Bird & The Bottle: A Local Favorite

Local powerhouse restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark are at it again, this time with their most recent addition to their restaurant collection, Bird & The Bottle. Nestled in an old house in a relatively quiet neighborhood of Santa Rosa, in just a year's time Bird & The Bottle has become a local favorite.

Owners of other local favorites Willi’s Wine Bar, Stark’s Steak & Seafood and Monti’s in Santa Rosa, as well as Willi’s Seafood and Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg, the Starks have a longstanding history of opening unique restaurants with satisfying menus. Bird & The Bottle is no exception—dishing up innovative cuisine in true family and friend-style fashion with snacks, schmears, small plates and large plates to share.

The eclectic style of the menu, which is so bountiful that it’s easy to get lost in deciding what to order, matches the manner in which the plates are served—not in any particular order or in a one, two, three course-style, but simply as they are prepared. Dishes arrive at the table according to what’s done first in the kitchen, thus enabling the collaborative spirit—guests noshing together in an experience that resembles a tasting menu, full of delicious flavors and interesting textures.

When I visited, I decided to taste around the menu, picking a variety of dishes and matching them to glasses of (mostly) California wine. The only non-California wine I ordered was at the start of the meal; the Domaine Des Grandes NV Esperances Cremant “Barbule” was an approachable expression of sparkling wine from the Loire Valley in France. While served in an appropriate Champagne coupe, it was a bit too cold to initially detect its aromatics. After a few minutes, green apple and crushed nuts began to lift from the glass. On the palate, this piquant sparkling boasts toasted nuts, freshly baked bread notes, lime zest and subtle hints of green apple, with noticeably low dosage.

Sweet and succulent Gulf pawns.

To begin the culinary exploration of the menu, my husband and I ordered the wood-grilled, full-bodied Gulf prawns. These monstrous prawns were served with southern saltines and Korean chili butter. Absolutely tender and juicy, they were packed with a ton of sweet, savory and spicy flavors. The Korean chili butter gave the prawns a bit of a kick and helped keep them tender inside their crispy outer shells, which were a tad difficult to peel, but definitely worth the effort.

From the snacks, we chose the fried chicken sliders, which were decadent little morsels of goodness. With its perfectly crispy coating, the fried chicken was pleasantly moist on the inside—providing a nice contrast of textures. Wrapped in a soft miniature bun with layers of bean sprout slaw and tangy mustard miso, the fried chicken sliders were an excellent bite to start off the meal. We paired these tasty sliders with Martin Ray’s 2012 Bald Mountain Chardonnay from Santa Cruz, California. Again, the wine was served a bit too cold, only grudgingly giving up notes of green apple initially, but after a bit of time, the wine evolved in the glass. Medium-bodied, with subtle layers of crisp green apple and lemon on top of gentle acidity and a hint of malolactic fermentation, this Chardonnay was a delightful match to the sliders—together, rounding out the mouthfeel and softening the wine to reveal a more luscious texture.

The smoked sturgeon schmear proved to be one of the most uniquely paired dishes of the evening.

Diving into the schmears, we ordered the smoked sturgeon, sour cream, fresh horseradish and herbs schmear, which was served with grilled pumpernickel rye. I chose to go out on a limb and adventurously pair this schmear with Lioco’s 2012 “Sativa” Carignan from Mendocino, California. Pleasantly compatible, the meatiness of the grilled pumpernickel and flavors of the smoked sturgeon really synergized on the palate with the Carignan. The creaminess of the schmear also played with the texture of the wine in an unexpected but beautiful way, adding complexity and layers surrounding the wine’s flavors of dried fruit, red cherry, leather and oak nuances.

These aren't your grandma’s grits.

An absolute favorite of the night was definitely the Anson Mills yellow grits—a downright scrumptious small plate full of pimento cheese-filled grits and grilled hen of the woods mushrooms, topped with a decadent fried duck egg. There is no denying the over-the-top flavors of this dish, which is more filling than you might expect. Rich and with serious depth of savoriness, the grits packed a punch on the palate with umami-filled flavors and contrasting textures—crispy fried onions pleasantly juxtaposed the soft duck egg and grilled mushrooms.

This luscious small plate was paired with a medium-bodied white that could withstand the weight and decadence of the dish, none other than a Cambria 2014 Tepusquet Vineyard Viognier from Santa Maria Valley—located in Santa Barbara County. Full of classic Viognier notes on the nose, aromas of honeysuckle, peach and wet stones emanated from the glass after a bit of air. On the palate, this wine boasts pear, crisp apple, subtle lime notes, wet stones and citrus blossom with just a touch of oak spice. A bite of the grits really played with the body and texture of this Viognier, giving it more chalkiness and enhancing the body to an even fuller state.

We also ordered the wood-grilled quail “Kalbi style,” served with bacon-lap chung fried rice and a crisp pear salad from the small plates portion of the menu. Right about this time, we realized there was no way we were going to make it to the large plates—which I am sure is not uncommon here, simply because there are so many wonderful dishes from which to choose. In any case, we powered through this dish because it was light and refreshing, and even dare I say... healthy! Or, at least it tasted healthy. The small portion of succulent quail, served on skewers with a refreshing pear salad, was plated atop a rich, but small portion of rice mashed and fried into a potato pancake-style patty.

This dish was texturally playful, with the crunchy rice patty and crisp pear beautifully contrasting the oh-so-tender and moist quail. I paired this small plate of succulent quail with a rather hardy 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from Siduri, based in Sonoma County. Dark and intense on first scent, oak nuances and spice mingle with raspberry, black cherry and black cherry cola flavors. The palate is rather medium to full-bodied for a Pinot, with a lot of spice, black cherry cola flavors and an intense richness and finesse that you can’t help but be drawn into. It was stunning with the dark, succulent and gamy flesh of the quail.

Although we opted out of the large plates, we did taste one item from the dessert menu—cheekily dubbed ‘county fair sweets’. It couldn’t get more classic than an ice cream sundae, so that’s what we ordered… and we were pleasantly surprised by the approach to such a typically simple dessert. In fact, I would say this is the best ice cream sundae I have ever tasted. The sundae was uniquely served in wide-mouth mason jar, layered with rich flavors, nice textures and classic sweetness. From first spoonful, this sundae enveloped the taste buds with perfectly smooth and creamy vanilla bean ice cream, smothered with soft banana jam that melted on the tongue, crunchy and toasted cocoa nib crumbs, savory peanut butter fudge and decadent toffee sauce. Soft and crispy, sweet and savory, this dessert hit all the right notes at the end of the meal. I’ve always been a sucker for ice cream for dessert, so this unique interpretation of a classic was a delight.