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Nov 24, 2012 12:09 PM

Solo in Sonoma (or possibly Healdsburg) in January

Hello all, I have searched the boards and can't find much for a solo diner/taster in Sonoma. I will be flying in to SFO at noon and hope to drive up for an overnight stay on a Friday night in January. My ideal scenario would be to park and walk or bike for the evening, which is why I thought Sonoma near the plaza would work best, but I am also open to Healdsburg if it would be as walker friendly in your estimation(s). In Sonoma, LaSalette and the girl and the fig stand out to me, largely just from hearing them so often recommended on the boards, and because of their convenience. I don't think I can justify the cost of Cyrus, I am hoping to stay at or under $100 total with 1-2 glasses of wine. I eat anything and everything, but I would like to focus on regional fare. So I suppose my question is this: Am I on the right track with the above plan? Are there any restaurants in Healdsburg which I should be including in my list of maybes (Dry Creek, Madrona), and if so, is it possible to walk to a winery or two from there? Or are Guerneville or Bodega Bay worth a look (both Boon and Terrapin Creek's menu's look right up my alley). I am coming from Chicago, fyi, so we have out share of wonderful food, which is why I would love to enjoy local cuisine.

Also (while I am here), I am then coming back up with two friends for a night in Napa (Yountville) and we will be having a nice dinner and a lunch. I am thinking the same price point, around $100 pp for dinner, we need to be more casual for lunch. We can drive in this case. I have read that Bouchon has slipped, any thoughts? Several of the restaurants mentioned on the boards repeatedly include Bottega, Bistro Jeanty, Redd (that menu looks especially intriguing, I admit) and Terra. I would gladly welcome any opinions of these, or other Napa area places, for lunch and/or dinner! Thank you all!

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  1. I'm pretty sure that you won't have to worry about justifying the cost at Cyrus.

    1. Healdsburg has a central town square, similar to the town of Sonoma. There are quite a choice of restaurants and shops to explore all around the square and in the surrounding blocks. So, it is very friendly for walking.

      I don't think that their are any actual wineries within walking distance of town, but quite a few local wineries are represented at tasting rooms in town, all close to the square.

      As wolfe has mentioned, Cyrus has recently closed. If you search this board you will find lots of Healdsburg restaurant recommendations. For a higher end meal I would choose Barndiva, they emphasize local Sonoma county producers. Their tasting menu with wine pairings is a little over your $100 guideline, but they also offer a la carte. Mateo's Cocina Latina is inventive, fresh Mexican food also at a reasonable price point.

      1. Bodega Bay is a beautiful but long drive from Sonoma. Sonoma's plaza is bigger and prettier than Healdsburg's. Lots of cute little stores around both.

        Sonoma Square: I prefer La Salette or Cafe la Haye over Girl & Fig. Chef Chris Jones made G&F's reputation but he left for Brix/Napa last year, where he's doing a great job. La Salette's biggest flaw was that the plates were coming out of the kitchen so overheated that the food was becoming dried out and overdone. Ruined a perfectly nice pork roulade, whereas the feijoda, being a casserole, wasn't negatively affected.

        Healdsburg: Dry Creek Kitchen or Barndiva. Although I have to say, Ryan Fancher/Barndiva gave us an absolutely flawless lunch on the first visit, but six month's later massively screwed up on dinner, a huge disappointment. Oversalted beans, overcooked sweetbreads, overcooked sturgeon, and delicate maitake mushrooms drowned in an excess of melted Plugra disguised as a sauce. And the world's worst cappuccino to boot. Ugh.

        Napa: Bottega is one of the least expensive places in the area, but not the best. Very very good, we enjoy them a lot, but not quite at the top level. Redd is a long-time favorite of the board here. It's on my list to try, but this year we ended up with four trips to Sonoma instead of three each to Sonoma and Napa, so we probably won't get there until early next year now. Of the places we have tried, Brix gave us an amazing meal in May of this year, far better than Mustards or Don Giovanni. We did like Oenotri equally well, but they're quite different in style so it depends on what you feel like eating.

        Don't forget that the city of Napa offers a Downtown Wine Tasting card for $25 good at all 12 city tasting rooms, which are all within walking distance of one another:

        4 Replies
        1. re: jaiko

          Thank you for your detailed replies, pamf and jaiko! I have made some more concrete plans since my original post and would love any input:

          Flying in to SFO at 11:30am, probably grabbing something to eat at the airport before getting a car.

          Drive straight to Arrowood for late afternoon tasting (possibly also Hanzell? Imagery and Valley of the Moon don't grab me and Robert Hunter seems to be out of my price range for a bottle, I would feel bad making a tasting appointment and not being able to purchase).

          Back to check in (staying at the Best Western Sonoma Valley right off the plaza)

          Walk to Ravenswood if time allows, or just wander Sonoma and taste a bit (recs for tasting rooms in town would be great!)

          Happy hour oysters at Martini Oyster Bar.

          Rest up or wander a bit more before reso at Cafe la Haye at 8:45pm. Just wondering, with all the great reviews of this place, why no Michelin attention?

          Pass out cold, I assume.

          Breakfast at the hotel, enjoy the morning in town, and then head out for lunch....where? Would I be crazy to drive over to Napa and have lunch at Auberge du Soleil? Is it worth the drive for a lunch, in you opinion(s)? Otherwise, probably the girl and the fig, or LaSalette.

          Drive back (I need to meet up with friends late afternoon, so no tastings, I think).

          As for Napa, I proposed Redd, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Ad Hoc, and Terra to my friends, and I will let them pick between them. I am hoping for Redd, but I am not paying, so...

          I am hoping to do a tour/tasting at Storybook in Calistoga on Monday. It is a favorite wine, do you all know anything about winery, what the experience would be like? I hate to drag my friends all the way up there and have it be a huge disappointment. I have yet to hone my list of wineries for our Napa leg, there are lots of great threads on that point so I won't rehash by asking!

          By the way, in my defense, the Cyrus website is still up and seemed current, which is why I mentioned it. Sad to hear they closed, it certainly looked heavenly.

          1. re: kstaigs

            I hope you have a great time in Sonoma. It is a very walkable town, and you should have fun wandering around.

            If you are a "full breakfast" person, you might want to try Community Cafe (a few blocks west on Napa Street West or Sunflower Cafe (on the west side of the plaza) for breakfast. Both are very "local" and only serve breakfast and lunch. If you just want coffee and pastry, I really like the Crisp Bakery (also on Napa Street West). If the weather is nice, you can sit outside at either place, but that might be a stretch in January. You could also go up to the Springs to El Molino for breakfast or lunch, which would be more of a hike. They only have chilaquiles from 9:00 to 11:00, then a full lunch from 11:00 on (but no chilaquiles). Best eggs and coffee in town.

            BTW, Ravenswood is also a little hike from the plaza, about 1 and three quarters miles. But it is a great walk, semi-suburban, semi-country.

            I personally wouldn't drive to Auberge for lunch if you have to turn around and get back to SF in the afternoon.

            1. re: dkenworthy

              I agree about Auberge. I love the place, don't get me wrong, but it is a long, long drive from Sonoma....and even longer from SF!

              If I were going to drive out of the city of Sonoma for lunch, I would go to either Willow Wood in Graton off 116, the old Bohemian Highway. Beautiful countryside once you're past 101 and the soft polenta is to die for. Last time we were there they had an honest-to-goodness Dickensian gingerbread for dessert: dark molasses, fresh spices, dense and absolutely terrific with the proper pot of tea they make for you.

              Or, an upscale choice would be French Garden in Sebastopol. Lovely converted house, great service, dynamite crab cakes with preserved Meyer lemon. They have tables in the bar section near the fireplace that are delightful when it's raining.

              For the best lunch under $15 in Sonoma Cty, go to Yanni's Sausage Grill in Penngrove. Tiny, tiny shop only open Wed-Sat, but the best grilled sausages with griddled onions and spicy meat-only chili on great quality pressed French bread rolls you've ever had. No real seating to speak of, however!

              Getting out of Sonoma (city of) and driving west is about 20-35 min depending on traffic.

              I also noticed you mentioned Madrona Manor, which I missed reading the first time. We hated the place and thought it was super-pretentious and ridiculously overwrought. A shame, because the ingredients are high quality, the cooks actually have some skill, and the bldg is lovely, with superb landscaping.

              1. re: dkenworthy

                We've been to Sunflower Cafe and thought it was really good. A short drive to our fave, Fremont Diner . Also Boon Fly Cafe part of Carneros Inn

          2. I tried to make a reservation at Auberge for lunch the other day and then blanched when I saw they needed a credit card to confirm. Now I am glad I didn't go through with it. I will check into Willow Grove and French Garden. We have more than our fair share of excellent sausage here in Chicago, so I think I will skip Yanni's, as good as it may be. I'll also look into the breakfast suggestions, dkenworthy, thanks!

            I am heartbroken to report that Redd is closed for renovations the weekend I am there. I really had my heart set on that place. I made a reservation at Bouchon...I know people are saying it has gone downhill, but the menu looks lovely and not vastly overpriced and I freely admit to being swayed by the Keller connection and the Michelin star, pretentious or not. Not to mention the fact that it is less than 1/2 mile from our hotel and we won't need to be driving after a long day of tasting.

            I don't know if it changes anything, but I am now going to be driving in and out of Oakland both on the Sonoma and Napa trips. I have no idea if it will make it a longer or shorter trip, but it means a free car...

            1 Reply
            1. re: kstaigs

              In/out of OAK means Napa is very close but Sonoma is 1/2 hr past. But you have to watch the traffic on Hwy 80, it can be killer during commute hours.

              I wish you luck at Bouchon. If they have the Columbia River sturgeon rillette on special, GRAB IT. It was ethereal and one of the best things we've ever had anywhere!

            2. You mentioned the possibility of biking. You might look into bike rentals and routes that take you to wineries on some of the more rural routes that are too far to walk to. We rented bikes in Healdsburg (which looks like is off your itinerary) and took a beautiful ride up I think Dry Creek Road. May be good options for biking in Calistoga as well. Sonoma is a bit too big and trafficky for pleasant biking, in my opinion. Just another option. Though in January, you might get rained out.