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Cox: An artful new star

The food at Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro in Santa Rosa is outstanding.

As the evening's dishes were brought to our table, they seemed to get better and better — and they were great to start with. The cooking is French, with a modest shout-out to Peru.

Several people deserve thanks for this fine new restaurant. First, kudos to Stephen Hansel, of the family that has been selling vehicles in Sonoma County since 1961, and who operates Walter Hansel Winery and Vineyards, 75 acres of top-notch chardonnay and pinot noir about a mile from the restaurant. The winery and restaurant are named for Stephen's father, Walter, now deceased.

Walter Hansel Wine Bistro

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The man to thank for the artful dishes is executive chef Philippe Colasse, who grew up in France, where he went to culinary school and trained in several Michelin-starred restaurants.

He came to Los Angeles to cook privately for celebrities, then to Las Vegas and stints at the Bally casino and MGM Grand, before finally arriving in Sonoma County. Thanks also to his sous chef, Saul Barragan.

Hansel wines dominate the wine list, and rightfully so. The winery's chardonnay is highly rated, as are its five pinot noirs — all in the $50 to $60 range.

But there's much else to choose from. Any wine list that carries Robert Biale's "Black Chicken" Zinfandel ($75) is a savvy list indeed.

Service is professional, quick and unobtrusive.

Dinner started with a shot glass of warm broccoli puree as the amuse bouche.

It's exciting to see a chef like Colasse apply his expertise to cuisines other than French, because his French sensibilities can add something delightfully unexpected.


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