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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.

                1. The Boat House, on Hwy. 1 in Bodega Bay, has wonderful fish and chips and fried oysters. It's on the funky end of casual, doing double-duty as a fishing boat reservations place as well. It's where I usually stop for lunch on my day-trips to the area.

                  1. Rocker Oysterfeller's is doing service in the bar only for the remainder of the month of January. They are very worthwhile to visit but they are not doing regular service so it won't be the same experience as usual.

                    We have dined regularly at Bistro Des Copains since it opened 2 + years ago and in my opinion, the food is better now with new Chef Thomas Halligan than it ever has been..

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Pammel

                      Good to know about Rocker Oysterfeller's. Actually when I was there in the summer they were also only serving in the bar area. I was there right when they opened, so maybe that was why. I still think it would be comfortable for a family with a toddler. Not "bar-like" in an off-putting way.

                    2. Rocker Oysterfeller's dining room just reopened last week so they aren't on winter break any more. They have dollar oyster night on Thursdays too.

                      1. Graton is only about 20 minutes away and has Willowood and Underwood. Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma is good. I've never had a great meal in Bodega Bay but then again I stopped eating there long ago. Also a bit further afield is the Pinecone diner in Point Reyes Station which also houses the excellent Tomales Bay Foods and the best bakery anywhere - Bovine Bakery

                        1. Cafe des Jumelles in Monte Rio near Jenner.
                          Chow reviews here:

                          Bistro des Copains in Occidental

                          Willowood in Graton, such good hearty food.

                          Also, second Pine Cone Diner in Pt. Reyes Station. The servers
                          intentionally have attitude, but it's mostly tongue in cheek.

                          And the best of the lot, Farmhouse Inn. Wonderful.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Willowood is a great brunch/lunch spot to hit on the way in from the coast for a day of wine tasting. Very kid friendly.

                            Also, Cafe Saint Rose is very close to Bodega Bay on the Bodega Highway that connects Sebastopol to the coast. I haven't been, but I've only heard very positive mentions of the chef and the restaurant's previous location in Santa Rosa.

                            1. re: SteveG

                              I've heard several times about a big steep decline in Cafe Saint Rose. Were you downwind of that?

                              1. re: SteveG

                                Though it opened to very positive comments, I've heard very iffy reports about Cafe Saint Rose in the last few months. Here's a review from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, followed by reader comments:

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Just to clarify, you've heard from people you know that it's gone downhill? Because the two harshest comments on the Press Demo site are posted within 4 minutes of each other and show a remarkable similarity in style and structure, and I suspect they're both from the same jilted diner who wanted her pot roast served with the vegetables on a separate plate, since she doesn't "like things running together" which mystifies me considering it's a one pot dish.

                                  1. re: SteveG

                                    Yes, I heard from several others who live near the resto (Sebastopol area) that it had gone downhill. I was hoping for the best. As to your point about the Press-Demo article: Of course, when I read comments that follow an article, I factor out those from the, um, crazies. And since this particular cafe isn't that far out of Sebastopol and there are a number of good restos there, I think there are better options.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Mixed bag of reviews about Cafe Saint Rose, including a new one today:

                                      Negative Chowhound reviews (two separate threads) here:

                                      Horrible xperience at St. Rose cafe! from Feb, 2009

                                      What's Up with Cafe St. Rose? from Oct. 08

                                      Favorable review from Carey Sweet in the SF Chron today:
                                      Café St. Rose has settled into its new home

                                      Bite Club Santa Rosa Press Democrat review (same link as above)

                                      Delicious fun at Saint Rose
                                      Jeff Cox Press Democrat review from October, 2008

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        link 2

                                        Cafe Saint Rose
                                        9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol, CA 95472

                                    2. re: SteveG

                                      SteveG, it's the Monk Syndrome from TV. The OC detective whose food items must not touch each other. The solution to the problem is turn off the TV.

                                      1. re: wolfe

                                        We have a dear friend, extremely intelligent and normal in all other respects, for whom we cannot, when planning gourmet food and wine dinners, serve a salad that has any fruit component. One disconnect seems to be that tomatoes are mysteriously exempt, I wonder if I should remind or mention their correct botanical classification?

                              2. we just had sunday lunch at terrapin creek cafe in Bodega, just at the top of the road that leads to the headlands and it was really good, fairly casual especially in the daytime, easily a place you could bring a toddler to. the food was sophisticated but limited menu. my husband had a cassoulet that was (if you can believe) light and almost soupy and I had a crab cake salad with grapefruit and avocado. The crabcakes were freshly fried and pretty much crab with little binder so I was pleased. All in all, highly recommended.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: katnat


                                  Terrapin Creek Cafe
                                  1580 Eastshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

                                2. If you find yourself in downtown Sonoma, for a cheap eats lunch, go to Sunflower Cafe. They have smoked duck panini to die for.

                                  1. Check out Nick's Cove. It's right on the water at the top of Tomales Bay. Fantastic vibe and family friendly. Prices are more on the splurge end of your request. Food is excellent.


                                    Nick's Cove
                                    23240 Hwy 1, Marshall, CA 95450

                                    1. About 10 miles from Portuguese Beach, in the town of Freestone, you'll find an amazing bakery: Wild Flower Bread

                                      While not a meai destination in itself, you really must be sure to visit. I only wish I could get there more often. They were 'artisanal' long before the word was hip.

                                      Wild Flour Bread
                                      140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA