Bill Boggs Corner Table: Sonoma Sojourn
It would probably take a couple of months and a refreshed set of kidneys to explore fully all that the beautiful "Valley of the Moon" has to offer in terms of wine, food, and lodging. We had just four days, so I'll focus on two outstanding places.
The Kenwood Inn and Spa was my pick for accommodations. It’s an intimate configuration of stone buildings that offer the feeling of intimacy that you might experience in a small villa in Tuscany that's been converted into a charming hotel. The place has a "tucked away" feeling, and the rooms have no televisions, which contributes to the tranquil nature of vacationing at Kenwood. The Inn can accommodate just 60 guests, many of whom come for the pampering at its prestigious spa. I chose to enjoy the pool each day, and happily never had to contend with another swimmer while doing my laps.
Kenwood features a daily "Tempo Divino" (Divine Time), their version of a Happy Hour, which offers two glasses of their featured wines with snacks. It's the perfect way to end a day and compare your adventures with fellow guests. Included in your stay is an excellent full breakfast. Dining mostly outside on the patio is a lovely experience. The food is good, and designed to pair with their stellar wine list. Notable wines discovered during our stay were HKG "Northbridge" Chardonnay, Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Pinot Noir, and Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Mountain).
The staff is well-trained in all of the amenities and knowledge required to give you excellent service. In fact, I would rank the service at The Kenwood with the best I've received in my world travels: Jade Mountain in St. Lucia, Crystal Cruises on the high seas, and The Corinthia Hotel in London. Service was perfect. The kitchen, under the direction of chef John Schafer, offers a compact menu that is more casual than fussy. We tried the Margherita wood-fired pizza, the pale ale-braised pork loin, the pan-roasted rack of lamb, and the branzino with chanterelles in sage butter. My advice is to start with your wine selection and then pick something from the menu to complement it.
Of course, you will want to explore other places to eat on your trip, and I'm delighted to report that the charming village of Sonoma itself has an outstanding restaurant, in La Salette, which is tucked discreetly at the end of an outdoor shopping arcade. I loved this place! Acclaimed chef Manuel Azevedo cooks in a personalized style of Cozinha Nova Portuguesa, which he describes as inventive, contemporary Portuguese cuisine. The menu is an excellent reflection of the virtues of the Mediterranean diet and the wine list is large and well-priced. We ordered a flight of white and a flight of red wines that accompanied us through each meal, and all six were from Sonoma County. A few visits to La Salette and you'll have an accurate account of many of the best wines from Sonoma. My favorite picks among all those sampled were Krooked Horn Pinot Noir and the Spann Chardonnay-Viognier.
La Salette offers "Tasca Tasting Plates" of three, five, or seven items, very well priced at $17, $26 and $35, respectively. My suggestion is to go for it, by ordering both a flight of red and white wine with seven tasting plate selections, thus enabling you to sample rarefied selections like pig's feet terrine, paté of sardines, morcela (blood sausage), polvinhos (baby octopus), fried Sonoma goat cheese, tripe stew a Porto, and salt cod tongues in Bechamel.
Outstanding among the entrées were Pacific wild-caught Blue Nose sea bass filet; pork tenderloin with olive, fig and almond stuffing; the Feijoada Completa, the Brazilian national dish of stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage, black beans; and a terrific vegetarian entrée, the farmers market vegetable Acorda, with white beans, poached egg in a spaghetti squash nest, and porcini-lemongrass consommé.
Dessert? To be honest, I didn't even look at the dessert menu. All I remember was paying, and then wandering through the many art galleries on the streets of Sonoma Village feeling mighty satisfied and plotting our next return visit.