In Search of Soup - Sonoma County Restaurants
By Vesta Copestakes
There’s nothing like a cold, cloudy winter day to make you feel like seeking out the comfort of a hot bowl of soup. You want to feel nurtured by that special combination of ingredients that makes each soup unique. Add a hunk of soft, warm bread or crispy crackers and there’s little else needed to bring a deep sigh to your heart.
Alan (my guy) and I took to the streets of Sonoma County and did as much soup tasting as we had time. I sought advice through e-mails and Facebook as we headed out. I also asked a few chefs to write about their inspirations which you’ll find following this article. By no means is this a complete list of places to get good soups. That would probably take a lifetime here in Sonoma County!
Let’s start in our home town since it’s where we began…
Mosaic in Forestville came as a suggestion from many. One traveler even commented that they were staying up in Healdsburg and asked around for suggestions and many people told them to go to Forestville. Tai Olesky, owner/creator/chef, grew up here so his heart is right at home in the center of our little town. This is not humble down-home fare, this is food created with taste, nourishment and sensuality all mixed in together. The soup we enjoyed was a rich, creamy Roasted Winter Squash – Coconut Curry Bisque. Wow! Talk about sliding across your tongue exciting taste buds along the way! A bowl of soup and a salad made a full meal. OK, we indulged in dessert. Mosaic is an adventure in eating, not just a place to fill your belly.
Actually, I’ll stay in Forestville for a bit since there are several places here for good soup! My absolute favorite is Front Street Coffee. Coleen is the kind of cook whose mission is to nourish your soul as well as your body. She uses fresh ingredients from local gardens, and you can watch her cook while getting your morning cup of energy, savoring her exceptional scones and chatting with friends. Coleen is just good people and her soups reflect her soul. She wrote a little piece I’ll include below so you can get the inside scoop. When the timing is right, I get soup to-go for later. I recommend it.
Just about next door is Aioli Deli and I asked Autumn Opitz to cook up an especially colorful soup to photograph so she came through with a delightful combination of orange (Roasted Red Pepper) and green (Creamy Fennel). It’s the cover photo. I’m one of those people, who enjoys watching people prepare food and here you can sit at the counter to eat while Autumn or Nicholas create meals for customers. Lots of people take food to go. Check out the sandwiches you can have with your soup! We took soup home one day and I indulged in a side of golden beets with goat cheese. Be still my heart! I was told by countless people to go to Aioli, so I’ll pass that advice along. And Autumn wrote about her inspirations – see below. Good people…good food.
I’d tasted Elizabeth Wade’s appetizers at a Chamber of Commerce Mixer so I was curious what else she could create. Alan and I stopped by where she cooks at Cork’s at Russian River Vineyards on a chilly, misty day and sat near a warm heater to imbibe our soup. He chose a French Onion and I chose Carrot Ginger. We kept passing the bowls back and forth until each was gone. The French Onion was wonderfully traditional with lots of onions, flavorful broth with a slice of toasted cheese-covered bread dipped into the soup. My carrot soup was light, not heavy with cream, so it sat comfortably in my belly, which I appreciated immensely!
Down Hwy 116 toward Graton and Sebastopol is Henweigh Café and I asked Dennis to write about his pride and joy…Clam Chowdah – so I’ll send you to his essay below and tell you a bit about our adventures with Clam Chowder as long as we’re on the subject!
This particular soup has a following and people will tell you where to get the best, what makes it the best and it’s all very personal! I come from New England – as does Dennis, so of course we feel justified in our passions and opinions about this worthy soup. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the tomato Manhattan version simply isn’t clam chowder no matter how much they claim it is. If it’s not milky or creamy, loaded with potatoes and clams, it’s not the real deal.
And I’ll tell you right here that my absolute favorite version of this soup can’t be found in a restaurant. Alan makes it exactly the way I like it – brothy, not thick, with more clams than potatoes, just a touch of vegetable in chives and herbs. He puts other things in there but I don’t ask – I just savor! And we both agree that Spud Point Crab Company on Bodega Bay comes in next (they sell a little recipe book so you can take home the secret), then Café Aquatica in Jenner just behind – but that’s the way WE like our Chowdah! There are just as many others who want it so thick you can stand your spoon up in it and loaded with bits of bacon. This subject is personal!
I think I’ll digress into French Onion Soup here since that’s just as personal and seems to carry the weight of varied opinions. We didn’t get back down to Petaluma to try De Schmire’s French Onion – but we did taste their winter squash soup when we had dinner there last month. Carolyn Horan had reviewed the restaurant in our December edition so we dropped by some copies and stayed for dinner. You HAVE to go here! We heard from just about everyone that this is the place for French Onion soup, so it’s on our list and we recommend that you put it on yours as well.
OK, we’re in Petaluma now so we’ll take you to Graffiti because we were told this is the place to get the “Flight of Three”, which are three different soups served in cups on a plate. They change daily and the day we went for lunch the soups were Chili, Tomato and Poblano Cream beautifully presented to our corner table in the bar surrounded by large windows bringing the outdoors in to us.
This restaurant felt very relaxed and easy, our Caesar salad was excellent and they served flash fried Calamari…one of those foods by which I judge restaurants. As readers know, my favorite Calamari is at Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay – not fried. I have to say that Graffiti’s offerings were excellent and make me want to go back to try more of their food.
I’m all over the map here and want very badly too take you into Santa Rosa for soup, but we never got there. Alan’s vacation time coincided with my production time unfortunately, so we’ll wait for another day. That’s the joy of life – there’s so much in front of you to experience!
So I’ll take you with us as we searched out traditional Italian Minestrone at Giorgio’s in Healdsburg. I had never been there but a reader suggested we go, so we did! My mother’s side of the family is Italian and my Nana used to own both an Italian grocery as well as restaurant, so I grew up on these flavors. There are a whole collection of these Family-style Italian restaurants in Sonoma County and Alan and I have sampled a few. They bring me down Memory Lane.
Giorgio’s fits right into the genre with the big porches, checkered table clothes, and families lined up a large tables. This is good stuff! The Minestrone had all the vegetables, beans and broth you expect. If you love this kind of food I’d like to suggest Dinucci’s in Valley Ford, The Union Hotel and Negri’s in Occidental as well. Each has its own version of your favorites to it’s fun to go from one to the next and taste them all.
Alan and I were running out of time by now so we took another culinary direction by going to Windsor for Oriental. We had recommendations for Truc Linh Vietnamese but they were closed, so we took the next on our list, Chinois Asian Bistro. Wow! That was spectacular! I used to duck in here with copies of my paper when delivering to Windsor and always noted how good it smelled. Debbie, the owner, also owns Ume Japanese Bistro on the east side of Windsor which we have enjoyed numerous times. She’s one busy and talented woman! When we asked what soup was their signature on the menu both Debbie and our waitress enthusiastically recommended “Laksa” Spicy Coconut Seafood Noodle Soup. This soup is alive with flavor!!! Shrimp, clams and scallops float around in the spicy and sweet broth and it’s just plain pretty to look at. Alan got excited so we also ordered the Spicy Taiwanese Short Rib noodle soup in honor of his days working at a Chinese restaurant in Sacramento. They never had short ribs on the menu but the cooks prepared them for staff. This soup inspired stories as we ate our way right through dessert. What a total delight this place is!
And even though we didn’t get by there this time around, in the past we have feasted on Mediterranean Fish Stew at Terrapin Creek Café in Bodega Bay so we want to encourage you to do the same. Carolyn Horan wrote a full review in our December 2008 issue so you can find it in the Restaurant Review archives on our web site at GazExtra! Andrew and Liya Truong have created a healthy, clean menu of options to enjoy, and this fish stew is right at the top for satisfying soups on a cold winter day.
I’d love to take you out to more places but I’m out of space and time. What I would like is your suggestions since Sonoma County is famous for our food as much as for our wines. Our little foray in search of soup is but a mere taste of all that is available. Please send your suggestions to email@example.com and I’ll add them on the web version of this article. Most of all…have fun while you’re out exploring for soups! We are all blessed to live in paradise!
6675 Front Street, Forestville
Front Street Coffee
6544 Front Street, Forestville
Aioli – a Gourmet Delicatessen
6536 Front Street, Forestville
4550 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol
10439 Highway 1, Jenner
Spud Point Crab Company
1860 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay
304 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma
101 2nd Street, Petaluma
595 S Highway 1
Bodega Bay, CA 94923-9783
25 Grant Ave, Healdsburg
Negri’s Original Italian Restaurant
3700 Bohemian Highway, Occidental
3731 Main Street, Occidental
1007 West College Avenue, Santa Rosa
280 Mission Blvd, Santa Rosa
Dinucci’s Italian Dinners
14485 Valley Ford Rd Valley Ford, CA 94972
Chinois Asian Bistro
186 Windsor River Road, Windsor
Terrapin Creek Café
1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay
Below are suggestions from readers on their favorite places to get soup!
16236 Main Street, Guerneville
Holly Robinson says that Richard Hines makes a different soup every day and every one of them is wonderful - tastey, healthy and just plain good. As she listed each one she started to get the glow of wanting a bowl and finally decided that she simply had to go there for dinner that night.
711 Stony Point Rd, Santa Rosa
This is one of Betsy's favorites - she likes clean, fresh food. One of the reviews on the internet says "This place has amazingly flavorful soup, fast no-nonsense service...” so check it out! Betsy also recommends...
My Ha - Vietnamese
385 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa
...as someone else says - Vietnamese at its best. They are close to the Tierra Vegetable Farm so you might want to go grocery shopping for farm-fresh veggies while over there.
Willowood Market Café
9020 Graton Road, Graton
...this restaurant gets high marks from many people. Their soups are always excellent no matter what kind they are making that day. Quite honestly - everything the create is excellent!
560 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol
I admit this came as a complete surprise as a soup suggestion. It never occurred to me to go there for soup! I guess I'm just going to have to try it!
8050 Bodega Avenue, Sebastopol
This place gets highly recommended from many people so it's on my list to check out for myself.
1415 Fulton Rd, Santa Rosa
I've eaten here MANY times and find it consistently good so when my friend Sylvia raved about her experience here, I knew I wanted it on the list. The salads are my favorite food, but everything is created with care and the people are delightful.
Costeaux French Bakery
417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
As reader Dan says Tres Bonne! So I'd say we BOTH need to find out what he's talking about!
6706 Hwy 128, Healdsburg
Dan also recommended Jimtown and I double that! he says their Butternut Squash Apple Soup is exceptional and whether I've had that one or not - everything I've eaten there has been wonderful...and I don't think it's because I enjoyed the ride out there so much that I was in a really good mood! Find out for yourself!
1005 Vine St, Healdsburg
Dan recommends the Chicken Coconut Soup so let's go find out!
810 McClelland Drive, Windsor
They were closed when we went by and that's how we ended up at Chinois - but I have to say that every time I went in there when delivering my newspaper, the woman who owns the place was remarkably friendly. She even gave me bottled water to drink on a hot day. I was touched! That kind if warmth scores big with me - her food must be good!
Bodega General Store
17190 Bodega Highway, Bodega
Elizabeth down the road at The Casino has told me numerous times to go get soup from Mathew & Mike and I have yet to do it - then when Aleta called she got the same story. We didn't make it for this article, but we will. Bodega is often on our motorcycle ride out to the coast and back, so there are many opportunities!
That's it for now - please feel free to send more suggestions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll add them over time: