Which means 33 destinations across the state have created special restaurant week or month-long promotions showcasing gourmet prix fixe menus, wine pairings and special culinary themes.
Sonoma County has enjoyed its very own restaurant celebration for several years now, and this year, Sonoma County Restaurant Week runs March 18 through 24 (we’ve got so many great eateries, we had to hog the month all to ourselves). That’s when more than 100 local restaurants will offer three-course prix- fixe dinners for $19, $29 or $39.
Yet there’s no reason to wait until spring to get in on the great savings. Our restaurants roll out great prix fixe specials through winter, so let’s all pick up our forks right now, and dig in. Just keep in mind, with bargains this delicious, reservations are always wise.
Chef-owner Brian Anderson delights his customers with his Breton-French cooking jazzed with Sonoma County seafood and produce. But for extra thrill, he puts together a three-course meal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, priced at $29 and enhanced with an amuse-bouche. The line-up changes weekly, but a recent bill of fare featured an amuse of feuilleté of spinach, caramelized onions and Gruyère, a soup of carrot, coriander and butternut squash dolloped in crème fraiche, a pan roasted bistro filet with thyme roasted potatoes, blue cheese and sherry reduction, and dessert of Gateau Breton with persimmon jam and cinnamon cream. Wine pairings cost about $11 for two glasses, each matched to a course.
620 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, 707-546-2929, bistro29.com.
Thursday nights are locals’ nights, with free corkage on Sonoma County wines. Add in each evening’s three-course, prix fixe special, and you’ve got a beautiful deal on chef Ty Wong and Melissa Frugone’s French cooking. You need to call ahead to hear about the nightly-changing offering, but it might be poached fish quenelles in a white wine broth, pan roasted quail with farro and broccolini in dried apricot sauce or pan roasted California halibut on roasted red pepper purée with braised fennel and oven-dried olives, and roast pear over puff pastry with persimmon sauce.
3782 Bohemian Highway, 707-874-2436, bistrodescopains.com.
Three Squares Café, Santa Rosa, Tuesday through Sunday nights
Chef Josh Silvers has done it again, with this second reinvention of his original Syrah, which morphed to Petite Syrah, and is now an upscale American comfort food hangout. One of the most attractive amenities is the “Square Meal” concept, bringing a full supper available after 5 p.m. each night until the kitchen runs out. Start with soup or salad, finish with house-made ice cream, and in between, indulge in superb eats such as Tuesday’s molasses-coffee glazed duck leg with creamy grits and bacon Brussels ($21.95), Wednesday’s Yankee pot roast ($21.95), or Thursday’s fried chicken over mashed potatoes and braised greens ($22.95). Friday brings fisherman’s stew dunked with garlic bread ($25.95), while Saturday means pork chops with applesauce, mashed potatoes and green beans ($23.95). Then, ready your appetite for Sundays, and brace yourself for the crowds that converge for the luscious Prime rib, complete with loaded baked potato and creamed spinach ($27.95).
205 5th Street, Santa Rosa, 707-545-4300, thethreesquarescafe.com.
Olive and Vine Restaurant, Glen Ellen, Wednesday nights
This gem began life in catering, then evolved into fine dining, in a gorgeous, rustic-chic bistro that brims with charm and sophistication. There is live music on some nights, and always something magical emerging from the tidy expo kitchen. But the real secret is the Wednesday Neighborhood Night, when chef-owner Catherine Venturini offers two of her favorite dishes for just $22 and no corkage fee. What will supper be? It’s up to the chef, but a peek at the regular menu finds good, eclectic things such as black cod and bok choy dumplings in lemongrass kaffir lime broth with chili infused oils and fresh pea shoots, a Petaluma Liberty duck three ways: confit, pan seared breast, and grilled smoked sausage, with Forbidden black rice and dried cherry jus, and dessert of flourless walnut cake with mascarpone Chantilly cream and caramel.
14301 Arnold Drive, 707-996-9152, oliveandvinerestaurant.com.
Applewood Inn, Guerneville, Sunday nights
This Michelin-starred restaurant and country lodge is a destination as much for its views as for its food, presented in a romantic upstairs dining room with cozy fireplaces and a solarium overlooking a courtyard and babbling fountain below. But Sundays are extra special, with Russian River Night “for friends and neighbors” (really meaning that it’s actually open to everyone). Gather for fine French-California cuisine among the redwoods at incredible savings, with a three-course meal for just $30, plus glasses of preferred wines for $6-$8 and no corkage on any Russian River wines. Luxuriate in for weekly-changing menus like this past week’s salad of fennel, blood orange, wild greens and house cured bacon in sherry vinaigrette; house-made rabbit sausage with caramelized cipollini onions and Yukon Gold potato puree atop huckleberry reduction; and spice cake topped in warm caramel sauce and vanilla whipped cream. Many ingredients are drawn from the Inn’s own two-acre organic kitchen garden as well as the farms and ranches scattering the Sonoma County countryside.
13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, 707-869-9093, dineatapplewood.com.
River’s End, Jenner, Monday nights
The Community Nights Staff Meal aren’t technically pre-fixe since they are single course, and they are advertised as being only for locals, but the dinners are plenty filling, and we’ve never been frisked for ID at this rustic wood-trimmed spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The featured dish changes weekly (i.e., a “staff meal” is what the chef prepares to feed his staff), and prices are low. Just one example is leg of duck in chipotle sauce for $9.50, offered with two specially priced wines, a red ($6) and a white ($4). Other dishes may include oysters, a burger, crab cake, fish and chips, and there are periodic prix fixe themes as well, such as Dungeness crab tasting menus.
11048 Hwy 1, Jenner, 707-865-2484, ilovesunsets.com.
RUSTIC, Francis’s Favorites, Geyserville, Tuesday nights
If you haven’t heard of a tavola, you’re missing out on a whole lot of fun. Meaning “to the table,” a tavola (pronounced a tah-vah-la) is a casual dining experience inspired by restaurant owner Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite way of enjoying a meal – impromptu plates, in family-style portions. Every Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m., the mood of the already friendly destination inside the winery relaxes even more. Instead of setting a firm menu, the chef prepares a variety of his own preferred dishes and sends them to your table. The evening morphs into a family dinner party, with all customers sharing an array of meat, poultry and fish specialties, plus pastas, pizzas, salads and desserts. You eat as much or as little as you’d like, with pricing determined per serving ($30/adult minimum), and add in as many different wines as you care, in two-ounce pours, full glasses or bottles. In what has to be the most creative extra of any Sonoma dinner, Coppola brings a touch of theater to the table, too. Servers take on the roles of various Italian family members, in full costume. Offering Oscar-worthy performances are characters like Cousin Giorgio, who’s saving up for an engagement ring to give to his sweetheart by playing barkeep for the evening; Uncle Roberto, making his way from table to table with stories as colorful as his bowties; and a very pregnant hostess, seating guests in between sips of her martini, oh my.
300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1485, franciscoppolawinery.com.
Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant, Forestville, Monday nights December through April
While this celebrated restaurant has a regular a la carte menu, it’s true that dining here can be a pricey proposition, unless one goes with the generous prix fixe options. It’s still the same focus: the bounty of Sonoma County in a mouthwatering marriage of Italian, French and Asian, sourced from organic and sustainably farmed seasonal ingredients. But the price is a rub-your-eyes steal at $49 for three courses, plus an optional specially priced sommelier chosen wine pairing. The offerings change each week based on what’s best from local artisan purveyors, but some recent standouts on the regular menu included black rice crusted ahi with pickled Chiogga beets, green olive tapenade and roasted Meyer lemon emulsion; and the signature Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit of applewood smoked bacon wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg in whole grain mustard cream sauce with Yukon potato.
7871 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-3300, farmhouseinn.com.
Vineyards Inn, Kenwood, The second Thursday night of each month, one seating at 6:30 p.m.
Chef-owner Steve Rose has combined his love of the Spanish delights served at his cozy restaurant on Hwy. 12, with chef Esteban Rose’s celebration of his Basque heritage, in this monthly Chef’s Basque Dinner series. It’s impossible to beat the value of seven courses complete with wine for $45, featuring old family recipes served on platters and in tureens for all to share at one long table. Because the limited seating dinners sell out so quickly, reservations are mandatory, beginning promptly at 6:30 p.m. (it’s not uncommon for fans to reserve their place months in advance). Menus vary – the Roses have their own organic farm, and love to share the harvest through their recipes – but some regular menu favorites include lime-garlic calamari, skewered and flame-broiled fish in Spring Hill butter, fire-broiled artichoke, lamb-beef meatballs in sofrito sauce, and the famous paella.
8445 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-4500, vineyardsinn.com.
Social Club, Petaluma
Monday nights are extra friendly at this warm and welcoming neighborhood grill, because that’s when the chef temps with homemade meatloaf or crisp ‘n’ juicy fried chicken, both paired with mashed potatoes for $12. Add in all-day happy hour, and what’s not to love? Sometimes the cozy-chic wood trimmed room rocks with live music, too.
132 Keller St. Petaluma, 707-238-0158, socialclubrestaurant.com.
Zin Restaurant, Healdsburg
Winter nights just got warmer with the return of Taste The Place, an annual Regional American Dinner Series offered through the chilly season on Wednesday nights. Choose a three-course meal at $29, or $39 with 2 wine pairings, with a different theme featured every week. A recent menu included “The Creole Flavor of New Orleans” of NOLA BBQ Gulf shrimp, Creole Jambalaya with chicken and housemade andouille sausage, and Bananas Foster topped in vanilla bean ice cream. As always, chef-owner Jeff Mall puts sparkle in his classic American cuisine with Sonoma County produce plus housemade condiments, handcrafted bacon and charcuterie, fresh cheeses, artisan breads, homemade ice creams and homemade sorbets.
344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-473-0946, zinrestaurant.com.
Big Bottom Market
It’s a dash of high style for this kickback river town. Picture a bit of Dean & DeLuca, a splash of wine boutique, a cosmopolitan café, and plenty of art and live music. The locals particularly love the Wednesday Night Market Dinners, when chef Tricia Brown cooks up a whole bunch of lovin’ in three course suppers for $25/person (entrée only $15/person), plus wine of the evening for $6 a glass or $18 a bottle. The menu changes each week, always including a vegetarian option, but set your eyes on these pretty pairings: cauliflower soup with parsley oil, beef tenderloin or roasted Portobello steak with cannelli beans, roasted fennel and tomatoes in thyme balsamic reduction and bread pudding with tart cherry compote; or organic mixed greens with toasted cumin vin, cotija and spiced pepitas, green chili turkey meatloaf or spiced mushroom-lentil loaf with chipotle sweet potato mash and cilantro slaw, and Mexican chocolate pot de crème.
16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295, bigbottommarket.com.