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Farm-Fresh Patio Dining in Sonoma Valley

Farm-Fresh Patio Dining in Sonoma Valley


Foodies from around the globe flock to the town of Sonoma for “farm-to-table” cuisine created from ingredients produced on local farms and ranches. In fact, Sonoma was the first "Cittaslow" in the United States, a designation based on the concept of “Slow Food” that advocates support for local food cultivation and artisan products. On display at the Tuesday night farm market in the town plaza are the spectacular and photogenic bounty of fruits and vegetables, cheeses, bakery goods, and meats, plus prepared meals that are sold by vendors in the plaza; live entertainment and picnics on the grass are on the Tuesday night menu, too. 


Around Sonoma’s historic plaza and in the vineyard-laden Sonoma Valley, al fresco dining is glorious in the mild Mediterranean climate that blesses this part of the California Wine Country. Garden patios are found at many restaurants here, from the Buddha-inhabited terrace at Rin’s Thai Restaurant to tables under the giant fig tree at the El Dorado Kitchen. A fountain burbles on a hidden courtyard behind the Sunflower Caffé & Wine Bar, where popular weekend happy hours feature wine tasting, small plates of bruschetta, charcuterie, and artisan cheeses, live music, and occasionally, artist receptions.


Restaurateur, cookbook author, and all-around diva of Sonoma cuisine is Sondra Bernstein, the chef-owner of the girl and the fig, a restaurant on the ground floor of a charming circa-1880 hotel (look for the red awnings). French country and Wine Country gastronomies come together at “the fig” under the umbrellas all summer, in the antique bar, and in the cozy, art-filled dining room, where croques monsieur and steak-frites are on offer, along with house-cured charcuterie, duck confit, and the signature fig and arugula salad (Laura Chenel chevre, toasted pecans, pancetta, and fig and port vinaigrette).


Bernstein’s second location is the fig café and wine bar in Glen Ellen, a nearby, one-street village at the foot of the Sonoma Mountain wine-growing appellation. Up the road from the café is a brand new addition to the Sonoma Valley food scene, Glen Ellen Star, which has an enclosed patio, an eight-seat bar at the open kitchen, and a sweet, rustic dining room. The place is a collaboration between a former chef at The French Laundry and his wife, a member of Benziger Family Winery tribe. From a wood-burning oven come roasted chickens and artichokes, succulent lamb, inventive pizzas. Much of the produce comes from the Benziger winery gardens.


Also in Glen Ellen, diners linger under the sycamores on the creekside deck outside Yeti Restaurant, for some of the best Indian and Nepalese food in the greater Bay Area.   


On the east side of Sonoma plaza at a 1859 landmark building, sidewalk tables at Plaza Bistro are perfect perches for people-watching and noshing on updated Italian food: polenta, bruschetta, prosciutto, risotto, house-made pastas, and crab cakes made from Dungeness crab caught on the Sonoma coast. “Jazz in the Backroom” takes place in the wine bar most weekends. Around the corner at the end of a boutique-lined alley, under a silvery canopy of olive trees, lies the patio of LaSalette, a unique place that has pioneered "Cozinha Nova Portuguesa," a contemporary version of Portuguese and Mediterranean cooking.


Tucked away just off the plaza, with a shady patio and cooling fountain, the Red Grape specializes in New Haven-style, thin-crust pizza with exotic toppings, plus pasta and plenty of Sonoma wines. 


A light-filled jewel-box of a bistro with an open kitchen and a postage stamp of a bar, Cafe La Haye may look casual, yet, a former executive chef at Michael Mina and Aqua, Jeffrey Lloyd, commands a powerful, if small, kitchen. Besides daily risotto, pasta, and roast chicken specialties, the locally sourced seasonal menu may include house-smoked trout crepes, Sonoma coast petrale sole, or grilled pork chops with hazelnut sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and saffron-fennel white bean purée; and, think about butterscotch pudding drizzled with hot fudge sauce. The New York Times says, “Everything about this cafelike restaurant is charming.”


Romance is in the air on the veranda of Santé Restaurant, an elegant Michelin-starred restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. The sommelier helps diners choose from more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines to pair with such delicacies as Petrossian caviar, grass-fed Niman Ranch beef, and “grown-up macaroni and cheese” made with locally produced orecchiette, Maine lobster, truffles, and fontina Val d’Aosta; save room for the Meyer lemon soufflé.


—By Karen Misuraca
Travel and culture writer Karen Misuraca is the author of "Fun With the Family Northern California" and founder of DeepCultureTravel.com.

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