As promised, here are the highlights from my week in Sonoma. Two oldies and two newer places.
Practically everyone who's lived in Sonoma for more than a decade has a story about the original Juanita, the mysterious, somewhat scandalous proprietor who first opened a restaurant in Sausalito in the 1960s, then moved to Glen Ellen before landing on Arnold Drive in Sonoma in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Juanita is long gone but the restaurant is still some of the best Mexican food in Sonoma, beginning with their addictive, fresh chips and salsa. The al pastor, prepared on the traditional spit, is the highlight. The pork is crispy with a good flavor but not overwhelmingly seasoned, you can get it on tacos or, covered with salsa verde in the chile verde.
19114 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476
The Girl & The Fig
The Girl & The Fig, which first opened in nearby Glen Ellen in the 1990s, is probably one of the restaurants most responsible for making Sonoma a culinary destination. There were good restaurants before it, including the Sonoma Hotel's restaurant which previously occupied the current Girl & the Fig location on the Sonoma Plaza, but the Girl was one of the first to win wider regional, and even national acclaim.
The formula has changed very little since those early days, though there are more figs on the menu (I remember thinking on one of my first visits that the menu was surprisingly unfiggy) and they have a bit of an absinthe obsession (I appreciate the sparing use of absinthe in cocktails but any more than a half ounce and the drink just tastes like absinthe). Still, the duck confit is some of my favorite anywhere with a crispy but not greasy skin and moist meat, there is a nice selection of local cheese and home made charcuteries (though they could be more generous with the charctuerie) and both the chocolate desserts and those using seasonal fruit are very well done. The Girl & the Fig chocolate pot du creme is one of my favorite desserts anywhere and I regularly make it on holidays, but the night I was there they had a wonderful chocolate caramel tart with a few crystals of salt on top. Equally delicious was a stone fruit crumble with a creme fraiche ice cream.
It may not be as innovative as it once was, but the Girl is still one of the best dining choices in town.
The Girl & the Fig
110 West Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476
This ice cream/paleta stand on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs was our top new find of the trip (well, new to me; it's been there for two years now). Sonoma never really had great ice cream, but this shop changes all that. The familiarly named Mexican stand has creamy ice cream with punchy flavors, smooth ice cream pops and popsicles with fresh fruit. The ice cream flavors included caramel, Mexican vanilla, guanabana and many others, all tasting of fresh ingredients and not too sweet. My favorite, though, was the chongo, a Mexican custard with a mild, sweet flavor and little custard bits in it.
Along with ice cream there is a freezer full of what I'd estimate to be about twenty varieties of of ice cream bars, popsicles and frozen bananas. The ice cream bars were particularly good. The strawberries and cream bar tasted intensely of strawberry, like a great, creamy strawberry ice cream (the bar was, in fact, better than their regular strawberry ice cream). I would have liked to try more, like the arroz con leche and the rum raisin. Popsicles included chili with mango or pineapple and other fresh fruit combinations. And to top it off, they have a selection of fresh aguas frescas.
In one week, I visited this place three times. It's a keeper.
18495 Hwy 12
Sonoma, CA 95476
Studebaker Cheesecake has been making cheesecakes for sale at local grocery stores for a few years now, but just a few months ago, they opened their first retail shop on West Napa Street. The cheesecakes are the specialty, and they are quite nice, but the highlight of this shop was the small selection of baked goods. I loved the huge scones using fresh, seasonal fruit (raspberry and blueberry when I was there), dusted with sugar, rich and moist. The chocolate chip cookie was another winner, a whole wheat cookie made with Valrhona chocolate, made fresh that morning. I'm keeping my eye on this place.
248 West Napa Street
Sonoma, California 95476