Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Last week, Elie, my Mom (Carolyn) and I sought sun in Sonoma, landing in California to a balmy 83 degrees.  It wasn’t just sun we were after. Biking, hiking, wine tasting, napping and eating great food (not necessarily in that order) were also on our agenda.  We checked them each off the list, one by one.  

lunch at the El Dorado, in Sonoma
Here’s the scoop on Sonoma.

We chose the quaint town of Healdsburg in northern Sonoma County as home base, staying in a cottage at the Haydon Street Inn, only a short walk from the central square.  Healdsburg and the nearby vicinity have great restaurants, with almost every restaurant sourcing fresh ingredients from local farmers.  The town also boasts a variety of tasting rooms, artisan galleries and boutiques—enough to quite happily while away a lazy day.

On our first full day in town, we arrived at the Wine Country Bikes touring center in the morning to meet our guide, organic farmer Taylor Lampson, for our 25 mile trek to visit some of the area’s organic and biodynamic farms.  The beautiful ride through back roads and rolling hills included a picnic lunch at the picturesque Quivira winery, which operates a biodynamic farm and vineyard.

Getting ready to ride, at Wine Country Bikes
beautiful ride

the gardens at Quivira
part of the picnic lunch, from Oakville Grocery
The next day, we traveled from forest to sea, starting with a little wine tasting before an early afternon hike through the majestic redwoods of Armstrong Woods and then picnicking at Goat Rock Beach with provisions we had picked up from Oakville Grocery that morning. 

wine tasting, at Gary Farrell Winery

Armstrong Woods
Well, we sort of picnicked.  We chose to picnic in the car, considering the chilly, dense fog that set in as we arrived. 

At Goat Rock Beach
We then traveled the scenic route back home, stopping at Iron Horse Vineyardsfor a taste of sparkling wine, and to admire the striking view of the golden fields.

view from Iron Horse Vineyards
Walking around Healdsburg and the surrounding hills, it’s hard not to envy Californians their access to an amazing array of fresh, local foods.  Strolling down one street, we saw lemons, grapefruits, oranges, persimmons and pomegranates growing in front yards.  We resisted picking any of the fruit. But, we were tempted.

Pomegranate tree, in someones front yard
The array of fresh foods available to restaurants was evident.  We ate very well that week, beginning with a visit to Mateo’sserving creative Mexican fare. I’m totally stealing the idea for olive oil guacamole garnished with pomegranate seeds.  Brilliant.

Campo Fina and Scopa, both by chef-owner Ari Rosen, serve simple Italian, with Campo Fina focused on small plates and brick oven pizza and Scopa on house made pastas.  We’d happily go back to both.  And we were having so much fun, we forgot to take pictures.

For a sophisticated farm-to-table candlelit dinner, The Farmhouse Inn is a lovely experience.  Michelin starred Chef Steve Litke creates menus featuring the rich array of produce, meats and fish available from the Sonoma hills and coast.  While some of the dishes were hit-and-miss for our tastes, we enjoyed the overall experience. 

And, my escarole salad with a crispy fried poached egg was one of my favorite dishes of the trip.
escarole salad, with crispy farm egg
Saving the best for last:  Barndiva, which quickly became one of our all-time favorite restaurants.  Ever.  After having dinner at Barndiva one night, we returned the next two days for lunch.  The only reason we didn’t go back for dinner again—we couldn’t get a reservation.

Barndiva has the whole package.  An elegantly rustic-chic dining room, attentive and knowledgeable service, and exquisite food made with exceptional ingredients.  Here’s a look at some our favorite dishes, including some of the most memorable salads we’ve ever tasted.

salad with apples, radishes and avocado
butter lettuce salad, with grapefruit and shaved baby carrots
Mom's luscious lobster risotto
Elie's filet mignon with morels and ultra-creamy potato puree
Oh, and I can't forget the coffee at Flying Goat Coffee.  Coffee so good, Elie ordered a mocha.  That's a once (maybe twice) a year experience.

The measure of a memorable vacation? We’ll be back.

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