>> Thursday, October 10, 2013
This is the second post in the “An Unforgettable Anniversary Weekend In Sonoma” series highlighting Sonoma and surrounding areas. Other posts in this series include Addendum.
Sonoma Valley is a 17-mile strip of land that includes many vineyards as well as the city of Sonoma. Many people (me included), confuse Sonoma Valley with Sonoma County, which is a much larger region that also encompasses several other cities (e.g., Petaluma, Healdsburg, and Santa Rosa), as well as other wine valleys, such as Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley (not to mention the Sonoma Coast!).
Within Sonoma Valley, the historic Sonoma Plaza is where most of the action is, including excellent restaurants, bakeries, tasting rooms, and wine shops.
One of the most popular restaurants within Sonoma Plaza is El Dorado Kitchen, which is located at the El Dorado Hotel. Helmed by Chef Armando Navarro (Larkspur, Auberge du Soleil, Redd), this restaurant's farm-focused cuisine draws both locals and visitors alike. Because it's in a hotel, it's also open almost all day, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
On the day we went, a wedding reception was going on outside, which meant we were not able able to enjoy the typically available outdoor seats. Nevertheless, we happily took seats inside, which were equally comfortable, spacious, yet warm and cozy at the same time.
We began with the Truffle Parmesan Fries, which were excellent. I would almost hazard to say that they were on par with my favorite truffle fries in Boston. These were topped with a generous helping of fresh Parmesan cheese, which made the fries very cheesy, but in a good way. They were hot, flavorful, crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. We didn't expect to polish off that whole bowl, but we did.
I loved my starter, the Dungeness Crab Cakes, which were refined and consisted mostly of crab, not breading. They were served with a gorgeous summer heirloom tomato gazpacho, which was sweet, bright, and full of intense tomato flavor. This was accented with avocados, sweet 100 tomatoes, and pea shoots. I thought the dish was refreshing, with a lovely balance of flavors. I really appreciated the farm fresh ingredients.
The Pork Belly, served with watermelon and pickled ramps, is one of their signature dishes and was executed very well. It was beautifully crispy on the outside yet juicy and flavorful on the inside. The compressed watermelon did a good job of cutting the richness of the belly. The pairing almost reminded me of a summer barbecue, but interpreted in a much more refined way.
Similarly, the Pan Roasted Scallops were very good. In fact, the ingredients and flavor combinations were eerily similar to a scallops dish I had at Redd in Napa Valley a couple years ago. That dish also had a cauliflower puree, almonds, and raisins. Here, grapefruit gelee, a curry cauliflower puree, grapes, Marcona almonds, and a caper raisin sauce came together and similarly worked really, really well to give a nice, balanced, sweet and salty combination of flavors.
The biggest disappointment was probably the Niman Ranch Center Cut Pork Chop, which was served with braised Swiss chard, polenta, torpedo onions, roasted peaches, and whole grain mustard. The server had recommended this as one of her favorite dishes, and we weren't sure why. The execution was fine, but there was nothing particularly interesting about the dish. When I asked Bryan what he thought of the dish, he said, “It’s fine. But I can get this in any gastropub in new England. I don’t think it’s as good as Bergamot or Will Gilson."
Our dessert, the Upside Down Plum Cake, was served with salt caramel ice cream and raspberries. I thought it was OK, though Bryan did not like it because “it reminds me of fruitcake.” We later realized it was the strong flavor of candied orange peels that made Bryan think of fruitcake. The restaurant was very kind and did not charge us for the dessert after Bryan told them his feelings.
Overall, we came away with mixed thoughts about the restaurant. Although some dishes, like the Parmesan truffle fries, crabcakes, and pork belly were quite good, others were fine, but did not blow us away.
All in all, however, the restaurant is solid and I can see why it’s one of the most popular ones in Sonoma Plaza. The menu is very approachable, portion sizes are generous, and the food is enjoyable.
El Dorado Kitchen
405 1st St
W Sonoma, CA 95476