Over the past few years Jack and I have rung in the New Year just the two of us in one of our favorite nearby towns. We’ve reached the age where many of our friends are home with little ones or doing family trips to Tahoe, so we’re generally not missing any parties by leaving the city. Plus, the holidays are always so hectic and busy that it’s really nice to quietly mark the New Year as part of a romantic getaway.
This year we chose to visit Sonoma for two nights over New Year’s weekend. We compared hotels in Sonoma, Healdsburg, and Carmel, and the prices in Sonoma were significantly more affordable. In addition, we hadn’t stayed there in several years and there were a couple of new restaurants and wine tasting rooms that we were eager to try.
El Dorado Kitchen is our go-to spot on Sonoma Plaza. The food has been consistently good every time we’ve eaten there, and their mussels and french fries are some the best. We’ve always found it to be superior to its overhyped neighbor, The Girl & the Fig, which has let us down on multiple occasions. But EDK has always served us a solid meal.
We typically don’t spend as much time in the town of Sonoma as other parts of the county, but we try to stop by a couple times a year to pick up wine at Sonoma Wine Shop. SWS is right on the square, and sources wine from “ultra-small wineries in California, direct from the winery owner, winemaker, or vineyard owner.” We’ve been wine club members there for many years, and we continue to enjoy the variety of small production local wines at decent prices. The shop itself is a little hodge-podge, with fickle service, and staff that seems to turn over quickly. But despite these flaws, we continue to enjoy their wines!
We stopped by SWS this past New Year’s Eve for a quick tasting and to pick up a case of wine. Afterward, we enjoyed a tasty brunch at El Dorado Kitchen, which is located inside the El Dorado Hotel, right on the square. It is a large restaurant, great for a large group, and they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Jack and I rang in the New Year here many years ago, and it was a mellow yet classy way to end the year.
On this visit, we started with the Steamed Mussels with white wine, créme fraîche, chickpeas, fines herbes (parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil – often used in French cuisine), and country croutons, as well as the Truffle Fries with Parmesan and chives (a must-order every time we visit). The mussels were plump and steaming hot, and the truffle fries may be some of the most perfect french fries I’ve had.
Edit 4/22/17: Unfortunately Scopa closed its doors on 4/8/17. You can read about the decision here. Fortunately its sister restaurant Campo Fina still serves many of Scopa’s beloved dishes, but we will miss this charming, intimate restaurant.
One of the great perks of being in a wine club is that it’s an excuse to visit wine country on a regular basis. Jack and I joined the Williams Selyem wine club several years ago, and since then we’ve made it up to Healdsburg for at least a day trip a couple of times a year. On one of these early visits, on a very hot fall day, a few of our friends introduced us to Scopa, an Italian restaurant right on the square. We had a group of six (the largest group they can accommodate) and I remember sitting at their only outdoor table, sweating profusely. We felt like we were in Italy! Our whole table shared a variety of appetizers, pastas, and pizzas. Everything was delicious, but what I remember most were the incredibly tender and flavorful meatballs and the perfectly cooked home-made pasta dishes.
Since that visit, Scopa has been our go-to restaurant when we visit Healdsburg. On this visit we started with the Sicilian Green Olives. These are the plump, meaty, bright green Castelvetrano olives from Siciliy (which always seem a little more delicious in a restaurant than when I buy them at the grocery store). These (along with oil-cured black olives) are my favorite olives. We enjoyed them with some house-made Ciabatta bread with Dry Creek extra virgin olive oil. We also each had a glass of sparkling wine, as we were celebrating Jack’s birthday.
When we were wine tasting at A. Rafanelli this last Sunday, Dave Rafanelli recommended that Jack and I check out Valette for dinner. Valette is a new restaurant (opened in 2015) that moved into the spot once occupied by the restaurant Zin, right near the square in downtown Healdsburg.
The name “Zin” rang a bell, and we quickly recognized the name from our recent trip to Todos Santos, Mexico. We stayed at Rancho Pescadero and took a cooking class from the married executive chef duo Jeff and Susan Mall. During our cooking class (which was amazing – one word: mole), Jeff and Susan told us that they had once owned Zin in Healdsburg. They closed the restaurant last year and started a new, more relaxed life on the Baja Peninsula.
So, in the spot that once housed Zin, we found Valette. It is a beautiful space – very warm and inviting, with high end details, and rustic touches. House-cured meats can be seen through a window into the kitchen. I never ate at Zin, so I don’t know what it used to look like, but I was very impressed by the space and overall decor of Valette.
Last Sunday we headed to downtown Santa Rosa to spend a couple hours at Russian River Brewing Company’s (RRBC’s) brew pub. We were already in Healdsburg celebrating Jack’s birthday, so it was an easy 15-20 minute drive from the square.
We had tried several of the beers from RRBC over the years, but we had never visited their brew pub in Santa Rosa. We arrived at noon (it opens at 11am) and had to wait about 15 minutes in a line outside. Then we were allowed to enter the pub and start drinking at the bar while we waited an additional 30-45 minutes to be seated at a table. I was impressed by how organized the bouncers and hosts were in this process. Overall, I thought the wait wasn’t a big deal, but I hear it gets a lot more crowded as the day goes on (or when they release the coveted “Pliny the Younger” beer on the first Friday of February – it’s only available for two weeks).
One of the benefits to living in San Francisco is its proximity to so many great weekend destinations. Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Sur, Carmel, Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino are all within driving distance, and completely doable for a weekend escape from city life.
One of our favorite weekend spots is the town of Healdsburg, which is located in Sonoma County, along the Russian River. This town has definitely undergone a transformation over the last two decades, as the critically-acclaimed wine regions of Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley made it a popular tourist destination; high end hotels, fancy restaurants, and a revitalization of the town square quickly followed.
I recently had the opportunity to tour Safari West, a 400-acre private wildlife preserve right in my own backyard in Santa Rosa, CA. Having grown up in the area, I’d heard of Safari West for years; so I was thrilled when my mom organized a private guided tour of the preserve with my family.