Spotlight on Forestville Farmhouse Restaurant

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Farmhouse's building dates back to 1875 on land once owned by the daughter of Gen. Mariana Vallejo.
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Farmhouse's building dates back to 1875 on land once owned by the daughter of Gen. Mariana Vallejo.

For a fine-dining destination with as much legacy and tradition in Sonoma County as Farmhouse, the Forestville restaurant has seen a lot of change the past 18 months.

Since NBb’s Dine Wise department last visited, Farmhouse has not only changed executive chefs, but the inn and restaurant have new majority ownership.

Considering Farmhouse enjoyed 14 straight years of a Michelin star rating until longtime chef Steve Litke retired in 2021, having to hit the reset button can be a challenge—and an opportunity. After multiple changes in kitchen leadership in short span since Litke’s departure, Farmhouse seems to have found its chef de cuisine of the future in Craig Wilmer, a veteran of San Francisco favorites Coi and Petit Crenn, restaurants that boasted multiple Michelin stars between them. Based on our recent visit, the Michelin folks might want to pay a return call to Farmhouse as well.

The place is as cozy as ever—warm lighting courtesy Deco-style chandeliers, a fire blazing in the east corner, and a smattering of mirrors on the walls to deepen the ambient space. Our arrival on a wet and blustery winter evening didn’t hurt the homey mood, either.

Farmhouse offers a seasonal tasting menu—six courses, with a couple of extra bites here and there—paired with unique selections from the cellar. The meal started with Farmhouse’s amuse bouche—a trio of chef-selected seafood hors d’oeuvre highlighted by a pair of decadently creamy oysters served on a bed of salt. Seafood proved to be a theme throughout the tasting; Farmhouse takes full advantage of its near-coastal location to ensure the freshest fruits de mer.

Bites of bluefin tuna belly followed—delightfully soft with a crisp casing—along with shima aji and abalone shell. The former featured four small bites (with beet and caviar) resting on a thin bed of Japanese “striped jack” sashimi, while the abalone came surrounded by crispy seagrass that wonderfully balanced the soft, doughy gastropod.

The wines paired with each course range in origin from local vineyards to across the globe. Sommelier Jared Hooper is not only an engaging storyteller—sprinkling each serving with relevant anecdotes—but an adventurous wine steward as well. From a 2022 Zialena sauvignon blanc out of Geyserville that kickstarted the meal to a Hiroshima-area sake matched with the tuna to the underappreciated Beaujolais (that wine region gets a bad rap, Hooper insisted), each selection advanced the meal in unexpected ways.

Speaking of the unexpected, last September sibling-owners Catherine and Joe Bartolomei sold a majority stake in the 10-acre Farmhouse estate to wine country mogul Bill Foley, whose company holdings include multiple North Bay wineries, as well as the Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights. While Foley Entertainment Group’s partnership is no doubt foundational for the long-term future of the luxe inn, Joe and Catherine remain heavily involved and committed to ongoing enhancements at the business they grew over the last 23 years from a humble Russian River overnighter into one of the best-regarded destinations in Sonoma County. (And Joe still responds to almost every Yelp review personally.)

Our meal continued with koginut squash—a butternut and kabocha hybrid blended to a rich, velvety puree and served in its shell—and finished with roasted squab, aka domestic pigeon, which is wending its way to more menus these days thanks to its dark-meat succulence. A delicate apple moon cake sprinkled with shaved truffle polished things off perfectly.

Evolution at restaurants like Farmhouse happens slowly—few restaurants have the luxury of keeping a Michelin-starred chef at the helm for 20 months, let alone 20 years like Litke. But fresh eyes (and tastes) are rarely a bad thing—and Craig Wilmer has the kitchen firing on all cylinders. Ownership changes aren’t something guests will necessarily notice, aside from planned inn expansion, perhaps—but the restaurant experience is back to peak form. For a place that has been the model of tasteful consistency for more than two decades, Farmhouse’s future looks bright.

Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant

7871 River Road

Forestville, CA 95436

707-887-3300

Dinner, Thursday to Monday, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Six-course menu, $275 per person

Wine pairing, $150 per person

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