It’s almost cruel to talk about the amazing food I’ve eaten this year as we start another pandemic lockdown. Many of these restaurants are either closed or only offer take-out, which is nothing compared to the summer luxury of being able to eat al fresco.
For that, I’m sorry, but not so sorry. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is my sincere wish that we can soon enjoy the amazing food that Sonoma County is known for. This take-back on the best dishes I have eaten this year is also a tribute to all the chefs who refused to give up and pivoted again and again to meet the challenges placed on them at every turn.
Unfortunately, it’s my biggest fear that some of these restaurants won’t make it through the winter. The lack of real action from Congress to help the restaurant industry – a massive stimulus remains mired in committee – is about the only thing that can save them at this point. Customer support is always essential as we enter the darkest season these restaurateurs have known. Soggy take-out containers and cold foods aren’t my favorites either, but they are our reality today.
As we dream of better days, take this as a preview of what was 2020 and what will be again.
The five best dishes
Grossman’s Noshery & Bar, all dishes: Grossman’s is all that and a bag of matzoh chips. Fresh bagels and schmears, the best egg salad in the world, smoked fish, chicken liver with gribnes, veal palmeni and the dish I frequently order (just for my own satisfaction) – the Sabich platter with fried eggplant, falafel, vegetables marinated, tahina, pita and Israeli salad. It is the food of my soul. Full menu available for take out. 308 1/2 Wilson St., Santa Rosa (at the Hotel La Rose), 707-595-7707, grossmanssr.com
Bricoleur Vineyards, Heirloom Tomato Salad and Elote Agnolotti with Grilled Corn, Charred Shishito Pepper, Lime and Cotija: There is a brief window at the end of summer where the food becomes magical. Tomatoes and corn are at their peak, late season berries are sweeter than ever and in the right hands a perfect meal is possible. Chef Shane McAnelly’s summer wine dinners at this nascent vineyard are a combination of place, time and skill. I’ll probably never forget my dinner for one, sitting by the pond and savoring every bite. Wine dinners resume in February. 7394, chemin Starr, Windsor, 707-875-5700, handymanvineyards.com
Single Thread, opening course small bites and wild Kagoshima Kanpachi: A total delight is the best way to explain the little fairy valley of flora and fauna dotted with luxurious edible treats that await the diners of this three Michelin star restaurant. In their temporary home at Kistler Vineyards’ Trenton Roadhouse this summer, Kyle and Katina Connaughton matched the breathtaking scenery and moonrise with a series of dishes almost too good to eat. The luxurious outdoor dining fantasy they recently built will stay until March, but right now their take-out menu is available online. 131 North St., Healdsburg, 707-723-4646, singlethreadfarms.com
Blue Ridge cuisine, Croque Madame: This show is the Liberace of sandwiches. Its jewel capelets of toasted brioche rest in a delicate puddle of golden Bechemel saffron. At the top is a casual hat of sunny eggs and caviar glitter. Looking inside you’ll find a symphony of fontina, country ham, and even lobster. You can’t look away from this kind of fabulous. Open for take out. 6770 rue McKinley, bureau 150, Sébastopol, 707-222-5040, brkitchen.com
Spirit and wisdom, Caponatina Angolotti: Michale Mina’s first Wine Country restaurant is exceptional from top to bottom, but this simple little pasta dish with tomato glaze and Parmesan fondue blew me away. Open for take out. 1325 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-931-3405, michaelmina.net/restaurants/wit-wisdom
And the rest
Barndiva, Boeuf Bourguignon with cream-fresh mashed potatoes and shiso dashi glazed maitake mushrooms: One of my first take out this year is still one of the best. Open for take out. 231 Center Street, Healdsburg, barndiva.com
Sushi Kosho, Japanese Eggplant with Sweet Miso Glaze and Nuts and Sushi made for a happy visit to one of my favorite chefs, despite the confinement. Open for take out. 750 McKinley Street, Sébastopol, koshosushi.com
PizzaLeah, Old Gray Beard pizza: This sausage pizza is topped with hot honey and orange zest added to a homemade red sauce, fontina cheese, Italian sausage and a really delicious crust. Leah Scurto has become a big part of the community since it opened in March, with amazingly good pizza. Open for take out. 9240 Old Redwood Road, Suite 116, Windsor, 707-620-0551, pizzaleah.com
Brazilian barbecue Stark’s Steakhouse, grilled shrimp glazed with tamarind: Although this summer churascarria is over, the memories of the all-you-can-eat party will linger. You can always order the shrimp and other steakhouse classics to take away. Stark’s Steakhouse is open for take out. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100, starkrestaurants.com
Seafood and Eat (Down to Earth Café), Louie Crab Salad and Fish and Chips: A pandemic pivot has resulted in one of the county’s top seafood spots. The Fish and Chips are second to none; with local cod fried in a beer batter, they’re flaky, clean, and crisp rather than an oily, soggy mess tucked away in a puffy crepe jacket. Louis Crab Salad is a feast for the eyes and stomach. Open for take out. 9238 Old Redwood Road, Windsor, 707-657-7701, facebook.com/dtewindsor
Simmer Claw Bar, boiled crayfish with potatoes, corn and all the fixings: It was the last review I made before the COVID-19 shutdown and still one of the finger-licking best. Open for take out. 595 Rohnert Park Expressway, Rohnert Park, 707-806-2080, facebook.com/SimmerClawBar
Acre Pizza, Detroit style pizza: The caramelized crust, house sauce, and loads of cheese make this gramma-style thick crust pizza too delicious to ignore. 6760, rue McKinley, bureau 150, Sébastopol, 707-827-3455, acrepizza.com
Cocina Latina de Mateo, pork belly: An unexpected lunch with friends revealed this incredible piece of crispy pork in a honey and serrano frosting. Unforgettable. 214 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 707-433-1520, mateoscocinalatina.com
El Charro Negro food truck, tacos and agua peppers: Home of the best tacos, tostadas and ceviche from the ocean to the table in Sonoma County, hands down. Hours vary, but check their social media for updates. Mitote Food Park in Roseland, 707-385-6465, charronegrofood.com
Note: We will be adding more favorites in the coming days.