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At restaurants past - not just a meal, a memory

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Now that Sonoma County has become a Mecca for "Foodies," we take our restaurants very seriously.

Truth is, we always have.

Even before the pairing of wine and California cuisine sent us into the gourmet stratosphere, we locals knew what was good where.

I remember the spin I went into in my daily days when a food critic from the Marin Independent Journal referred to Sonoma County as "a culinary Beirut." (Beirut was not great in those days either.)

The insult triggered an explosion of indignation and a lot of supportive letters from readers offering their favorite dining spots as rebuttal.

We all have our favorites. And when they go away, either from natural causes or in a cloud of competition, its a bend in the road, a new pattern in our lives.

We've had several opportunities to mourn the passings of restaurants in recent weeks. Los Robles Lodge, where Claus Neumann and Tony Vicini opened 45 years ago as the second sophisticated dinner house in town (the Topaz Room being first), stands empty behind a chain link fence, awaiting the wrecker's ball.

Heavenly Hamburger, Chris Smith tells us, is closing after more than 50 years as a Rincon Valley landmark.

Emile's Bistro, the evening version of Hank's Creekside, stopped serving last week, as did Lucy's in Sebastopol.

The news has impact. People are missing them already. Every restaurant has stories. Take Los Robles. How many club meetings? How many after-dinner speakers? How many raunchy Empire Breakfast Club jokes could those walls tell?

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