The Girl & the Fig

Salad with Carrot Vinaigrette, Girl & the Fig
Lettuce Love This Salad

Sonoma makes it easy to forget where you are, and that’s not just some side effect from all the wine drinking. The vineyards, the sunshine, and the verdant country lanes conspire to make you believe you’re in Tuscany or some bewitching corner of France. After a lovely long lunch featuring Sonoma County’s best ingredients prepared with a bistro flair, The Girl & the Fig restaurant just off Sonoma’s central plaza will definitely make you think you’re living la vie en rose.

The restaurant’s sun-drenched patio is a great place to dine for a few hours, although my husband and I often prefer the bar; you can learn a lot from the masters who mix there. The Girl & the Fig has an array of French apéritifs, from Ricard to the more exotic Figoun (an unusual, tasty fig liqueur that makes for an interesting take on a kir royale when mixed with champagne).

Having grown up under the Midwestern Tyranny of Iceberg before agribusinesses started doing crazy things to ship decent lettuce hither and yon, I was once not a fan of salad. Living in California and eating at the Girl & the Fig profoundly changed my view, however.  You can do no better than the produce grown in or near Sonoma County, which the Girl & the Fig proudly features.

That’s why the restaurant’s “salad of the season” is always worth a try. My favorite was one I once had in summer: a few different varieties of mixed greens+ shards of zesty radishes + matchsticks of sweet carrots + freshly made garlicky croutons + housemade carrot vinaigrette = heaven. (My picture above doesn’t do that salad justice, but I love the colors.)

If you happen to visit the restaurant when radishes abound, be sure to give them a try. You’ve never tasted how good a radish can truly be until you’ve had one of the heirloom radishes at The Girl & the Fig. With a little bit of cool butter and a dash of grey salt for dipping, fresh radishes make a refreshing, yummy appetizer. 

Though it seems remiss to zero in on veggies at a restaurant that has excellent mussels, scrumptious duck confit, a to-die-for gourmet cheeseburger, and some of the world’s best crème brûlée, it’s the care for Sonoma’s simpler bounties that always makes me curious to come back and explore how the menu has changed with the seasons. And it’s always so good, I have even been prompted to dream of Sonoma when in France.

The Girl & the Fig – 110 West Spain Street, Sonoma
An online taste:  http://www.thegirlandthefig.com/

The Sonoma Hotel

 There are two superb things about the location of the Sonoma Hotel: it’s right on the Plaza and it’s in the same charming 19th century building that houses the tremendous restaurant, The Girl and the Fig.

Another exceptional thing about the Sonoma Hotel: The hotel offers a B&B experience without the intrusiveness that can occasionally ruin an experience at a B&B. The staff are friendly and helpful, while also comfortably leaving you to your own devices.

The hotel’s furnishings evoke the history of the building, with numerous French country antiques that highlight the structure’s history without feeling overly precious. At the lovely stone fireplace in the lobby, you can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine before dining at one of the many great restaurants in Sonoma. Continental breakfast is also included.

Rates are also reasonable, making that another wonderfully exceptional thing about the Sonoma Hotel.  

For info, visit: http://www.sonomahotel.com/

El Dorado

Located right on Sonoma Plaza, the El Dorado is in a historic building with mod-Mission interiors that will make the most devout style-loving city slicker feel right at home.

In addition to its great location, the hotel’s rooms are spacious, and are blessedly free of the antiques and frou-frou decor that can occasionally make people get that “grandma’s bedroom panic” feeling when staying at hotels or B&Bs in the Wine Country.

Whether you’re staying in the hotel or not, the lounge area with the nifty crystal fire feature is a good place to meet up with friends for a pre-dinner drink.

The El Dorado Kitchen also serves very good food, which can be enjoyed in the restaurant. The restaurant draws an impressive local crowd, which is a good sign in food and wine-focused Sonoma. The sunny patio’s also a fine place to enjoy the El Dorado Kitchen’s contemporary classic cuisine.  

Info on the hotel and the El Dorado Kitchen lives here: http://www.eldoradosonoma.com/

El Pueblo

It’s frequently tough to find relatively affordable places to hang your hat in the Wine Country. Tougher anywhere to find a place with a lovely pool and hot tub that are open 24 hours a day.

El Pueblo is a place that’s both. You can still walk to Sonoma Plaza from here, yet it’s also conveniently located on the route out to the gorgeous Valley of the Moon. (And, should you desire to visit the other county that shall remain nameless, it’s just a short hop over there.)

El Pueblo has been very nicely redone (it may have been a motor lodge in a past incarnation), and the garden areas are very lovely. Even the roses in the parking lot are quite amazing, showcasing how well-tended the property is.

There’s a free continental breakfast included, but it’s always worth it to stroll down to Artisan Bakers’ outpost in Sonoma, which is just a door or two down as well. (Particularly useful if you decide to rent a bike and/or want to pack a picnic.)

El Pueblo is located at 896 W. Napa Street, and you can book online at http://www.elpuebloinn.com/

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

There are some places you sleep for a night, and other places that make you feel as if you’re living an exceptionally pleasant dream. The Fairmont’s Sonoma Mission Inn is one of those places.

The location is a perfect base for exploring Sonoma County. (And, if you feel like visiting that other county that shall remain nameless, it’s not far from there either.) 

The best part of the Sonoma Mission Inn is that it’s built over historic hot springs. There’s a warmish pool that kids and adults can both enjoy, but more important, there’s an adult retreat in the form of a top-notch spa. The spa is replete with 2 warm outdoor pools, an outdoor hot tub, and an amazing bath house with a bathing ritual that’s great for preparing for spa treatments or just winding down after a day of strenuous wine tasting.

Should you so desire, you can spend your days at the Sonoma Mission Inn on a variety of guided walks and bike rides, in exercise classes, or teeing off on a nearby course. Or, you can go farther afield, hiking and tasting your way around Sonoma County. The helpful concierge can help you make the most out of your time in Sonoma, whatever your interest.

When evening comes, there’s usually a tasting from local wineries in the lovely, historic lobby near the fireplace. Dinner at the hotel’s fabulous restaurant, Sante, is always exceptional, full of seasonal ingredients prepared in delightfully surprising ways.

After dinner, you can enjoy the company of your companions or other guests at the beautiful firepit over a drink. In Sonoma, the weather’s generally clear, so it’s a great place to bring a telescope or binoculars to stargaze near the fire.

When you’re celebrating something special, or just need to get away for a bit, book your room to start living your dream, even if it’s just for one night: http://www.fairmont.com/ In addition to booking online, be sure to call before you stay and request the seasonal activity schedule so that you can get the most out of your stay. This is particular useful when you visit during holidays as the hotel puts on special dinners and events that you won’t want to miss.

Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards Winery
An Inviting Place to Sit & Sip

If you are a pinot noir fan and about to die and haven’t had the following yet, you should definitely try to get your hands on a bottle or several of pinot noirs from Merry Edwards. The fact that these exceptional wines are made by a woman winemaker (which is still a bit more rare than it should be in this day and age) is just icing on the already excellent cake.

I thought that her pinots really couldn’t be topped, until I had her sauvignon blanc. If you’re a sauvignon blanc fan, you’ll love it, and, if you’re not a white wine fan, this wine could change your mind forever.

For more info about the exceptional Merry Edwards wines and the exceptional woman who makes them, take a look at the site:  http://www.merryedwards.com/ 

For a visit, Merry Edwards is located at 2959 Gravenstein Highway North, in what is officially Sebastapol, but also in the magic little part of the world called Graton. And, as if the wine’s not amazing enough, her facility uses a lot of clean, green solar energy to make it run. Cheers to that!

Larson Family Winery

Old Sonoma Rodeo Sign, Larson Winery
Site of the Old Sonoma Rodeo - Larson

As the Wine Country installs more places that look like Tuscan villa-spaceships landed in the middle of Northern California, Larson Family Winery brings us back to authentic Wine Country roots: a Western, ranching, agricultural life. And oh yeah, great wines.

Larson is a historic property, on the site of the old Sonoma Rodeo. Once you turn down a tiny lane, replete with funny signs pointing the way, you find a lovely red barn and some historic houses (one of which is available to rent.)

Adults enjoy the fabulous reds. The cabs and the Meritage are truly exceptional, and have always been consistent award-winners for the winery. Kids enjoy the gentle, loving wine dogs and animals roaming the property. I don’t normally recommend bringing kids to wineries, but Larson rolls out the red carpet for visitors of all ages. (Horseback rides through the vineyards are also possible for kids and grown-ups alike.) 

The staff love wine, and love talking to you about it. You’ll always end up pleasurably staying and chatting much longer than you thought!

If you bring a picnic, there’s a nice bocce court in the sunshine where you can also enjoy some of Larson’s great creations. On a hot day outdoors, I’m a big fan of their highly drinkable Pinot Noir Roses.

Info on the winery that “drinks what they can and sells the rest” (their official, and admirable, slogan) is here: http://www.larsonfamilywinery.com/ In the physical world, they’re just off Highway 121, only a few minutes from the plaza in Sonoma.