French Garden | Sebastopol

Beet salad with goat cheese and microgreens at The French Garden

Since 2006, Dan Smith has been on an often Quixotic quest to turn his sprawling Sebastopol eatery, The French Garden, into a Michelin-starred destination restaurant.

With it’s own 30-acre bio-intensive farm, Smith’s ample financial backing and a dedicated local following, it’s always had potential for greatness. Its Achiles heel:  The kitchen. A series of top-notch chefs have debuted impressive menus at FG, only to exit – sometimes within months – leaving kitchen staff scrambling. Departures have been so notable and so frequent that one recent toque was simply called Quince (or Fifteen in Spanish) in reference to the fallen chefs preceding him. He too, is now gone. Suffice to say Smith is as exacting with his kitchen as he is with his farm.

Undaunted by the turnover, Smith has soldiered forth, staunchly believing in the restaurant after many gave up on it. His patience, however, may finally be rewarded.

Current chef Patrick Quillec took over the kitchen in the summer of 2010. Like many of his predecessors, Quillec is a French chef both by birth and by trade. Hailing from a restaurant family from Brittany, he trained with several Parisian chefs and is a successful restaurateur in his own right, having opened a number of French bistros and cafes in the United States. Most importantly, he seems to get Smith’s vision for a true farm-to-table experience. Because having your own personal restaurant farm is great, but only if you know how to use it.

Lunch is classic bistro fare, impeccably executed: Charcuterie, daily soups, escargot, frites with lemon aioli, Salade Lyonnaise ($11), quiche, Coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops in cream sauce, $15), steak frites, burgers, Croque Monseiur and daily crepes. Up to six daily vegetables from the farm are featured as side dishes (chard, parsnip tempura, squash, or whatever is in season, $7 each). Flavors are light and bright, and presentation shows the kind of precision Quillec has in the kitchen and his fondness for Smith’s pristine produce. Little details, like warm bread served with honey butter (the honey is from the farm) add serious cred.

Coquille St. Jacques at French Garden

The evening dining room is a more upscale affair, though many of the dishes are the same, with the addition of a few heartier entrees — lamb shank, chicken breast and pork. Not everything hits the mark, but classic preparations including duck breast with lentils ($14) and whitefish in beurre blanc with risotto, French onion soup ($9) and squash and Boursin ravioli with crab and chanterelles ($15) are stunners. Seasonal desserts tart tatin with salted caramel sauce and creme fraiche ice cream or lemon tarts are equally impressive.

For more casual neighborhood dining, the bistro has upped its game with a hip cocktail menu, $4 happy hour tapas (tuna tartare tacos, hangar steak sliders), and a la carte dinner items served in the bar. On Sunday, the brunch menu ranges from apple crepes  ($7) and eggs Benedict to burgers, leek soup and and brioche french toast ($10) with the added benefit of their own farm market stand outside. The outdoor patio can’t be beat on warm spring and summer days and frequent live music acts add to the ambiance.

Nine months in, it seems safe to say that Chef Quillec’s may finally bring Smith’s epic quest to a close, windmills conquered with a fork and knife — and on track for the critical success The French Garden always has been capable of achieving.


French Garden Restaurant, 8050 Bodega Ave, Sebastopol, 824-2030. Open Wednesday through Saturday 11:30am to 2;30pm, dinner 5-9:30pm. Full bar and bistro from 4:30, happy hour 4:30 to 6:30pm. Sunday brunch and farm market, 10am to 2pm. Children’s menus available.

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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14 Comments

  1. I went there several years ago with my wife for an anniversary. The food and service were generally good. However, my wife’s side dish (some variation on potatoes dauphine, I recall) was cold in the center when initially served. We brought this to the servers attention and she cheerfully got us another side … which was also cold in the middle We didn’t send this one back or stiff the server (it was piping hot on the outside) but we haven’t been back since. Hopefully these issues have been addressed and I might consider it again for a meal.

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  2. We hosted a business holiday party there last December and it was lauded as the best yet by many of my colleagues: food-very good (no rubber chicken syndrome), service-excellent, planning assistance-wonderful. Folks would like to have it there again!

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  3. Live around the corner, been to French Garden maybe a dozen times and to the Farmers Market (which I found to be way over priced, wanted to support it but, can’t afford it).

    Had Brunch on the patio, which was nice and well priced and Leon provided some really good service and his French accent made everything sound delicious. Perceived value of experience was good.

    Also, had lunch and dinner inside the dining room. the room does seem to lack some warmth, even with the rugs, never noticed and cobwebs, always clean. The service was “different” but we shrugged it off to inexperience. Perhaps Mr. Smith employed family memders to serve and that comes with a learning curve sometimes. Have noticed improvement with the last few visits when I dined outside (much preferred).

    Was the food ever memoriable? hum, no. I never ate anything there that I had to go back and have again. Perhaps that will change with the new chef? I will have to give it another try and soon before it changes again (just kidding).

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  4. Hey BiteClubbers…You are welcome to have your opinions — be they positive or negative.
    However, it is my policy not to support unsubstantiated comments that could be construed as libelous. Those include anonymous and unsubstantiated comments about criminal acts, mental or physical illness, or personal information that could be harmful to an individual or their family. I also do not support hate speech.

    Because restaurateurs are businesses, comments about the quality of the food or restaurant are fair game, though I do ask that your comments try to be constructive and factual rather than simply mean spirited. Mean-spirited comments say more about the poster than the restaurant and are usually ignored by intelligent diners.

    I do my best to monitor comments and delete them when they fall into this category. I do miss some, and always appreciate the heads up.

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  5. Just enjoyed my first lunch there today with 6 other women. Food was wonderful, service a bit slow but no one was in a hurry. Because one of my friends is from France we requested a visit from Patrick, the chef. What a delightful visit they had and we all enjoyed meeting him. We will be going back when the weather turns a bit better and we are able to take advantage of the outdoor dining. Hopefully more people from Santa Rosa will frequent the place….I want to see it be successful.

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  6. Agreed–the problem is the ownership. Given Smith’s behavioral track record, I wouldn’t spend a nickel in this place if it was the French Laundry with a $15 pris fixe.

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    • Dan is clearly a lightning rod in Sonoma County as an individual with very strong personal beliefs. I have tried to put aside past conceptions about the restaurant and look toward its current chef. Patrick is doing a great job and in speaking to Dan, i have a strong appreciation about his unwavering point of view in relationship to his farm and his restaurant. That is what this article is about and I really encourage folks to make a decision based on the quality of food.

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      • Well said, Heather.

  7. The problem is and will always be the ownership of the place. Dan and his wife have no idea what running a restaurant is all about. Their inability to accept criticism, and their lack of awareness of what constitutes a great dining experience is their downfall.

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  8. I went there several times, and the food was generally good–the real problem was awful service! Literally from the twilight zone; the servers had no clue. Hope that’s changed as well.

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  9. I too, gave up on French Garden, even though it is less than 1 block away from me. Recently I brought a colleague there for lunch out of desperation because we were both starved and didn’t feel like driving. “I’m a little embarrassed to bring you here,” I said. “Don’t expect much”. I was happily proved wrong. Lunch was great and 3 repeat visits have yielded consistently great results. Welcome and congratulations to Chef Quillec.

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    • Glad to hear you had the same experience. Yes, I went twice, because I thought the first time may have been a fluke. I hope Chef Quillec is a keeper, because its nice to have a new French spot to dine in Sebastopol.

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  10. I gave up on the French Garden a couple years ago. Based on your current comments, I will give it another try. The other big problem for me is the decor/atmosphere. Hope they have fixed that as well.

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    • The decor is better, but still a little stark. We sat in a corner, which was cozy, but i did notice a few cobwebs. Still room for improvement.

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