Local Advantage : Restaurant Week

Since being back in Northern California, Sonoma County and I have endured quite a bit of reconnecting. The amount of change that the county experienced in just under a decade made coming back feel like a move to a foreign land as opposed to a return to familiar territory. Whenever I move to a new place I start a courtship, get to know the surroundings, figure out what I like and don’t like. We date. Sometimes it’s an instant connection (Los Angeles) and sometimes it never takes (Orange County). Moving back up above the bay, the reunion was reminiscent of high school sweethearts, reconnected after years of individual growth. Being freshly twenty-one when I left, I missed out on many of the amenities that Sonoma County offers. The wine tasting, brewery visiting and accessibility to every cuisine you can imagine has made this reconnection extremely successful.
One of my favorite forms of courtship that I have experienced in Sonoma County is Restaurant Week. Endless restaurant options from all around the county makes becoming overwhelmed very easy. For a patron, Sonoma County Restaurant Week is a solid seven day block where participating locations create set menus that fall under 1 of 3 price categories depending on the level of fine dining. It is a great opportunity to explore new places that may normally be unattainable for your budget and revisit some of your favorites just to try the featured dishes. For the local businesses, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to attract new business and cater to a fresh audience. Each year we traditionally start our week out at John Ash & Co., a $39 per person menu option. This year was undoubtedly my favorite menu yet.

A convenient exit away from our home and undeniably one of the best restaurants in the entire county, John Ash & Co. at Vintners Inn is the epitome of “wine country dining”, with an outdoor patio surrounded by vineyards and a menu designed specifically for wine pairing. This year’s menu offered plates so meticulously created that decision making required a toast of champagne. Sadly, one of everything was not an option, so Ryan and I made our selections in an attempt to taste as much of the menu as possible. After our stuffed mushroom amuse bouche, Ryan selected the Green Garlic and Potato Soup with braised Dungeness crab legs for his first course, I, the Corvina Sea Bass Ceviche. The soup would have been delicious as a stand alone but the addition of the crab legs gave it just the right balance of meat and texture to break up its creaminess. My sea bass ceviche was incredible. With fresh mint and three times the citrus it was the perfect motivating precursor for springtime. For our second course we were unable to compromise on opposing selections and both ordered the Vande Rose Pork Tenderloin Roulade. The pork was perfectly prepared and came with my favorite side dish, whipped potatoes. The mustard reduction, topping the pork, was so good I would eat it as a soup. In traditional “wine country dining” fashion, we each selected what we felt would be complimentary reds. Babe went with Walt “La Brisa” Pinot Noir and I had Valdez “St. Peters Church Vineyard” Zinfandel, both paired well.The dessert course was a no brainer. Creme brûlée is by far one of my top three favorite desserts in the entire world so the Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée was an obvious pick. Ryan loves anything chocolate so Casey’s Chocolate Trio that featured chocolate in the form of ridge cake, gelato and dipped shortbread, was his immediate choice. We shared as much as we could bare. The milk chocolate gelato from Ryan’s plate was my favorite out of everything.

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Curious of what a $29 menu entailed, the second featured location of our week was Jack & Tony’s Restaurant and Whisky Bar in downtown Santa Rosa. Just previously eating there for a company party, I was anxious to sit and relax in a setting that I remembered being a little more swanky and a little less formal. With feelings of a gentlemen’s lounge and offering the best beverage selections I have found locally, Jack & Tony’s proved to be a great source for meat and potatoes. The menu offered only my favorite foods on the planet. Ryan’s first course was the Mac and Cheese while I opted for the ‘BLT’ Salad with homemade ranch dressing. I was impressed that Ryan was willing to give up some bites of the super creamy Mac and Cheese. A great Mac and Cheese is always hard to share. My salad tasted just as good as it looked. You can never go wrong with bacon. The second course was an easy selection for us both. Grilled New York Strip with Scalloped Yukon Gold Potatoes hit all the right spots. Intentionally setting out that evening in hopes of scoring a great steak and potato, we nailed it with the assistance of Jack & Tony’s. Despite being served our first course before receiving our champagne and feeling slightly embarrassed to order my steak well done based on the clarification requested by the waitress, all possible room for ill will was shut out once dessert was served. Strawberries on Rum Cake with Chantilly Cream could be my new weak spot. I could barely handle the greatness of the rum cake mixed with the sweetness of the berries. Half of me couldn’t stop eating and the other half wanted to take all the time in the world to savor every bite.

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Where’s the fun in leaving the house for a meal if you can’t spend a little bit of time in the closet before hand? In the spirit of the great deals that Restaurant Week offers, I intentionally picked pieces from my humble collection that were darn-good great deals themselves. For our evening at John Ash & Co., I finally wore a pair of BCBG stilettos found on clearance at DSW (the happiest place on earth) for a mere $12.99. A savings so enormous I was practically being paid to purchase them. In a last minute grab out the door, upon discovery of the chill that was rolling in, I draped on my Anne Taylor leopard cape, found during a seasonal switch over clearance for $17.00. The subtle feeling of success after stumbling upon crazy-good sales is a serious addiction.

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For Jack & Tony’s, I pulled literally the least expensive dress I have ever owned. During a brief stop for a picture frame at Marshall’s, I somehow ended up on a detour through the dress rack. Shopping in places like Marshall’s is often too intimidating for me to do on my own. The feeling of competition against thy neighbor and urgency to be the first to touch everything is a shopping style that I prefer to avoid. However, when you accidentally find a dress that makes you feel full blown “Twiggy”, that is on final sale for $5.99, the defensive shopping atmosphere quickly becomes worth every elbow jab and the next thing you know you’re standing on the side of the road with knee high boots and your current favorite handbag (Michael Kors, anniversary gift) complimenting your latest discount find.

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Cheers, to next year’s Restaurant Week and all the irresistible bargains I am bound to discover before then.

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