Sonoma’s Wit & Wisdom serves big-city flavors in an upscale setting
Anyone who’s ready to dine indoors again, raise your hand. Yes? No? On the fence?
I must admit I’m still cautious about the idea. Following a year of being upside down, turning right side up feels a little scary. After a recent dinner at the new Wit & Wisdom in Sonoma, however, I’m all in for inside.
That’s because on the evening we ate on the patio, it was Arctic cold. My companion and I stared at the fireplace in the lounge inside. As the work of celebrity chef Michael Mina, Wit & Wisdom covers all the fine dining details. Its patio is gorgeous and feels like an outdoor living room, complete with ceiling-hung lampshades. But for some reason, heaters were turned off (diners at a table next to us pleaded and got the one on the trellis above them turned on) or were grouped around single tables (another table nearby had three heaters keeping their party toasty, while we had none).
Ah, but even as we ate and drank with numb hands and admired a particularly brave party nearby bundled in hoodies open across their faces just enough to allow forks into their mouths, we couldn’t miss the pomp: Mina has brought his signature fancy dishes, bold flavors and big city service to quaint Sonoma. Indeed, the sommelier comes from New York, the general manager comes from San Francisco and the vibe is formal.
Set in the former Carneros Bistro space in The Lodge at Sonoma, Wit & Wisdom checks all the luxury boxes with its Craftsman décor. There are expanses of white, taupe, accents of black and wood and at the center of the bar, a wood-burning oven anchors the restaurant’s variety of open-fire cooking methods.
On the romantically lit patio, there are Wine Country nods including a bocce ball court, wall fountain, sleek fire pits and olive trees. Ladies, be sure to check out the restroom. I covet the snazzy black and white wall tile in there.
Some features could use finesse. I get that we’re not supposed to be handling menus now, but a laminated QR code slip doesn’t do it for me. My phone wasn’t scanning properly. I finally found the restaurant website with eight menu tabs and an enormous 20-page wine list including finds like a 2016 Grieve Family Double Eagle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $177. Our server eventually took pity on us and brought a printed wine list so we could study it after turning on our phone flashlights to see in the dark.
Yet, I was happy. COVID-19-prompted quirks in ambience can be forgiven if the food is good, and it is here. It’s rather relaxed fare: the California-Mediterranean menu focuses mainly on appetizers, with just four meat entrées (including a bacon cheeseburger with incredibly delicious duck fat fries, $23) and three fish entrées.
I’ve eaten at Michael Mina restaurants in many cities, such as Scottsdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tahoe, Oahu, Las Vegas and Jackson Hole. And although the Wit & Wisdom menu is more casual than at Mina’s other locations, the flavor profile is consistent, meaning there’s a lot going on. When you order a mild-sounding “wood-roasted cauliflower” ($11) or “Brussels sprouts” ($11), know you’re going to get extra ingredients, perhaps chiles, apple honey glaze and lots of pepper.
The meal gets off to a great start with Parker House rolls. They come from Della Fattoria in Petaluma — four big, pillowy, steaming-hot puffs sprinkled with sea salt and waiting to be slathered in black pepper honey and whipped ricotta ($7). There is little better in the world than these rolls.
Also order the toast. It’s a thick slab of squishy, crusty grilled country bread, smothered in thick sage Straus cream, prosciutto, pine nuts, a runny yolk poached egg and fresh vegetables that on one visit were maitake mushrooms and on another, roasted asparagus ($14). Each forkful brings an abundance of rich flavors, chewiness and a bit of crunch, plus pure bliss.
You’ll want to order the Savory Pop-Tart appetizer, because it’s got Pop-Tart in the name. Really, it’s a hearty hunk of braised short rib tucked in puff pastry then topped with horseradish cream and crispy onions on a pond of au poivre sauce ($15). It’s nicely done. With Parker House rolls plus a Caesar salad of tender endive leaves and shredded King crab, caper aioli, herbed breadcrumbs and Parmesan ($21), it makes a lovely surf and turf meal.
Taking advantage of Carneros Bistro’s fancy wood-burning oven, Wit & Wisdom specializes in pizza. These are ambitious pies, the thin crust decorated in combinations such as Brussels sprouts, Fontina, black pepper honey, brown butter and shallots ($21), or my favorite, Carbonara, with poached egg and cheese sauce that’s added tableside, atop the tasty base of crispy guanciale, sliced Yukon Gold potatoes and Pecorino Romano ($23).