It’s the season for ugly sweaters, white elephant gifts, and wacky food (roll out the nut-crusted cheese balls). Blame it on the holidays, the celebrations and that end-of-year indulgence that many of us find ourselves in before resolving to have a healthy New Year.
Fancy food is also popping up in some local restaurants. Stop by the new Wilfred’s Lounge in Napa, for example, and find “Island-inspired cocktails and cuisine” served in the old BurgerFi space. You’ll be thinking about crazy tiki drinks like the Sesame Swizzle topped with aged rums from Martinique and Saint Lucia, Fino sherry and sesame and topped with a sushi maki roll ($ 15). And you’ll be wondering about silly snacks like Anti-Spam Sliders ($ 14) and Anti-Spam Pineapple Fried Rice ($ 25).
The new Il Fuoco in Sonoma also caught my eye when it debuted in October, for its burger-in-the-kitchen sink creation of Painted Hills Ground Beef stacked with barbecue pork, smoked brisket, and bacon. maple, white cheddar, grilled onions and a crown of chipotle pork cake ($ 24).
I also know people who swear by Mac Daddy pizza at the longtime favorite family restaurant Kin in Windsor. It’s a thick crust red gravy pie topped with shredded mozzarella, gooey macaroni and cheese, and applewood smoked bacon ($ 16 small, $ 25 large). Unhook your jaw.
Still, it’s Santa Rosa’s Mission Kitchen + Bar for the win. Chef Jesse McQuarrie has turned a sports bar in a shopping mall into a destination, featuring a smart menu, upbeat mood, great drinks and great food. Indeed, several respected chefs from Sonoma County had recommended the place to me, even with its curious elements like the enchiladas picadura with chicken in Doritos crust and garnished with red and green sauces ($ 12), the sweet corn shaped into tube-shaped and fried in corn dog batter. then rolled in street corn spice and cotija ($ 12) and sloppy Sloppy Joe nachos in queso fundido ($ 15).
Then three words came up: Pulled Pork Twinkies. Who could resist?
First of all, it’s essential to know that McQuarrie is a real chef. For over two decades he ran Feast Catering, his upscale business known for complex dishes such as crispy-skinned black cod with skordalia Greek garlic mashed potatoes, charred leeks, carrots and pine nuts. He has appeared on the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games and worked at notable Bay Area restaurants under the direction of chefs such as John Ash, Terry Lynch, and Gary Danko.
When COVID-19 ended events last year, it shut down Feast and joined Mission Kitchen, turning it into a whimsical pop-up. It now also hosts private chef events, but it looks like the pop-up is here to stay.
“We strive to be a classic, unpretentious and fun neighborhood joint,” said McQuarrie. “I also want to have fun – my tastes are everywhere, a little schizophrenic. “
So about those Twinkies ($ 12 for two). Think of the juicy heritage pork shoulder slowly roasted for 24 hours, rolled in a light cornbread dough, heated to a chewy chewy in a dim sum steamer, dusted with “powdered sugar” which is actually bacon grease powder and served ceremoniously on a paper-lined pewter platter with barbecue sauce. It’s a savory delight, and Chef McQuarrie recommends pairing it with a lager, a graceful Imagery Pinot Noir ($ 10 glass / $ 36 bottle) or a robust Coppola Director’s Cut Zinfandel ($ 11 / $ 38).
“Originally I was thinking of making a Caesar salad with Twinkie croutons, but it sounded a bit too much, so it turned into a Pulled Pork Twinkie,” he said.
I’m also a fan of his new TV dinners ($ 18). Today’s ridiculously over-pampered young diners probably have no idea what a real TV dinner is – how Salisbury’s molded and chewy ground beef patty was coated in a salty brown sauce causing dehydration, which permeated. inevitably in the side compartments of the wobbly aluminum tray of watery mashed potatoes, corn turned mushy in a watery butter sauce and a stiff brownie that was often still frozen in the middle. Oh, there was real joy in every bite for a 10 year old.
Here, Chef McQuarrie promises “these will taste like they remember it,” and I get nostalgic delight in eating fried chicken or meatloaf served in sturdy, compartmentalized pewter platters he purchased from Amazon. Meatloaf, in particular, is soul-satisfying, dense and well-seasoned and draped in a tangy ketchup sauce that doesn’t overwhelm its neighboring territories of garlic mashed potatoes decorated with chives and sauce, seasonal vegetables from the farmer’s market, a round of spooned French cornbread and hot chocolate cake drizzled with sea salt caramel.
Much of the appetizer menu is simpler, but in a way that reminds me of caterer appetizers. We nibble on beef Wellington bites ($ 13 for three) which, when I visited, were sort of soggy “lollipop” croquettes, mac and cheese spliced onto a skewer ($ 10), pork pot stickers and shrimp ($ 12) and potato poppers with white truffle ($ 10)).
For entrees, the menu changes frequently, but you can count on Bodega’s stellar rockfish-stuffed fish tacos (McQuarrie grew up in Bodega Bay and was a professional fisherman) plus avocado, crunchy cabbage, and a splash of Thai sauce (13 $). The Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich is another bestseller, crispy and fiery with Korean gochugaru chili flakes mixed with a touch of sugar, black pepper, and sweet and salty Gochujang red chili paste ($ 15).
There’s some noise here – the dog-friendly patio is quieter – but what would you expect from a place with pool tables, a jukebox, plenty of TVs, and the occasional karaoke?
Just wait for the surprisingly good food to land on your table, relax and have fun. As Chef McQuarrie likes to joke, this is a Three Michelin experience – then he shows you a comedic photo of three tires.
Carey Sweet is a food and food writer based in Sevastopol. Read her restaurant reviews every two weeks in Sonoma Life. Contact her at [email protected]