My first visit to Harvest Moon Caf?was the opening night of the Sonoma Valley Film Festival. Squads of film industry types walked up and down the streets around Sonoma's town square, many with wrap-around sunglasses and cigarettes in hand. I haven't seen that many people smoking since the last Miss Universe contest.
By contrast, Nick and Jen Demarest's chic new Harvest Moon Caf?seems like a perfect fit for Sonoma - friendly, classy, with excellent food. Nick is the chef and Jen makes the desserts.
The Harvest Moon is the kind of place that tourists visiting the Wine Country might stumble on and then excitedly tell their friends about when they get home. Or the kind of place where locals will go because the menu changes daily, so there's always something new to try.
The building, on the west side of the square, is part of historic Sonoma. It's made of adobe covered with plaster. In the restaurant, a foot-square patch of the plaster is removed and the hole framed and glassed in. Through the glass you can see the original adobe bricks dating from 1842, the straw used in making them still visible in the rock-hard dried mud.
The restaurant is in several parts. The front dining room has four solid oak tables given a dark fruitwood stain, each set for a party of four. A narrow passageway takes you to a back dining room with several more tables including small tables for two, an open kitchen, a wine bar, and a door to an outdoor back patio that may be suitable for alfresco dining (if it ever stops raining).
The d?or is earth tones - green, ochre, beige, brown and soft blue. Flowers in small pots and large bouquets brighten up the rooms. Two beautiful metal wall sconces formed into the shape of olive branches with leaves and olives grace the front dining area, holdovers from the time when the space was occupied by Sonoma Saveurs.
Service is very professional, and it's seemingly performed by whoever has a moment to perform it. The wine list is small at 22 bottles, but interesting, with most wines offered by the glass as well as the bottle, and it changes frequently. A sampling includes Dry Creek Vineyards 2005 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc at $24, the 2003 Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for $30, the 2002 Old Wave Zinfandel for $32, and a 2000 Cotes du Rhone from Domaine de Deurre at $40. Corkage is $10.
Tables are set simply - no tablecloths, a tea light, and that's it. When you're seated, someone on the staff will bring you a basket of sliced Della Fattoria bread and a few pats of butter. Soft jazz plays on the sound system. And then comes the food.
The Potato and Celery Soup ($7 ?) was the first indication that I was in for a treat that evening. The flavors of potato and celery are muted, and everything is pureed to velvet smoothness. In the center of the bowl floats a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil containing a salsa of crushed, toasted walnuts and parsley that complements the delicate soup with a toasty nuttiness and crunchy texture.
After the soup came a Marinated Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad ($9 ?) that married the acidity of sweet pink grapefruit segments with buttery avocado. The sweet-sour theme of the grapefruit was echoed by sweet chioggia beets marinated in red wine vinegar. Very clever, this Demarest, I thought.