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In a world of unreliability, where banks fail, jobs disappear and plane flights are canceled for no apparent reason, what can we rely on?

The answer, I submit, is a good meal at Equus, the dining room at the Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa.

Year after year, meal after meal, Equus maintains a fine level of quality. This was true when Mark Dierkhising was the executive chef, when Jeffrey Reilly cooked there (before he recently returned to The Duck Club in Bodega Bay), and it's true now that Luis Rodriguez, who was Reilly's sous chef, has taken on the job of Chef de Cuisine. Here's a vote for him to become top toque as Executive Chef, because the quality of the food at this landmark hotel hasn't missed a beat.

This isn't to say that it's the most illustrious restaurant in Sonoma County; others lay claim to Sonoma County culinary superstardom. But Equus in its quiet way abides. Maybe its offerings don't elicit standing ovations, but they will cause you to scrunch up your brows, lower your head, and say to your dinner companion, "Mmm — this is delicious."

Case in point: <b>Alaskan Halibut</b> ($24, 4 stars). This perfectly cooked piece of flaky, moist, bone-white halibut tasted like it had just come off the boat on a cold, windy afternoon in Homer Spit, Alaska. Its surface was barely seared from a hot, oiled pan, and it finished cooking in a hot oven for exactly the right amount of time. No halibut could have been cooked more perfectly; none could have tasted fresher. It was given a sauce of herbs pureed in olive oil, and was accompanied by potato cylinders and a portion of spinach and shallots.

There isn't another restaurant in the county that does more to celebrate Sonoma County wines than Equus, both in its dining room and its wine lounge and bar. The wine list carries most of what the county has to offer, and select bottles are 40 percent off Sundays and Mondays. If you bring your own, corkage is $15. And wine prices are reasonable — even wines by the glass. For example, an eight-ounce glass of 2002 Buena Vista Carneros Syrah is $13 (that's right: eight-year-old Syrah). There are approximately three eight-ounce glasses in a bottle, which would cost $39. A bottle of this wine sells on the wine list for $36, just three dollars less. Management appears to want to introduce customers to Sonoma County wines, not rip them off.

As usual, there's lots going on at Equus and its full bar lounge. Tuesdays and Thursdays are $2 days, when from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., beers and appetizers are $2 each. You might have a bottle of Red Tail Ale with a mini-cheeseburger, or choose barbecued chicken wings, carnitas soft taco, or warm Asian salad. Happy hours are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. when well drinks are $4, select beers are $2, and appetizers range from $2 to $5.

If you're thinking about a place to celebrate your birthday, choose Equus and you'll receive a free bottle of Korbel sparkling wine.

The restaurant offers weekly prix fixe special dinners. Sundays through Wednesdays, you can get a house salad, big plate of herb-roasted prime rib, and a house-made dessert for $22. Thursdays through Saturdays there's a pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with a pomegranate reduction, mashed potatoes, and broccolini for $32.

On a recent night, the soup du jour was <b>Roasted Chili Soup</b> ($8, 3 stars), flavored with cumin and pureed roasted chilies, and loaded with chunks of chicken and kernels of corn. It was creamy-thick, delicious and hearty. <b>Dungeness Crab Cakes</b> ($13, 3 stars) consisted of three small, round, slightly spicy cakes with extra crunchy surfaces dressed with tomato chutney and given a lemon beurre blanc. The cakes were mostly crab, not filler.

First of all, <b>Shrimp Scampi </b>($12, 3 stars) is a redundancy, as "scampi" is Italian for shrimp, or prawns. But that takes nothing away from the four excellent large peeled prawns neatly arranged in a hearty garlic broth with tomato, parsley and chives, plus two long slices of thin toast for croutons.

There's nothing particularly creative about the dishes at Equus. <b>Deep Fried Calamari</b> ($9, 3 stars) can be found at many restaurants in this area, but at Equus, they're just about as good as you'll find them anywhere. The calamari are battered and fried to the perfect champagne-colored crunchiness. Very little residual oil, just the right amount of salt, served piping hot with lemon wedges and spicy Sriracha aioli. If the calamari themselves weren't so chewy, this would have rated four stars.

The secret of the <b>Morita Baby Back Ribs</b> ($9, 3 stars) appetizer is in the use of red morita chili pepper powder rather than dark brown chipotle powder. They have the same heat and smokiness but their color is prettier and enhances the look of the morita barbecue sauce used on four little back ribs, cooked long and slow so the meat is falling off the bone. It's served with a crunchy, fresh Napa cabbage slaw made with a spicy southwest dressing. As you finish the plate, the waiter brings a hot, moist napkin and lemon wedge so you can clean up.

Besides that wonderful halibut, entrees included an excellent <b>Double Cut Pork Chop</b> ($25, 3? stars), a thick chop the size of your clenched fist, charred on its surface but juicy and tender throughout. It comes with carrots, spinach, fingerling potatoes and sweet mango chutney so that the sweet pork flavors are echoed by sweet fruit.

The Italian verb "to squash or press flat" is schiacciare, and so the famous Italian dish of chicken cooked on a hot griddle under a heavy weight is "pollo schiacciata," most often called, in this country, <b>Chicken Under a Brick</b> ($22, 3 stars). I have seen this dish made with an armload of fresh thyme and really heavy weights in Italy and the half chicken arrives at table truly flat, smoking from burned bits of thyme, and exquisitely delicious. Chef Rodriguez's chicken is very fine, still tender and juicy, but bears little resemblance to true chicken schiacciata. If pressed, it wasn't pressed very hard, but in Italy they don't kid around. That chicken emerges as flat as a waffle. Equus's chicken sits up proudly and comes with truffle-scented creamed corn, mushrooms, and a small parmesan-herb polenta cake.

The desserts were as good as the rest of the fare. <b>Tiramisu</b> ($8, 3 stars) was a fine version of the classic Italian ladyfinger-liqueur-mascarpone confection, and a hot <b>Kahlua-Coconut-Croissant Bread Pudding</b> ($8, 3? stars) with caramel sauce, fresh strawberries and blueberries, and sweet whipped cream was outstanding.

To sum up: The dishes at Equus may be familiar oldies, but they are so well made and carefully cooked that they become comfort food.

<i>Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.</i>