Set on nearly 10 acres at Broadway and Napa Road on the southern edge of downtown Sonoma, The Lodge at Sonoma has been a Wine Country fixture since it opened in 2001. I drive by it often, and always think “breakfast.”
That’s because I always enjoy superb morning meals at its Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar – divine carnitas chilaquiles ($17), rotisserie chicken-sweet potato-pepper hash slathered in chipotle hollandaise ($18), heirloom apple pancakes studded with Hobbs’ bacon bits and doused in bourbon butter ($16) … I’m craving the stuff as I write this.
It’s a strange connection for me, because the Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant, really, has been home to several high-profile chefs over the past decade, and used to be one of my favorite dinner spots. But these last three years, since chef Andrew Wilson left for Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, the Marriott Renaissance-owned property has been a culinary cricket zone. These days, the new, “quieter” talent in charge is Jeffrey Libunao, an industry relative-newcomer who previously worked at JW Marriott San Francisco and The Beverly Hills Hotel, after training at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Pasadena.
Except now, after a few revisits, Carneros Bistro is back on my radar. Chef Libunao may be low profile, but that’s because he’s keeping his focus on the kitchen, preparing first-rate California cuisine fed by a wood-fired grill and oven. Breakfast still blows me away, and while I haven’t been in for lunch, if it’s anywhere as good as dinner, this could be a three-meal-a-day destination for me.
Things get off to a nice start with warm bread and butter. Complimentary bread service is a small luxury that seems to be going by the wayside, but I so appreciate the nibble to go with a pre-meal cocktail or glass of wine from the 400-plus Sonoma County bottle list.
The Farmers Market salad is a must, fed in part by the restaurant’s on-site garden — you can peek at the beds through the French doors near the back of the dining room. Ingredients change frequently, and I’m very happy with my winter toss of local lettuces, sylvetta (wild arugula), butternut squash chunks, crunchy pepitas, feta and marinated red onions in a mild citrus sherry vinaigrette ($12). A chilly day calls for soup, too, and the mushroom blend hits the spot — rich, earthy, and dotted with spiced crème fraiche and basil oil lending a bright zing ($10).
What restaurant doesn’t have Brussels sprouts these days, but the version here is creative; the crisp-edged petals interlaced with apple and drizzled in a marvelous sweet-salty-sour honey soy vinaigrette ($10). My server tells me it’s a best-seller, and I can taste why. I’m impressed with the wood-grilled octopus, as well — the tender, barely smoky seafood gets a fiery sweet boost from chipotle crema and honey soy gastrique, while the accompanying warm potato salad is kissed with saffron atop a bed of peppery arugula ($16).
There’s too much smoke on the smoked baby beets, for my taste (though I don’t care for smoked flavors in general); the veggies are a bit harsh against a mound of silky burrata, though accents of orange, red onion, mint and pistachio are brilliant ($12).
Everyone loves the Bistro’s flatbreads, my server says, and I’m happy with the thin, crisp mushroom model, finished with sylvetta, a bit of tart marinated onion and a crowning touch of intensely tangy Taleggio DOP cheese ($16).
Where to eat on game day
Here are a few of the new foods you can expect to encounter at AT&T Park this season, followed by some favorites of a few stalwart Sonoma County Giants fans.:
New at the park:
Sicilian deep-dish slices of pizza pie from Tony’s Slice House (Promenade Level)
Fried Brussels Sprouts with lemon aioli and fully loaded Tater Tots from Great House of Brews (View Level)
Gluten-free flatbread pizzas and antipasti options from the Garden Table and the Hearth Table (in the Culinary Garden)
Porcini donuts topped with raclette foam from Evan and Sarah Rich of Rich Table (Promenade level)
Mission-style burritos and tacos from Mission Street Taqueria (Section 130)
New outside the park:
Caputo (corner of Brannan and the Embarcadero) is a casual, Cal-Italian restaurant where you can sit down and enjoy a pizza pie.
Black Hammer Brewing (544 Bryant St.) offers about a dozen craft beers on tap.
Local Brewing Company (69 Bluxome St.) serves more than a dozen of its small-batch brews, from Glen Park IPA to Bernal Equinox, a Belgian pale.
At the Yard at Mission Rock, just across from McCovey Cove, a few new food trucks are joining the party at Anchor Brewery’s outdoor beer garden, including Creperie Saint-Germain and Belcampo Meat Co.
Sonoma County favorites inside AT&T and outside the ballpark:
Michael Coats of Sonoma:
Inside the park — A Giants dog or two from the Doggie Diner, out by the bleachers, with a cold Budweiser.
Outside the park — Waterbar for oysters, 300 The Embarcadero, and The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, 1 South Park Ave.
Zoanne Kuhlman of Santa Rosa:
Inside the park — Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ’s Jerk Chicken Cha Cha Bowl (Promenade and View levels) and Lagunitas’ Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. “The Cha Cha Bowl is perfect for sharing. There’s lots of love in that dish.”
Outside the park — The Public House, 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
Alexis Kent of Santa Rosa:
Inside the park — Crazy Crab’z Sandwich (Center Field) with Lagunitas at night, Coors Light during the day.
Outside the park — Weekend brunch at Brickhouse Cafe, 426 Brannan St., or Tres, 130 Townsend St. The Brickhouse food is pretty good, and super cheap bloodies come with candied bacon. The brunch at Tres is killer, with always good service in the bar and a really good tequila selection.
Onita Pellegrini of Petaluma:
Inside the park — Sushi on the Club level, Beef and Broccoli on the Promenade level, Crazy Crab’z and Cha Cha bowl in the bleachers area, and Joe Garcia’s Mexican food in the Field Level area. “At a day game, I like to get a glass of white wine in a big cup with ice. If I do beer, there’s nothing better than Petaluma’s own Lagunitas IPA.”
Murray Rockowitz of Petaluma:
Inside the park — Jerk Chicken Cha Cha Bowl from Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ, chicken on top of rice and black beans and vegetables. California Cookout for good quality sausages.
Outside the park — The Hi Dive at Pier 28, just under the Bay Bridge. Caffé Centro on South Park for a coffee drink, pastry or panini.
Cindy Thomas of Petaluma:
Inside the park — The crab sandwich from Crazy Crab’z, with a $16 price tag, and Gilroy Garlic Fries.
Outside the park — The Hi Dive at Pier 28.