|Glen Ellen Star|
The Food: Chef Ari Weiswasser, whose CV is full of refined restaurants including Manhattan's Daniel, Picholine and Corton (as well as a recent stint at the French Laundry), hopes to channel his big city chops into creating a comfortable, yet formidable mid priced neighborhood restaurant, given that his neighborhood happens to be a world-famous growing region. He reaches into his tool kit to conjure up international flavors, but uses primarily Sonoma-sourced produce, dairy and meats as the building blocks. Pretty much everything on the menu - fish, fowl, pizzas, veggies, even a whole lamb if you give the kitchen 72 hours notice, gets cooked in the custom built wood-fired tiled oven. But the true star? We’re guessing the kids will vote for the fresh, hand-spun ice cream (ranging from malted milk chocolate and roasted peanut butter to Taylor Maid Farms espresso) that’s offered a tavola, as well as to go in ½ pint containers.
The Look: The 24-seat dining room rocks a quaint farmhouse vibe with distressed wood, pit-fired clay pottery and large windows that let in the pervasive Sonoma light. If dining alfresco is your thing, an enclosed outdoor patio can seat another 20, which should be absolutely lovely once the restaurant begins lunch service. But for foodies, the best seats in the house are arguably at the eight-seat counter top that overlooks the kitchen’s action at the wood-burning oven.
The Drinks: With a name like Benziger, you know the place is going to be serious about wine. Wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser, a member of the Benziger Family Winery clan, keeps it real and down to earth with a wine-on-tap program. However, if you’re the kind that wants to dig deeper into your wallet, she’s put together a small bottle list of reserve and boutique wines from some choice local and international producers. Even the water is local, thanks to an in-house system that will dispense either still or sparkling free of charge. Of course, you can always bring your own. The Weiswassers plan to donate $5 of every $15 corkage to the newly formed Jack London State Park Foundation, which supports keeping the local popular park open.
Glen Ellen Star, 13648 Arnold Drive, at Warm Springs Road, 707-343-1384; dinner only to start, open for lunch Friday-Sunday later in the spring.