Dining Outside At John Ash & Co.
This year, I’m all about the staycation. It may be only a couple hours’ drive away for me, but Sonoma Wine Country sure feels like a real getaway that relaxes and recharges.
When I was invited as a guest for an overnight stay at the Vintners Resort in Santa Rosa, the weather may have been drizzly. But it didn’t put a damper on the time spent at this expansive 92-acre, bucolic, European-style resort with bubbling fountains. Because it’s a little more secluded than other Wine Country properties, there’s a lovely sense of calm that permeates.
One of the best ways to start the morning is to go for a walk around the property, especially on the vineyard trail. There are working vineyards on the property, with the grapes now sold to Kendall-Jackson and La Crema wineries. The gravel trail winds around the rows, which on a fall morning are often veiled by morning mist.
Follow the path around to the events center and beyond to find one of the property’s onsite culinary gardens. At this time of year, there is kale, cauliflower and citrus growing abundantly.
I snagged a perfectly ripe black Mission fig off a tree to snack on. Shh, don’t tell.
The garden’s home-grown produce and herbs provide inspiration for Chef Tom Schmidt and his team at John Ash & Co. restaurant right next door. Although Chef John Ash is no longer involved with the restaurant, his philosophy carries on. Ash was one of the first chefs in Sonoma County to emphasize fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
My husband and I ate outside on the heated terrace. It sports a roof overhead, but with space between to allow for air flow. The large slatted glass windows can be opened completely or closed. Even closed on a chilly night like this one, there is some spacing between the vertical glass panes to allow some air inside. For some folks who prefer a more wide-open outdoor dining space, this might seem too closed in.
My husband and I felt fine about it, especially since the tables are well spaced apart. Tiny lights aglow all over give the terrace a warm, romantic feel, too.
Because if was peak Gravenstein apple season, I couldn’t resist trying the unusual Gravenstein and Brie Soup ($13). The cheese is actually melted into the smooth pureed soup made with Gravensteins grown in nearby Sebastopol. There’s a sweet, winey, cider-like taste from the apples, but not an overly sweet one. The brie gives the soup body and richness. A garnish of spicy candied almonds over the top added a nice hit of crunch. On a brisk autumn night, this soup sure hit the spot.
The half-dozen Hog Island oysters on the half shell ($21) are sweet, briny and clean-tasting. So much so that you barely need to use the accompanying cocktail sauce or hogwash (mignonette-like) sauce.
The Parker House rolls ($6) take 10 minutes, as they are baked to order. They arrive so hot, you have to wait a minute or two in order to be able to handle them. A big knob of butter must go into the cast-iron pan with the dough, because the rolls bake up with their bottoms drenched in melted butter, making these incredibly decadent tasting.
This kind of weather was made for Braised Boneless Prime Beef Short Ribs Braciole ($36). The fork-tender short ribs get crusted with panko, pine nuts, egg and Parmesan before being arranged over a foundation of hearty, rustic Front Porch Farm’s red floriani polenta and sauteed spinach. Healdsburg’s Journeyman Meat Co.’s pancetta adds a bacon-y touch.
I had a special that evening of osso bucco, served with lots of wonderfully earthy tasting enoki and hen of the woods mushrooms and farro in a deeply savory veal reduction.
There are only three desserts (each $14), but one never leaves the menu, though its accoutrements get changed up seasonally. And that one is the cheesecake. Pastry Chef Casey Stone creates one that is less dense and more fluffy in texture, making it less heavy overall but still incredibly satisfying. It’s creamy, tangy, and majestic, standing about 3 inches high. There are garnishes of fresh strawberries, strawberry-rhubarb coulis, and crisp shards of passion-fruit poppy seed shortbread cookies.
Stroll back to your room, push a button to activate the fireplace, and take a load off. You know you’re in for a good night’s sleep after a meal like that.