Sonoma County's high-profile restaurants — Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, Sante at the Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma, John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa, to name just three — draw people from everywhere to taste the famous foods and wines.
Then there are the gastronomic treasures that fly under the tourists' radar, known mostly to locals in this most exceptional region — places like Terrapin Creek Caf?in Bodega Bay, Harvest Moon Caf?in Sonoma, Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa, or Hot Box Grill in Boyes Hot Springs.
Finally, there are jewels even less well known that fly deep under the radar of even many local folks. Remember Twisted Vines in Petaluma? It was part wine shop, run by Dick Warner, and part restaurant, where wife and co-owner Julie Warner did some exceptional cooking. It closed a while back, although the wine shop stayed open.
Now the couple has opened Twisted 2 in the same Lan Mart Building where Twisted Vines was located, but in even smaller quarters. The new place seats 20 patrons at most in its 360 square feet.
A $35 corkage fee lets you know how much Dick Warner wants you to buy a bottle from the list or pair the courses of the prix fixe dinner menu with wines he selects. Although the corkage is prohibitively steep, the wines themselves are reasonably priced. During "happy hour and a half" from 5 to 6:30 p.m., a six-ounce pour of 2011 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (an exceptional wine with a Meursault-like flavor) is $8, and a similarly sized glass of Bluenose Zinfandel is $7.50. There are also some tasty bites available from the closet-sized kitchen during this happy 90 minutes, like a grilled ahi sandwich with lime-ginger mayo for $12, or mole pozole soup for $8.
The Warners decided to limit their business to three days — Thursdays through Saturdays — from 5 to 10 p.m., at least for now. The fixed price menu with wines paired with each course is $95, and without wine, $60. If you like well-chosen wines that harmonize with your food, the extra $35 is well worth it.
When you're seated, you get a complimentary glass of Rack and Riddle Blanc de Noirs and an amuse bouche of Couture Farms pistachio nuts. The nuts are no small offering. You have never tasted better pistachios.
For the first course on a recent night, the choice was between a plate of Hawaiian sashimi with Asian slaw, seared ono with tropical salsa, and a chanterelle flan with an herb salad. The ono (4 stars) was sweet and fresh, the outer eighth-inch of the translucent flesh seared to an opaque white. The tropical slaw was made with pineapple, cilantro, sweet bell pepper and red onion. A small pour of 2011 John Anthony Sauvignon Blanc from Napa was the perfect fresh and slightly grassy accompaniment to the fish.
For the second course, the choice was between a butternut squash, Brussels sprout and apple salad with walnuts and goat cheese, and an escarole Caesar (3 stars) with anchovies and a slice of pain grille. The Caesar dressing was classic and its savory tang offset the escarole's sturdy and slightly bitter leaves. With it came a small pour of the 2011 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay, a classic in its own right.
Third-course choices included grilled Hawaiian fish (ono or onaga), pan roasted Liberty duck breast, and grilled lamb chops (3? stars). The two loin chops were huge — twice the size of ordinary chops, but not from an older animal because there was no hint of mutton. They came rare and tasty, and were given two wines — a modest 2011 Shea Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and a more intense Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. A fresh mint salsa and red quinoa tabouli finished the plate.