s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

Litchfield’s

Where: 16702 Shoreline Highway, Bodega

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Weds.-Sun.

Contact: 707-876-9812, litchfields.co

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Price: Very expensive, entrées $24-$34

Corkage: $15

Stars: ★★

Summary: The charming 1976 hideaway resort has been reborn, with a pleasing new Mediterranean restaurant, too.

I like to think I know West County’s nooks and crannies, but this one got away from me. Sonoma Coast Villa Resort & Spa has been in operation since 1976, and I’ve driven past the 60-acre property on Bodega’s Shoreline Highway countless times, but somehow, I never knew it was there.

In fact, even with Google directions to the site, on a journey to check out the resort’s new Litchfield’s restaurant, I drove right past it. Way west, through Valley Ford, and all the way through Bodega Bay until I finally turned around at Salmon Creek. Doh! The resort is actually just a little bit east of Bodega Highway, and very clearly marked with signage, entry columns flanked by sculpture lions, and a banner.

Yet surrounded by expansive cattle meadows, tucked into a hillside and on a stretch of distractingly beautiful nowhere, the estate is easy to miss. The Mediterranean-style main building sits behind a slight rise and tall trees, so its mustard-tan stucco façade and red tile roof disappears. And for most of its life, the on-site restaurant was for resort guests only.

Owner Charlie Litchfield hopes to put the place back on the map. After his family bought the property in 2010, they leased it back to its former owner and innkeeper, until finally taking over operations in 2016. Litchfield and his father, Perry Litchfield, set forth with extensive renovations, and then, last spring, opened their restaurant to the public.

With just 18 rooms, the resort keeps things cozy, and the dining room fits the mood. Wisely, little has been done to the space except for fresh paint and new furniture of purple chairs and white cloth draped tables. Elegant with a 22-foot wood rafter ceiling, a wood burning fireplace and wood French doors leading to a garden courtyard, the room brims with that incomparable charm of old school Sonoma. It’s easy to imagine its gracious past as a culinary destination created by the owners of San Francisco’s then-renowned Blue Boar Restaurant, when society types would make the trek here for some coastal relaxation.

At first glance, the Mediterranean theme menu seems limited, usually offering three salads, four appetizers, four entrées and three desserts. But the arrangement is thoughtful, showcasing local products and ingredients from the resort’s organic garden. And for a pleasing bargain, there’s a four-course chef’s tasting for $56, with wine pairings for $36.

I could easily make a meal of salads (all $9). One nicely chilled plate brings beautifully crisp asparagus stalks topped in mildly peppery arugula, slivered radish, red onion curls, more asparagus chunks and shaved Parmesan on a swath of creamy champagne dressing. Another seasonal plate delivers strawberries tumbled with arugula, feta and a splash of Italian dressing, while another offering of roasted carrots and beets is dressed with goat cheese and Champagne orange vinaigrette — the no-fuss recipes let the pretty produce shine.

Litchfield, who’s often in the restaurant greeting guests, recommended the bruschetta ($9), and it was a good choice, thanks to the flurry of marvelously juicy, multicolor chopped tomatoes and lots of brilliant garlic and basil atop the soft bread. The four slabs were a mess to eat, falling apart underneath the olive oil and balsamic drizzle, but I didn’t hesitate to use my fingers to get every last bit.

Litchfield’s

Where: 16702 Shoreline Highway, Bodega

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Weds.-Sun.

Contact: 707-876-9812, litchfields.co

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Price: Very expensive, entrées $24-$34

Corkage: $15

Stars: ★★

Summary: The charming 1976 hideaway resort has been reborn, with a pleasing new Mediterranean restaurant, too.

Chef Ivan Rodriguez has a notable pedigree, formerly cooking at Sausalito’s Cavallo Point and Healdsburg Shed, and he goes the extra mile here, making his own tagliatelle for a classic, satisfying appetizer bathed in pomodoro sauce, goat cheese and fresh herbs ($10). A touch of pricey saffron makes a classy addition for the aioli served with an appetizer of roasted shishito peppers ($7), and even butter is made from a recipe borrowed from the Michelin Star Farmhouse in Forestville, perfect for slathering on the complimentary crusty-pillowy bread baked by Sebastopol’s Village Bakery.

You can get a New York strip here, and that’s fine, the juicy meat slicked in béarnaise and paired with a cloud of pomme puree plus roasted, diced summer squash and wild mushrooms ($32). But it’s more interesting to focus on more local signatures, such as the roast Liberty duck breast, the tender slices zinged up with chunky blackberry salsa alongside creamy mirepoix risotto and roasted rutabaga chunks ($34).

Cioppino is another coastal statement, the big, heavy pottery bowl stocked with pulled crab meat, mussels, clams, rock cod and perfectly firm shrimp in tomato broth ($32). At first spoonful, the broth was underwhelming, tasting mostly of diced carrot, celery and onion, but then the spice evolved, and the dish was terrific. Rodriguez uses Ethiopian/Eritrean berbere chili blend, for earthy, layered heat instead of all-out fire; it’s lovely.

More seasoning — or any seasoning — would have helped the ricotta gnudi, on the other hand. The dense dumplings tasted mostly of flour beneath the chunky tomato sauce and Parmesan; they, like sides of sweet peppers and flabby-soft eggplant-garlic confit worked better when we added plenty of the pink salt on the table ($24).

Desserts (all $9) are made in-house, and it was hard to resist when Litchfield’s general manager Erick Gardon suggested my table try the beignets, plus the orange-mint crème brulée. The secret, he said, is to crack the brulée’s crisp sugar crust and dunk the beignets. Beautiful.

But the beignets are plenty fine all on their own, delivering six biscuit size bites flanking three big dollops of Chantilly cream on a pond of fruit puree all topped in strawberries and some of the largest, sweetest blackberries I’ve ever enjoyed. The powdered sugar coated pastries are heavier than most other versions I’ve had, yet delicious.

A bit about Gardon, by the way. He makes the Litchfield’s experience wonderful, with his smooth attention, wine recommendations and humor. The Bordeaux, France native was formerly restaurant manager at Farmhouse Inn, and here, he nimbly navigates the Sonoma-Napa-Mendocino county wine list. Cioppino with Pinot Gris, he suggested, and it was an excellent complement, the boutique Merisi Los Carneros bottling hinting of sea fennel, oolong tea and honeydew ($12).

One more thing to note, especially for daydreaming drivers like me. There is another Litchfield’s in the North Bay, from the same Litchfield family, and with the same distinctive script signage. It’s the former Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms resort motel and Las Vegas style nightclub on East Francisco Boulevard in San Rafael. Built by Perry’s father Irving “Whitey” Litchfield in the 1940s, in its day, it was a legend, frequented by celebrities including Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Duke Ellington, John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart.

The place closed in 1998, but the 46-by-8-foot porcelain and neon sign still stands, lighting up the side of Highway 101. Don’t go there expecting a resort stay and fine meal, however. The joint is now a Motel 6.

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

Show Comment