Geyserville Grille offers a true taste of Wine Country

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For whatever reason, I had never been to Geyserville Grille, after it took over the former Hoffman House space at Geyserville Inn about five years ago. The tiny town has flashier places, after all: Diavolo, Catelli’s and Geyserville Gun Club.

My mistake. This Craftsman-style bistro is a delight. It’s everything a burg that hosts Christmas lighted tractor parades should be — quiet, quaint, set amid lavish gardens next to Alexander Valley vineyards, and with breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menus of reasonably priced, generously portioned comfort food. Add in an extensive wine list of mostly reasonably priced Sonoma County and Napa County wines — accented by a 2016 Dumol Western Reach Russian River Pinot Noir at $125, oh my — and this is an appealing stop-in.

Except it’s way better than that. Chef Andres Rodriguez clearly cares a lot about his cooking, from his soupy but silky risotto dotted with al dente spring root vegetables ($18) and salmon (add $6), to the odd-sounding but delicious citrus garlic pappardelle, where the slightly bitter garlic notes are softened by floods of butter sauce, brightened with lemon, then finished with parmesan and parsley ($15). He coaxes sparkling flavor from even the most basic dishes.

Previously, Rodriguez worked at Zazu in Sebastopol, and John Ash and Co. at Vintners Inn. Now, working with the Geyserville Inn ownership team of two generations of the Christensen family, he’s following that successful Sonoma County recipe of local ingredients prepared simply and satisfyingly.

A few months ago, I heard the Inn was just completing renovations, updating its 38 rooms and three suites to contemporary décor of cream, white, gray and gold.

So I stopped in, and found that the restaurant got some TLC, too, putting fresh polish on the farmhouse mood with lemon walls, cherry wood furniture and a new wood bar tucked in a central nook with comfy leather stools. It’s nice, though I can’t resist dining al fresco, on the newly redesigned Jasmine Deck, or on the fountain patio shaded by oaks with views of the Mayacamas Mountains in the distance.

Start with the tortilla soup ($5.50 cup/$7.50 bowl). This isn’t your typical chicken broth-based model, but thick, rich and tomatoey, almost like a thin stew. Brimming with shredded chicken, corn, diced carrot, onion and celery, it’s deeply seasoned but mildly spiced, and topped with house made tortilla chips, avocado chunks, a flurry of cotija cheese and fresh cilantro leaves.

Our server recommended the ahi poke nachos ($13), another curious sounding dish that’s very good. It’s not hot cheesy nachos, but a deconstructed version of the popular Asian mélange of wonton chips sprinkled with diced tuna, tomato and avocado, garnished in toasted macadamia nuts, black sesame seed and micro greens drizzled in zippy wasabi aioli.

I wouldn’t have ordered the crispy calamari ($14) without a server recommendation, either, since the menu says its sautéed in a lemon wine sauce that made me immediately think “mushy.”

But somehow, the chef keeps the flash fried seafood meaty and truly crispy, even as it’s ladled in the shimmering sauce sprinkled with chili flakes and Parmesan.

Crispy green beans make another nice nosh, chile-battered with some notable hot pepper heat and lightly fried ($9.50). They don’t look like much, served in a red-and-white-checked, paper-lined basket with a ramekin of chipotle aioli, but they sure taste fine.

Fancier presentation makes prawn salad a standout, in a mosaic of mango, thick cut avocado, sliced tomato, Spanish onion, toasted almonds and romaine, capped by curled pink seafood and splashed with citrus vinaigrette ($15).

By the time I get to an entrée of Pappardelle al Vino Rosso ($25), I’ve learned to not let unusual menu descriptions throw me. The “red wine marinated pork, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, pappardelle pasta” is superb, the thick, creamy sauce stained mauve and grape-fragrant from the wine, the tomato adding a retro, earthy accent, and the pork chewy but tender.

Even after eating endless braised short ribs at hundreds of restaurants over the past decade, chef Rodriguez’ version reminds me why I will always love the dish that has become a solid Wine Country culinary signature. The beef is fall apart succulent, savory and salty, and served like a hug with thick, buttery mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans and red wine gravy that demands to be sopped up with a toasted baguette ($28).

And because a comfort food spot with a neighborhood bar should have a darn good burger, I try that, as well. The 128 is a winner, worth its $16.50 tariff for an inches-thick Angus patty, avocado, bacon, Swiss, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato all towering on a Costeaux French Bakery brioche bun. On the side: crisp fries and sweet pickles.

Do you have plans for your next Thursday night dinner, by the way? You should, for the fried chicken special here ($24). The Rocky free-range breast, wing, drumstick and thigh are so juicy, and nearly floral from an apple vinegar brine, while the crust is light and crunchy.

Served on a wood board with mashed potatoes, grilled baguette, carrot coins, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, broccolini and a tiny — alas, too tiny — ramekin of thin jus-gravy, this is one of the best fried chickens in Sonoma County.

I’ll have to go back for this dish again soon, too, since rumor has it that Rodriguez puts a spin on sides sometimes, plating the bird with, say, mac ‘n’ cheese, beer-battered onion rings and house-made chipotle ketchup.

At the end, your friendly waitress likely will nudge you toward dessert, and it’s best to just give in. Crème brûlée is my favorite, brilliant with fresh squeezed Meyer lemons, and a crackly sugar crust topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries ($7).

As I wander the gardens at sunset one early evening, full and giddy with fried chicken and fine wine, I bask in this gorgeous place.

Roses, wisteria and wildflowers bloom everywhere, emerald lawns stretch toward grapevines in bud break, and the cheerful restaurant is just a short drive from my home. How very lucky I am to live here.

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at

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