A few weeks ago something pretty special happened, you know, one of those situations where everything finally falls into place. I got to meet my friends Florence and Tom. Our story started about fifteen years ago, give or take a year or two, when we first connected through… I don’t exactly remember the details now, but it was definitely via their website and then e-mail, as I was still living in Italy at the time, and they were in Long Island, New York.
We were connected by ‘angels’, or maybe I should say light beings from another dimension. This connection, which also involved my group of friends in Italy, was just with Florence at first, though, over time, her partner Tom became integral part of the picture, as well as their beloved Golden Bailley, who now plays with my White over the rainbow bridge. This was before the internet became so sophisticated, and definitely before social media, so a lot of e-mails went back and forth over the ethers, and several were lost in cyberspace.
Besides light beings and dogs, the other thing we had in common was/is Hawai’i, where they have been spending a couple of weeks on and off almost every year. Between my living in Hawai’i for eleven years, and their regular trips there you would think we had already met. Not so simple! Either I was on the Big Island and they were going to Maui, or I was on O’ahu and they were going to the Big Island, or they were in Hawai’i when I was either in California or Italy, or our plans to island-hop and meet would get thwarted by an earthquake, hurricane, or some other whim of nature.
Then their home in Long Island, along with those of all their neighbors, was devastated by the Sandy storm, forcing them to stay put for several years to try to sort things out. Therefore, in all those years of e-frendship, with one thing and another, we never managed to meet. Until last month.
Our meeting was not planned, and was very much a last minute thing. One day I saw a post by Florence talking about flying to San Francisco. She messaged me about possibly meeting up in Sonoma at some point over the weekend, as it was Tom’s home town, and their early stomping ground. They were flying in to attend to a dear friend who was ready to transition, and they were not sure how things were going to go. Plans were for us to possibly meet on the Saturday. Saturday came and went, then most of Sunday. By Sunday night their friend had decided he was not ready to go after all and surprised everyone by waking up, stretching and becoming fully alert again. Their mission complete, we made plans for Monday lunch, as Florence and Tom were due to fly out on Monday evening.
And it actually came to pass!! We met for lunch at El Dorado Kitchen, which turned out to be the location of one of their first dates years before when it was still called Piatti. It may have been the first time we ever met (in this life anyway), but when they walked in and we actually set physical eyes on each other, we hugged, then sat down and started talking, as if resuming where we had left off the previous week. Which in a way we had, thanks to that frenemy to us all called Facebook.
I arrived a few minutes early so I would have time to take some photos of the ambiance. El Dorado Kitchen is not just a restaurant, but also a small hotel. Above you can see part of the entrance hall, and the check in desk for the restaurant. Below is the front corner cafe.
Above and below you can see part of the main dining room, with the stunning long communal table. And further down is the outdoor patio. I considered sitting outside on the patio, but decided the light would be better at one of the indoor tables by the windows.
I had arrived at El Dorado with visions of seafood paella dancing in my head (and around my mouth), but I discovered that paella is only available for dinner, bummer! Of course that is now on my priority list for when I am back up in Sonoma in the new year, even if I find a good paella place here in the Monterey Bay area. In any case, the lunch menu had so many tempting items that it was good there were three of us, and that we were all hungry food lovers. Along the lines of our eyes were bigger than our bellies, we still managed to order too much, and since I was the only one not flying that day, I was the one to take leftovers home.
Executive Chef Armando Navarro creates a menu that changes with the seasons and the availability of local produce. The cuisine is very much creative California, tastefully infused with Mediterranean (Italian, French and Spanish) and Mexican flavors.
Being lunch, none of us ordered any wine or cocktails, but I had a look at the wine list and found it richly represented the Sonoma and Napa regions with a few additions from Italy and France, as well as Spain and Australia. I also discovered that the selection favors wineries that operate organically and with biodynamic agriculture.
Besides this lovely selection of wines, creative and fun signature cocktails are also available, as well as a selection of local artisan crafted beers.
I felt really called by the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cotija Cheese, Basil, Corn, Shallots, Arugula, Crostini and Balsamic Vinaigrette ($15), so that is what I went for. We were at the beginning of heirloom tomato season and the salad was fresh and delicious. It was abundant, too, and had it been a normal day and a normal meal, I would have been satisfied with that.
We shared tastes of each other’s orders, and I had a bite of Florence’s Mushroom Flatbread with Rucola, Parmesan and Truffle Oil ($14), which was also a good size. It was flavorful and satisfying, perfect comfort food, and for a moment I considered ordering one to go for the next day. Good thing I let the moment pass, as I took home enough food as it was.
Tom loves Ahi, so the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Asian Pear, Avocado Mousse, Wasabi Tobiko and Wonton Chips ($15) was the inevitable choice. And it turned out to be another excellent one, with the Asian pear adding a refreshing note to the raw tuna and rich avocado.
Naturally, we had to share an order of Truffle Fries with Parmesan and Chives ($12). I know that truffle fries are, what shall I call it, a cheat food, as no real truffle appears on them. But who can resist them? They arrived hot and abundant like the rest, so good thing we shared. By this point though, we were not sure how we could handle what was coming next, as we were already full.
As a main course, Florence had ordered one of the things that I had been also tempted by: the Vegetable Risotto with Corn, Spinach, Beech Mushrooms, Lemon, Asparagus, Parmesan and Truffle Oil ($18). I had a taste and found it fresh, lovely and creamy, but just a little blah, despite the long list of ingredients giving it flavor. Maybe it just needed a little more salt, or good stirring of Parmesan. I have yet to find a risotto made by a non-Italian that truly satisfies me, except maybe that of chef Ed Kenney of Town restaurant in Honolulu.
Tom and I both chose the Fish Tacos with Avocado Mousse, Cole Slaw, Spicy Crema, Pico de Gallo, Jalapeño Vinaigrette ($16), and when it arrived our eyes opened wide. Wow! That was a solid portion! What with the truffle fries (which actually arrived with the mains), and the unexpected batter on the fish (that maybe should not have been so unexpected, but then every restaurant does fish tacos slightly differently) we ended up having tacos, yes, but also fish and chips. And it was excellent! The fish was fresh, tender and juicy, and the batter crisp but not soaked in oil. A lot of this is what I ended up taking home as we wanted to try dessert and we were most definitely full.
The dessert menu featured several tempting items, but I stopped reading at the first two items: Coconut Tapioca and Tres Leches Cake. I also stopped at the main title, and did not even bother to read how these were served. Florence and Tom were happy to let me choose the desserts, so we ordered these two with three spoons.
The Tres Leches Cake with Lemon Curd, Strawberry Sorbet and Coulis ($9) was good cake, and the lemon curd was fresh and delicious, as was the sorbet. But I find that frosty sorbet is not an ideal textural accompaniment to a cake, especially one on the creamy end of the spectrum like this one. Also, the cream that topped it was indeed fresh, but barely whipped, so it was sloppy both in texture and presentation. I would overlook presentation in a diner, but not in a place like this. A few berries, and a sprig of mint, plus whipped cream that did not slop would have made a world of difference. And ice cream instead of sorbet.
We then tasted the Coconut Tapioca with Chocolate Sorbet, Caramel Sauce and Toasted Slivered Almonds ($9). The coconut tapioca pudding was creamy and delicious. Then came the unexpected (to me, because I had not read all the way) chocolate sorbet, which had been placed under the tapioca and was invisible. Had I read the whole list, I would have asked to skip the sorbet in my tapioca. The chocolate overwhelmed any other flavor, certainly the delicate one of coconut tapioca, and again the frosty texture of sorbet was not suited to the creamy one of the pudding. The caramel sauce would have been fine, except on top of the other things it was all too much. The toasted almonds were unnecessary, and spoiled whatever creaminess was left of the otherwise delicious coconut tapioca. Why even have coconut tapioca if you are going to overwhelm it with other flavors and textures?
We did not finish either dessert.
Despite my disappointment, I have to acknowledge that both desserts were clearly fresh and made from scratch using quality ingredients. They were just badly combined, and not well presented. I hope to see improvements on the dessert spectrum when I dine there again so I can enjoy some seafood paella. And I am so looking forward to that!
405 First Street West – Sonoma, California 95476 | ph 707-996-3030 | website
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