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12.05.07

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First Bite

Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar

By Carey Sweet

  E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do .  

Sometimes, nothing in life is better than a sunny-side up egg, flecked with crunchy crystals of sea salt and freshly ground, deeply aromatic black pepper.  

The perfect specimen has been slow-fried on one side, so that the yolk is still liquid and brilliant yellow-orange under its thin-set skin, the white is meaty, and its barest edges crackle like lace. Preferably, the top was basted with butter (or even better, bacon fat) while it cooked.  

The dish is wonderful all on its own, but even better if it's served blanketing something starchy, so the yolk has something to swim into after being pierced with a fork—crispy hash browns, perhaps, or toast.  

Such is the egg I'm savoring at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, the restaurant in the Lodge at Sonoma Resort & Spa. Two eggs, in fact, as the centerpiece to exquisite huevos rancheros ($11.75).  

The creation of chef Janine Falvo, the eggs crown layers of alternating soft and crisp corn tortillas, whole al dente black beans, gooey ribbons of Sonoma Jack cheese, a puddle of warm grilled tomato ragout and scoops of chunky, chilled tomato-purple onion salsa. The yolks seep through, imbuing everything with golden richness.  

It's a surprisingly fine-dining experience for an often-overlooked meal: breakfast in a hotel.  

I already knew that Falvo was talented; I'd discovered that the night before, as soon as I tasted my first bite of a foie gras and chestnut froth parfait that was served as an amuse-bouche at a tasting dinner (price varies) in the same restaurant. Her skill was evident in a spoon of Forbidden rice capped with a glistening cube of uni; I poured a raw quail egg over the top and downed it in a single mouthful.  

Falvo's delicate squash agnolotti stuffed with spinach and pine nuts had melted on my tongue in a buttery, nutty slick. Then she'd sent out a square of monkfish, wrapped in crisp potato paper on a nest of chanterelles tucked with black truffle confit and a dusting of heirloom tomato powder. My entrée was a luxurious CK Lamb chop, smoked in vanilla cigar and bedded on peppery arugula risotto pooled in bright white Parmesan foam.

A Cypress Grove truffle "tremor" with black olive crackers and a fig shooter was an intense intermezzo to the dessert of persimmon bread pudding capped with saffron-cardamom ice cream. Each course had been paired with wines from sommelier and storyteller Christopher Sawyer, culminating in such a long, luxurious evening that driving an hour-plus home was out of the question. The plush bed of a Lodge cottage beckoned irresistibly. Thus, this impromptu breakfast.  

So now, I've got a silver pitcher of fragrant black coffee all to my own, plus a side dish of three glistening Caggiano country sausage links ($6), so fresh their skin actually snaps. And I've got another reason to appreciate the remarkable dining experience that is Carneros Bistro. The only thing left? Lunch.  


Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday; Sunday, brunch and dinner. 707.931.2042.


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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.