A New Kind of Cal-Ital


You could cut Sonoma County out with a chainsaw, shove us out in the ocean, and we’d survive just fine.”

Christopher Sawyer pauses a beat to let his words sink in, then grins.

“Plus, then we’d have a whole lot more fish to eat.”

The sommelier of Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar is talking about what makes food so special in Sonoma, and particularly for his own restaurant at the Lodge at Sonoma, where chef Janine Falvo utilizes a cornucopia of local ingredients for her seasonal California menus.

Whatever we could possibly want to eat, he explains, is grown right here. And with such richness of what’s available, any type of cooking is possible. As proof, he was showing off salt—all kinds of salt—handcrafted by Falvo in a feast of flavors like hazelnut, strawberry, Chardonnay, salt-cured olive custard, pretzel-caramel tart, and fleur de sel ice cream (recipes for which would certainly come in handy should the county ever find itself bobbing out in the middle of the Pacific).

Besides having fun, part of Sawyer’s point was to encourage diners to think outside the box when they consider “California cuisine.” More than just rustic American, it’s broadened recently into many other international flavors—pretty much anything goes as long as it enjoys the uniting theme of celebrating produce, meats, cheeses and such produced by North Bay farmers, ranchers and artisans.

Which is why Sawyer and Falvo have just introduced another way to appreciate “new” Sonoma cuisine. Every Sunday, Carneros Bistro now offers Italian food, made, of course, with homegrown ingredients. The three-course prix fixe meals reflect Falvo’s Italian heritage, with an emphasis on comfort foods and unexpected delights.

The dinner might start with arancini, pasta e fagioli or  “greens and beans.” The entrée may be rabbit Bolognese, baccala casserole or a mixed plate of veal, goat and pancetta. Dessert could be sambuca mousse or strufoli honey cookies.

It’s expected that tomatoes will be a highlight and that sausage will star, as Falvo’s parents grow their own fruit in the summer and make their own sausage in the winter. Salt? There will likely be a sprinkle or two.

Reservations are recommended; chainsaws are not.

Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, 1325 Broadway (in the Lodge at Sonoma), Sonoma. 707.931.2042.

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