If you ever have the opportunity to visit Sonoma County, the wine region in California (USA), make sure you include a visit to Willi’s Wine Bar, in Santa Rosa.
Don’t make any assumptions based on the name. In fact, don’t make any assumptions when you see that part of the restaurant is formed by a marquee, or that the restaurant itself is a roadside spot. Trust me (and the fact it has been named as a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 restaurant in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012).
Willi’s Wine Bar is as famous as the outstanding wines in this beautiful part of California. Ask any local where you should go for dinner in Santa Rosa and they’ll say this place. There are a few variations of this restaurant to obviously attempt to manage the demand, such as one that focuses on seafood. However, Willi’s Wine Bar is the original and some say, best.
As you’re in one of the most famous wine regions in the world it goes without saying that you should opt for a Wine Flight. It’s basically a wine taster or sampler. Choose three wines from the menu and enjoy a small glass of each. It’s a way of ‘flying over’ three different vineyards, possibly even three different countries or regions. The I ♥ Sonoma selection is perfect if you’re not really a wine connoisseur (like me) and want to try some wines that have been made in the area that you’re visiting. They all come highly recommended and taste as good as you hope.
If you fancy something a little more classic, try the Old World Whites. They’ll give you the chance to ‘fly’ over Greece, Austria and Italy, all with a big smile on your face.
As much as the wines are absolutely delicious, it’s the food that will have you reminiscing about Willi’s Wine Bar weeks later. Served as oversized tapas dishes, it’s a social and sharing type of meal. The staff suggest ordering four dishes between two people. Although the dishes are generous in portion size, order six between two so that you can make the most of the amazing menu. You’ll have a hard time choosing and you’ll be absolutely stuffed at the end of the meal, especially if you add a dessert at the end, but it’s worth it.
There’s a good selection of vegetarian options as well as meat and fish dishes. The warm skillet bread deserves a standing ovation. One bite will give you pleasure that you’ve never known. Dressed in Z’atar, olive oil and whipped feta it is an outstanding dish that will bring you so much happiness. Who knew that so much joy could be found in a bit of bread?! It tastes more like a moist cake loaf, but it is so much more than that. Just make sure you order some when you visit Willi’s Wine Bar and all will become clear.
The curried crab tacos with apple, cucumber and mint are also amazing. They’re not quite as delicious as the bread, but they’re still handsomely good. Freshly made, the lightness of the apple, cucumber and mint fuses perfectly with the strong flavours of curry.
Who could resist French fries, especially when they’re served with truffle aioli? A classic and homely dish that’s perfect for soaking up some of that rich wine.
Next up, the goats cheese fritters served with blistered cherry tomatoes, smoked paprika and lavender honey. Essentially they’re naughty balls of cheese, but the unusual honey brings them a bit of class. They’re mourishly good and each fritter will have you musing over the quirky flavours of the lavender and paprika.
Highly recommended by the staff, the lamb is juicy, sticky and falls off the bone…or so the Mr uttered inbetween hurried mouthfuls. Served with delicious cous cous, the staff clearly know their stuff.
As much as you’ll be well on your way into a happy food coma, have a little pause and then order dessert. The warm Scharffen Berger flourless chocolate cake, covered in peanut butter caramel, served with vanilla bean ice-cream and sea salt peanuts is as indulgently heavenly as it sounds. Pure unadulterated pleasure.
For something a little more classic, the butterscotch crème brulee is waiting for you.
Make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment. You’ll be well looked after – let them know that Taylor Hearts Travel sent you. You’ll find Willi’s Wine Bar at 4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, California (USA). They’re a twenty minute taxi ride from one of the best accommodation spots – Farmhouse Inn & Spa (review coming soon).
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Huge thanks to Sonoma County Tourism Board for hosting my visit.