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Cox: Prelude offers classical cuisine

We made reservations at Prelude, the restaurant at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University for 6 p.m. Enough of the thousand or so folks at the Pink Martini concert that ended at 6 p.m. had also made reservations, for the room filled up within 10 minutes.

Our party was the first to enter the beautiful dining room — all natural wood and ultra-modern design, like the rest of the Green Music Center and Sanford I. Weill Hall — and the first to order wine and food.

It took an hour for our glasses of wine to arrive. It took an hour and 45 minutes between the time we ordered our entrees and their arrival.

At that point, it didn't matter. Sometimes, the best reaction in the midst of a disaster is to just take a deep breath, relax and have fun. Soon, people at the tables around us were laughing and joking about the situation. And eventually, the food arrived.

Prelude only serves dinner on evenings when there's a performance. The restaurant occupies its own area at one side of the Music Center. Besides sit-down dinners from chef Eric Lee's kitchen, you can order picnic boxes put together by Whole Foods and eat while seated on the lawn at the rear of Weill Hall, with its wide-open view of the hall's interior.

Despite the restaurant's difficulties that night, it is a treasure. It features a full bar where you can have a mixed drink or choose from a hefty list of local Sonoma County wines as you watch and hear the stage performance on closed-circuit TV, and then have dinner inside or out on a patio. On a second visit, the restaurant was not at all swamped the way it was when the Pink Martini crowd made wholesale reservations for dinner after the show.

Dinner started propitiously with Chilled English Pea Soup ($12, 4 stars ), a rich green bowl of liquid sweetness given a ladle of lobster and shaved fennel salad dressed in a preserved lemon vinaigrette. A few droplets of olive oil glinted on its surface. Bacon Tater Tots ($7, 3 stars) were as savory as the soup was herby. Bits of bacon formed into balls with crushed potatoes had been dropped into hot oil until deeply browned with a crunchy surface. They were served in a cute little fry basket lined with paper, and accompanied by a pot of thick blue cheese dip.

Another small plate held eight Grilled White Gulf Shrimp ($11, 2? stars), which had a pleasant grilled smokiness to them, although a butter and olive oil sauce flavored with lemon and garlic rendered them a little too oily.

One of the entrees was a fine filet of Local Salmon ($26, 3 stars) — delicate and flaky, with no oiliness or fishy aroma; just a clean, mild flavor. It came with a summery succotash of corn kernels, chopped snap beans, and halves of sweet cherry tomatoes. The fish was surrounded with a spoonful of tomato vinaigrette and topped with a salsa verde.

Handmade Ricotta Crepes ($18,1 star) were less successful, primarily because of the plate's extended time in the queue, where it had grown cold. The accompanying ratatouille's vinegary juices had filtered down to render the crepes soggy and sour.


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