My friends were visiting from out of town and wanted some “real Sonoma” dining. Yet after a day spent hiking western Sonoma County vineyards, playing on Bodega Bay beaches, and soaking up glorious late spring weather, none of us wanted to sit indoors or, frankly, even keep our elbows off the table.
Answer: Backyard in Forestville. The name is appropriate, as owners Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire source from their own backyard culinary gardens and those of his ranch and agricultural neighbors (even the bread comes from the bakery right across the street). It feels like dining in a backyard, too since, while inside tables are perfectly nice, the coveted seats are on the patio, with its tree-shaded brick floor and planters.
Trained at Ad Hoc and Peter Lowell’s, the chef’s menu changes frequently with the seasons. But happily, some produce is plentiful year-round, like onions. Because that means we can have what may be the world’s best onion rings ($8), thick sliced and sweet, enrobed in a nearly greaseless tempura buttermilk batter that floats in its lightness, weighted only with a dunking in lemon aioli.
The look: A long, lean dining room suggests farmhouse, with wood floors, rustic wood furniture, and a few blossoms in the Bell jars on each table.
To eat: A house pickle plate ($9) celebrates Sonoma County flavors with sharp, house-fermented kimchee, chanterelle, carrot, daikon, robust garlic clove, and asparagus plus a dollop of preserved mustard seeds, arranged on a wood board.
A Rueben might sound mainstream, even with house-made pastrami ($15), but it’s the stuff of fine dining, served in two open face slabs of Nightingale seeded sourdough. The mildly spiced meat is sliced medium thick like steak, layered with a shimmer thin slab of Santa Rosa’s own Jorge Matos St. George cheese, aioli-rich Thousand Island dressing, and crunchy house-fermented sauerkraut, paired with chilled black-eyed pea salad.
Kedan is famous for his buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, too ($14.50), bringing a generous breast coated in that magical tempura batter with a slick of Dijonaise and a mound of root vegetable slaw on a Village Bakery roll. In fact, anything with chicken is excellent, like the chicken potpie ($21), starring Green Star Farms poached chicken with leeks, potatoes, and carrots, all topped with puffy, golden buttermilk biscuits.
There aren’t many chefs that work with wild nettles — as in those herbaceous plants from the Urtica species, a name derived from the Latin word “uro,” which translates as “I burn.” As in poison ivy-type villains, with vicious stinging hairs swimming in natural chemicals that inflame human skin.
Except that after removing nettles’ prickly armor (wearing the imperative gloves), and carefully cooking them, the result is a mild-flavored, nutrient-packed green that’s quite tasty. So Kedan house smokes pork belly and pork for a luscious carbornara ($21) folded with preserved lemon, egg yolk, and Caproncino goat cheese.
On the fish side, grilled wild line caught halibut ($28) is stylish comfort, mounded with duck fat potatoes, grilled bok choy, green garlic, melted onions and olives, while “En Casuela” translates to a sumptuous slow simmered casserole of tomato braised rabbit ($15) atop heirloom red flint polenta and salsa verde.
To note: Weekend brunch is immensely popular, so be sure to make a reservation. The draw is delights like the mouthwatering heirloom Black Turtle beans and greens ($15) with housemade pork sausage, toasted garlic, two poached eggs, and crème fraiche.
Dessert: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I wouldn’t share one bite of my affogato, layered in candy cap mushroom ice cream with Sunshine Roasters espresso ($5).
To drink: Boutique, small production Sonoma County wines, naturally. The Bloody Mary is great, too, made with real, juicy tomatoes and spiked with a prawn.
Details: 6566 Front Street, Forestville, 707-820-8445.