Though scores of new restaurants open and close in Sonoma County every year, a handful stand out. This year, a dozen new restaurants caught–and held–my attention throughout the year. Among the qualities that resonated with me over and over:
- Quality: Using their own farms, or nearby farms, along with quality producers isn’t new, but the lengths to which many of these restaurateurs went–from gleaning to literally planting and harvesting their own food–went up a notch this year.
- New Flavors: Playing up ethnic flavors, exotic spices and incorporating new ingredients from around the world
- A return to the past: Old world, slow cooking techniques, a return to classic French cuisine
- Garden and forest: Use of flowers and other unusual fauna brought in earthier, darker flavors
- Produce-forward: Creative takes on meatless dishes, treating vegetarian dishes with respect and care
- Chef-led: It’s pretty hard to have a point-of-view restaurant without a clear direction in the kitchen.
Here are the best Sonoma County restaurant openings of 2017:
Handline Coastal California Cuisine: This casual coastal-inspired restaurant from Lowell Sheldon (Lowell’s) and Natalie Goble takes everything from fish tacos (with homemade corn tortillas) to burgers and luxe vegetable dishes seriously. Sustainable, thoughtful, fresh and fun, this is a go-to spot when I’m paying the bill–the highest praise I can give a restaurant. 935 Gravenstein Ave., Sebastopol, 707-827-3744, handline.com.
Tisza Bistro: Tisza may have been born during the wildfires of October, but named after a meandering Hungarian river, its menu is awash in a love for the flavors of Sonoma County and Eastern Europe. A mix of Old World comfort food (with lots of roasting) and fresh, California-inspired ingredients make for an intriguing menu ranging from brown butter artichokes with tarragon and lemon aioli, duck confit with brandied cherries, spaetzle mac and cheese, and smoked bratwurst and braised sauerkraut. Plus, the schnitzel ain’t bad. 8757 Old Redwood Hwy, Windsor, 707-838-5100, tiszabistro.com.
Drawing Board: It’s not every day that you find vegan smoked carrot lox and cashew cream cheese on a menu next to roasted bone marrow. But at a culinary moment when diners want a combination of the familiar and exotic; decadent and healthy; conventional and sustainable, Petaluma’s Drawing Board feels like a roadmap to the future of dining. 190 Kentucky St, Petaluma, 707-774-6689, tdbpetaluma.com.