NileGuide Expert Says:
Best Sonoma-savvy wine pairings courtesy of Sonoma's most sincere and enthusiastic Sommelier
13555 California 116, Guerneville, CA, United States
NileGuide Expert tip:
The restaurant is worth a trip on its own, but your night will be much more relaxing if you stay overnight at the secluded, Euro-inspired inn - and you can drink more wine.
You don't have to trust Zagat and Michelin to tell you that Applewood is one of Sonoma County's top dining destinations -- though in fact both rate this wine country find highly. Rather, ask SF Bay Area residents where they dine when they want a romantic gourmet dinner in the Russian River valley, and Applewood will be one of the first names mentioned.
Despite this restaurant's long and respected history, it feels fresh and new thanks to the arrival two years ago of chef Bruce Frieseke, a Sonoma boy made good who worked in Paris and San Francisco before returning to his Russian River roots. An even newer arrival is young sommelier Christopher John, whose enthusiasm for the local appellations he's just discovering is palpable and fun to share.
Applewood's menu of beloved Tuscan farmhouse favorites maintains its classic selection, but many dishes have been refreshed to better highlight local ingredients. The overall impression is one of lightening - a salad of tender butter lettuce and Laura Chenel chevre felt farmer's market fresh, and there are more seafood selections to balance the beef, pork, and lamb choices. It's hard to single out any one item from the stellar menu, but the appetizer of Muscovy duck sausage paté topped with an egg yolk poached in red wine is a don't-miss, as are the dark chocolate cannolis for dessert.
Applewood is thriving once again under the fresh stewardship of Carlos Pinna and Sylvia Ranyak, who bought the inn in November 2009 and have ambitious plans to green the facilities and expand the services offered. Among the exciting new offerings will be cooking classes focusing on rustic Tuscan cuisine, to be held in a new, modern kitchen in the historic Belden House. So guests who love to come and eat the latest dishes on offer at Applewood will now have the chance to cook them themselves, too.
The dining room atmosphere is lively and casual, with stone fireplaces at either end and a lively bar by the entrance where guests can gather for a pre-dinner drink. Applewood promises to be even more festive as the weather warms up; Pippa and Ranyak plan to put tables out in the inn's lovely central courtyard and have live music on weekends nights.