Boon is a dog. You'll see his silhouette leaping to catch a Frisbee all over the gray walls of Boon Eat + Drink restaurant in Guerneville. You won't see him in person at the restaurant, but you may spot him if you visit the Boon Hotel and Spa about a half-mile away.
The hotel, spa and restaurant represent the stirrings of something new in Guerneville, a town once boisterously bubbling over with that particular blend of alcohol-fueled fun and romance common to resort towns everywhere. In recent years, it has subsided into a quiet, unsophisticated village with mostly diner food at its local eateries. The exception is the wonderful cuisine at the Applewood Inn a mile or so south on Route 116.
The Boon venture sounds a more sophisticated note. The hotel and spa is notable for its minimal, understated elegance. Boon Eat + Drink, which accurately bills itself as a "modern California bistro," is also minimal in its d?or. Its menu is modest in scope and not terribly ambitious, but it is well-thought-out, locally sourced and organically grown. This is no gimmick.
Chef-owner Crista Luedtke grows an organic garden specifically to supply at least some of the food for the restaurant. She cares enough to buy only hormone- and antibiotic-free and sustainably raised meat. She's humble enough to give credit on the menu to her sous chefs, Eugene Birdsall and Steve Sturgis.
Local folks and visitors to Guerneville's resorts have found the place. You'll be hard pressed to find an empty seat either at the two outside tables open to the street or at the 10 tables inside on busy weekend evenings. When the restaurant fills up, it's loud. But this isn't a spot where people go to see and be seen. It's crowded because the food is a real step up from what's usually available along Guerneville's main street.
Take, for instance, the Slow-Braised Sonoma County Lamb Shank ($24, 3? stars), as artful and delicious as a lamb shank can be. Not only is the lamb local, but its hours in the slow oven have resulted in a juicy tenderness and rich caramelized flavor. It's served over a bed of fregola, couscous-like pasta made in Sardinia from the island's superior durum wheat. The fregola absorbs some of the meat juices ladled over the lamb, and within the fregola are currants and bits of salt-preserved lemon, a specialty of North Africa. A little mint pesto also whispers of the Maghreb in this inspired dish.
The wine and beer list is small but locally sourced, with all the wines — two bubblies, six whites, and nine reds — from the Russian River appellation and all the beers brewed in Sonoma or Mendocino counties. Every wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle. The list includes some that are rarely seen these days, such as Woodenhead's 2009 French Colombard at a princely $10 a glass or $40 a bottle, Dry Creek Vineyard's 2008 Sauvignon Musque at $9/$36, and Hook and Ladder's 2007 Tillerman red blend for $10/$40. Corkage is $15.
Service is friendly and fun, but the staff gets rushed as the place fills up and the pace slows noticeably.
You gotta love a place with Burrata ($9, 2 stars) on the menu, but you don't have to love the stiff lump of mozzarella that passed for burrata at Boon. When you cut into a ball of squelchy burrata, a creamy, runny, cheesy center is supposed to flow out, to be scooped up on a piece of grilled bread. This one was solid throughout. An accompanying beet pesto was colorful, interesting, and delicious. Another small plate, Savory Bread Pudding ($12, 2? stars), combined gruyere and fontina cheeses with saut?d leeks, spinach, herbs and pepitas with moist, baked bread. It's the kind of dish you might find at a small inn in the Savoie area of France.