It’s an almost uncomfortable moment when Chef Max Schacher, the longtime toque of the iconic Kenwood Restaurant, lifts a glass to the new owners and young chef taking over his restaurant. “Sante!” we say, clinking wine glasses, but Schacher quickly disavows me of any feelings that the moment is bittersweet. “I think it’s great!” he says of new owner Bill Foss (of Fish in Sausalito, sustainable seafood company TwoXSea and the recently-opened Canetti’s in Forestville) and young chef Anthony Paone. And it’s not hard to see why.
The entire focus for the new venture is an ode to Valley of the Moon’s colorful history, from the indigenous Wappo tribe to Spanish settlers, Buena Vista founder Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa to the restaurant’s former life as “Bunny’s Fried Chicken”. Both Foss and Paone have painstakingly researched everything about the area, incorporating foraged herbs, a Hungarian-inspired beef stew, trout from Foss’ McFarland Springs trout farm, local rabbit sausage and “Bunny Wings” (fried rabbit forelegs)–a nod to Bunny’s on their proposed opening menu.
BiteClub got a first look at several dishes on a pre-opening night supper, and they’re stunners–even in previews.
Shying away from now-meaningless words like “farm to table” they’re simply calling the food “Sonoma cuisine”. Favorites included duck and hominy soup with a poached duck egg; a refined yet earthy rabbit sausage using both meat and offal; a take on cioppino that will ruin you for any other; fingerling potatoes with trout roe and sour cream and Foss’ pink trout with cornbread stuffing–destined to be a signature dish. Don’t get too attached to anything, however, since Paone is dedicated to changing things up frequently.
Of course, regulars will notice plenty of changes, including an updated interior, bocce court and outdoor pond which now sits where the giant metal wings once hovered outside. Still around, however, is the whimsical animals-in-chef-hats freize that once graced the historic Poodle Dog restaurant in San Francisco.
The restaurant is in soft-opening as of this week, with a grand-opening in the coming weeks. 9900 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. Check out pictures of my meal at BiteClubEats.com.