John Ash & Co. (4350 Barnes Rd., 707/527-7687, www.vintnersinn.com, $30–50) stands out as one of the best high-end California cuisine restaurants in the Russian River region. This large dining room is part of the Vintners Inn, and the only unappetizing thing about it is its location across the street from a power plant. Try not to think about it as you step in to the elegant dining room done up in the Mediterranean style.
The food runs to pure California cuisine in the Wine Country style, with lots of local and sustainable produce prepared to show off its natural flavors. The menu runs fairly short, making it easy to choose from each of the three courses (often highlighting seafood, beef, lamb, and seasonal specialties).
And of course, the wine list at John Ash & Co. is something special. They’ve got some amazing local vintages that are tough to find anywhere outside of the Russian River Valley. Be sure to ask your server for assistance with the wine list—it’s worth it to get the low-down on the best wines they’ve got in your price range.
Josef’s (308 Wilson St., 707/571-8664, www.josefsrestaurant.com, lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner daily, $20–32), a quiet little restaurant inside the historic Hotel la Rose, offers fine French food in a romantic setting. The low-key decor belies the elegance of the cuisine served here. The menu offers a mix of truly classic French dishes, such as mussels, sole amandine, and beef bourguignon, and interesting California twists like Asian- and Middle Eastern–spiced dishes.
While the wine list has lots of great local selections, it includes fine vintages from around the world as well. Open for lunch during the week and serving breakfast to hotel guests only, Josef’s offers opportunities to enjoy fine meals in smaller portions and at smaller prices.
Need something a bit more casual? Get in line for breakfast (or brunch, or lunch) at the Omelet Express (112 Fourth St., 707/525-1690, www.omelette.com, Mon.–Fri. 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–4 p.m.). Owned by local character Don Taylor, who might even be acting as host at the front door on weekends, this spot is definitely ruled by locals. Don calls many of his customers by their first names, but he also welcomes newcomers with enthusiasm. After a stint waiting on line (it seems like all of Santa Rosa makes it down here for weekend brunch), you’ll get seated in one of the ultra-casual dining rooms decorated with the front ends of classic cars of a certain stripe.
The menu runs to—surprise—lots and lots of omelets. Dishes are huge, and come with a side of toast made with honest-to-goodness homemade bread, so consider splitting with a friend. For a tremendous and delicious breakfast to start your day, you really can’t do better than Omelet Express, especially for the moderate prices charged here.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition