.

                Of note on the soft shell crabs, the chef has a friend somewhere in Maryland who hooks him up with utterly fresh amazing crabs and overnights them to him, and indeed all the seafood we had was good. I think I also had some excellent kurubota pork medallions, but the menu is very seasonal and most of what we had wouldn't be available.

              2. re: wolfe

                OP here - looks great! I made a reservation for me and my wife to have our special dinner here. Anything a "must have" here?

                1. re: sir chowalot

                  I was out of town for a few days and just got back and read your question. The "rabbit three ways" is a speciality, and my husband has ordered it every time we've eaten there. I've tasted it, and it is indeed delicious. I have found that the chef has a special way with fish, managing to cook it perfectly so that it is juicy and yet has a light crunch to the crust. Last time we ate there I ordered halibut, and it was flawless. Menu is seasonal, but I think they always have the rabbit.

              3. You might try Rocker Oysterfellers. It's inland a bit in the tiny town of Valley Ford (their website has a map), in a small hotel with cows grazing across the street. It uses local, seasonal ingredients -- so that would fit with your request for food you wouldn't get in NY. For a place out in the middle of nowhere the service is very nice and they include thoughtful extras such as homemade cornbread before the meal. (Or at least they did when I was there in the summer.) The oysters are great and I really liked my duck and sausage gumbo. Not fancy, but very comfortable. Also, the toddler might like the goats out back.