Team Rioja: Food
"We're serious...about having fun."
by Mark Middlebrook
- Walking into the Willowside Cafe's modest, low-slung building alongside Guerneville Road in Sonoma County feels like stepping back into a California roadhouse decades ago. But there's nothing backwards about the clientele or cuisine here. You'll rub elbows with local winemakers, San Francisco foodies, and wine country tourists who know enough to venture this far west into Sonoma county in search of the perfect Pinot Noir. Our amiable and knowledgeable waiter helped us navigate the expertly assembled wine list (with an entire page just for specials) and pointed us to a luscious 1997 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir ($47) from the nearby Russian River Valley. The brief but tantalizing California cuisine menu changes weekly, and nothing that we tried disappointed. The highlights among our starter plates were a flavorful, fragrant butternut squash and spiced apple soup ($6.50) and quail breasts stuffed with almonds and local carmody cheese, perched atop brioche ($10.50). The most striking of our main plates featured medallions of rich but lean ostrich breast meat served with a coconut curry next to black sticky rice and oh-so-lightly sautéed snow peas accented to great effect with cilantro ($22.95). The same culinary care and flair extended to the desserts, including a honey tangerine crème caramel with raspberries ($7.50). Who cares whether you find the perfect Pinot, when you can eat this well? [The Willowside Cafe, 3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, California, (707) 523-4814.]
- During a recent trip to New York, I had the pleasure of hanging out at ñ, a tapas bar in SoHo (33 Crosby Street, Between Grand and Broome Streets, 212/219-8856). It's a long, narrow place with two burnished copper bars, polka-dotted walls, and a muy madrileño feeling to it. The tapas are excellent and they have a good selection of sherries at fair prices. Try the queso de valdeón, morcilla, and classic tortilla española. They claim to have flamenco on Wednesdays, although I'm not sure how the performers manage to squeeze themselves in.
A reminiscence: Fine Swiss dining in southern Utah
At times it is helpful to alter one's vocabulary and locution a bit when traveling to unfamiliar places.
Several years ago I was car camping around southern Utah with two friends. The landscape is absolutely glorious there, but the food choices are quite a bit more restricted than we city dwellers are used to. As we were driving from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park, we saw a billboard for what looked like a Swiss-style restaurant in the next town that we'd be coming to. We figured it at least would make a change from diner fare and burritos.
It was a small town, and we didn't see any Swiss restaurant -- in fact, we didn't see anything at all other than a general store and a DQ-style burger joint. So we went into the general store, bought a few provisions, and went up to pay. The two ladies behind the cash register gave us that "you're not from 'round here, are you?" look - not hostile, but just letting us know whose town it was.
As we paid, I asked about any restaurants in town. They mentioned Billy's Burger Barn, or whatever it was called. I replied that we'd seen it on the way in, but we'd also seen a billboard for a restaurant - "it appeared to have a kind of a Swiss motif". These two ladies snapped their heads around to look at one another in disbelief and blurted out "moah-teef?!" As I stammered incoherently in an attempt to rephrase the statement ("now where did I put that English - Southern Utahan dictionary?"), my two friends were nearly collapsing in hysterics.
As a postscript, we did finally make it known what we were looking for, and the ladies said, "oh, well, we don't recommend THAT place, WE recommend Billy's Burger Barn." At first we figured that Billy must be their cousin, but there was more than a hint of moral umbrage in the tone of their voices. When we went to check out THAT place, it turned out that they served wine and beer.
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Last updated 10-May-2001 by