The term ‘farm-to-table’ has become as clichéd as a hipster’s waxed moustache. But in Sonoma County, an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the phrase is more than just words punched onto menus with a vintage typewriter: it’s a way of life. Here, farms and vineyards surround small towns, where everything from restaurants to ice cream parlours – even cocktail bars – use ingredients plucked from the soil just moments before. And boy, can you taste the difference. Where world-class produce grows, world-class chefs follow, and Sonoma has transformed from sleepy outpost to serious foodie pilgrimage site. Here are four excellent places to start.
This restaurant-with-rooms in Healdsburg won three Michelin stars in 2019 – just two years after it opened. Chef-owner Kyle Connaughton, from the former best restaurant in the world The Fat Duck, cooks Japanese-inspired dishes with Californian ingredients from his own farm. (His wife, Katina, is head farmer.) Menus change according to micro-seasons – a baby turnip might taste candy-sweet one week but be past its prime the next.
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This all-white Healdsburg ‘pie bar ’, where blackboards dangle from the ceiling, might look a bit hipster-by-numbers, but the eats are anything but. Sonoma natives Ozzy Jimenez and Christian Sullberg highlight the county’s sweet side, using fruit picked just hours previously. Pie highs include Dry Creek peaches (plucked 14 kilometres away) with bourbon and streusel, and anything featuring Seascape strawberries from Preston Farm (16 kilometres away), which bring herbaceous and floral notes to the mix.
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Sam Levy, the man behind the cocktails at the hottest new venue in hippie enclave Sebastopol, operates a ‘garden-to-glass’ approach to drinks. The Creamsicle is concocted with local brandy, Enjoy Farms mandarins and armagnac infused with roasted squash from Two Belly Acres Farm. A gorgeous space at locavore marketplace The Barlow evokes a trendy conservatory: hanging greenery, plant-green leather banquettes and lots of wood.
Accolades for this Sebastopol cafe include ‘best breakfast sandwich in the country’ and, in 2017, a San Francisco Chronicle journalist rhapsodised for two whole pages about just one grilled cheese sandwich. Owner Kendra Kolling – an actual farmer’s wife – says she is less a chef, more a ‘curator of seasons’. Fillings change week to week, but the ‘canvas’ (as Kolling calls it) is always Penngrove bakery Grindstone’s handmade sourdough, toasted to golden perfection. Recent flooding has temporarily closed the cafe, but check the website to see which farmer’s market she’s setting up at next.
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