Sonoma County Food Is…

Chosen Spot Dinner at Bloomfield FarmsRecently a group of restaurateurs, chefs, farmers, food purveyors and food justice folks got together to think about a whole bunch of issues in the local food scene — what we want to change, how we want to grow, how we think the world see us — and one really interesting question came up…

How is it that we really define what makes Sonoma County unique when it comes to food?

It seems like a really obvious question with really obvious answer. But is it?

Some people think we’re the American Provence.
Others suggest Tuscany.
Some people think we’re something that shouldn’t be compared to Europe.
Some people think its all about the farms and ranchers.
Others about our chefs. Or the wineries.
Some compare us to Napa. Others say we are something altogether different.
One thing most agree on is our authenticity.

But in the end, its a more difficult question than you might think.

So…I ask you. What defines us in Sonoma County when it comes to food? 

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. Sonoma County Cuisine is all the same…very boring and has been for many years. Nothing innovative up here just typical Wine Country Cuisine. I would prefer to spend my money in San Francisco

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    • I would prefer it if people like you would use their copious free time to do something besides be miserable farts. Enjoy San Francisco, Phil.

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      • I kind of agree with Phil. I’m a life long Sonoma County resident and have been connected to the local restaurant scene since the days of The Refectory & Steamer Gold Landing, also John Ash & Co and several others. I have worked in Napa Valley the last seven years and yes, even though there is a certain level of snobbery there I think the restaurant scene is much more dynamic.

        But I think that’s because people over there are more willing to pay for a better experience than here. I mean, look at the most popular eateries in Sonoma County on a night-in/night-out basis: Outback Steakhouse, Olive Grarden, Applebee’s & Chili’s. People in SoCo won’t buy anything unless it’s cheap or on sale. Poor Fred Langley had to close his place because he made the fatal mistake of offering discount coupons to his customers. After a while they wouldn’t go in without one and he had to close. Ask Josh Silvers why he had to close Syrah. There weren’t enough diners prepared to pay for the food he was serving.

        Because of that SoCo chefs tend not to get too creative and even though we have an embarassment of riches in the quality of products produced and that are available here local chefs (of course there ARE exceptions) tend to cut corners to help the bottom line.

        The only innovative and exciting chefs seem to work in kitchens that cater to tourists because those folks are willing to spend the money for top-notch cusine. Think Farmhouse Inn, Madrona Manor, Cyrus. I hate to say it but downtown Napa has a much more exciting food scene than Santa Rosa and that includes some little hole-in-the wall places that are cranking out killer cheap eats.

        Until Sonoma County and especially Santa Rosa city governments make it easier to do business here, the out-of-town tourist dollar returns and local people are willing to spend money and appreciate what really great food can be, Sonoma County will have a few good “special event” restaurants but the rest will remain lackluster at best.

        Oh, and as a restaurant manager I can tell you that overall, service sucks in Sonoma County restaurants!

      • Agree on some counts, but I feel like you’re not really talking about what’s happening right now in the food scene.

        Have you been to Spinster Sisters? Have you been to Three Squares? Have you been to spots like Noodle Bowl, La Texanita, Pizzando, The Casino, etc? There is a lot to like about Sonoma County dining right now and it’s only getting better.

        I will admit that I haven’t been reviewing as many restaurants lately or showcasing as many “hole in the wall” spots mostly because I’ve shifted a lot of my focus onto connections with food and farmers and bringing together local food scene as well as covering a lot of events and working on creating affordable food-focused events at the Arlene Francis Center. It’s just so rewarding to DO something rather than just TALK about things.

        The desire to “define” exactly what and who we are in Sonoma County’s food scene is why I asked the question. I feel like a lot of times we don’t even know what we are. Napa has a better sense of what it is (and isn’t) than we do. I think part of that is defined by the wine industry, and part of it by the sort of artificial “Disneyland” atmosphere of money over there. They know they’re either fancy fancy or really hole in the wall.

        It’s time for Sonoma County to put a stake in the ground and define itself. WHO are we? WHAT are we? HOW DO WE define ourselves? Let’s just rally around something.

        I’m sick to death of everyone complaining and tearing each other down. Why not all work together to build something spectacular?

  2. I am not sure we have to compare ourselves to any external standard. The way I describe Sonoma County to visitors is, “The weather and soil are such that everything grows here. When individual types of fruits and vegetables are in season, there are none better. We consume all that we can while they are in season. When they are done, we move on to whatever is good during the next season. As to wines, the weather and geography combine for perfect conditions to grow those varietals that require cooler weather, like chardonnay and pinot noir. Meanwhile, we have other areas where the hot weather is perfect for zinfandel and syrah. As with most parts of the world, the food and wine from the same area goes best together.” So there you have it.

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  3. I just know from talking with our out-of-state guests here at Farmhouse Inn that they have never seen anything like it- and it is not just about the wine- though that is generally why they are here. They can get produce but not fresh and organic from the farms that very day and definitely not the quality and abundance that they see here. They can get the meats and cheeses but they have to be shipped and surely suffer in storage. When I see Chef Stevo come in on Wednesday prep day carrying in boxes of goodies he has gotten from his farmer friends on the way in…only then do we have an idea of what may show up on the menu that week. And it is not just Stevo- it is the “modus operandi” of almost every chef in Sonoma County. It is a thread that runs through our entire lives. I do not have to visit a grocery store all summer long – all my friends garden and are looking to off their excess or the farmstands fill in for them. Like Kevin said – it is not just one thing…the sum total is what makes Sonoma County so very special. That includes the people, their belief systems and their connection with the soil and the seasons.

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  4. I agree with Susan. This place is like a foodie’s paradise and many people save up so much just to enjoy the wonderful natural environment that most cities can’t even compare to.

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  5. I would call it honest home made cuisine. What about that?

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  6. And to think there are people who save their money all year to spend one week in our area. I think because we live in such a beautiful area people here tend to want to take care of it and keep it that way.

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  7. The Sonoma County Food Movement is the 1970 hippies’ “back to the land” movement REINCARNATED AND IMPROVED.

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  8. We are like Napa without the snobbery!

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  9. As a resident of Napa Valley for 25 years and a recent Santa Rosa resident I can only say that Sonoma county has it all . Meat , Fish , Prouduce , Dairy and yes world class cheese. Now the wine. In my mind the Burgundy/ Rhone of the west. Hands down. The Farmers Markets are unsurpassed and the seasonal selection is fantastic. When you travel and come home you just know that what we take for granted as raw ingredent is a dream for other areas. We are soooo lucky and yes Grateful to eat ,drink and cook here.
    I was in Newport Beach at a new great cheese shop and saw they had Black Pig Bacon from Healdsburg. I said to the owner how I love the product and I thought he was going to cry when he was discribing it to me. You can see that they can taste the love. Have a Parson’s Homegrown Hydroponic tomaro in March. Close your eyes and your mind says August. That is how good they are. Enough said

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    • What’s a tomaro???

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      • Its related to a yester-date.

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