Dining Recommendations in Russian River Valley

Sonoma County has a plethora of fantastic dining options, and during my recent exploration of Russian River Valley, I popped into a couple of great restaurants. There are plenty of delicious local eateries, casual lunch spots and upscale restaurants to visit before, in between and after tastings, located both in the heart of the valley and along the outskirts of the appellation’s borders in the local cities.

In Windsor, a quaint wine country town situated on the eastern edge of Russian River Valley, Kin is a great restaurant for semi-casual lunch and dinner. With both indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant is comfortable no matter what the season. Providing tasty, fresh and uncomplicated cuisine, Kin hits the spot when you’re not looking to break the bank, but still want to leave feeling satisfied by your meal.

Lightly battered and fried just enough.

With brick and wood walls, and an open floor plan, Kin brings a rustic atmosphere to wine country dining—this seems to be a bit of a theme popping up in wine country restaurants in both Napa and Sonoma counties. Casual appetizers like fried calamari, chicken wings and ‘frickles’ (beer-battered, fried pickles) give the menu a pub-style feel. The calamari, served with housemade tomato sauce and roasted red pepper aioli, is lightly battered and fried just enough to keep the squid tender and juicy. Very moist and even tastier when dipped in the housemade aioli, this is a great little appetizer to get your meal going.

A tender pork chop, seared to perfection.

With a whole host of salads, sandwiches, burgers and pizzas, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. And if you’re in the mood for a heartier entrée, two options I would recommend are the Bourbon pork chop and the citrus ginger salmon.

It’s nice to find fresh and healthy entrée options.

The citrus ginger salmon is a healthy dish that is simply prepared with al-dente-style Brussels sprouts and well-cooked, fluffy couscous. The salmon is nicely glazed in the citrus ginger sauce, with the crispy edges providing textural contrast against the tender fish. The sauce is both tangy and savory, and lends itself well to pairing alongside a glass of local Pinot Noir. I ordered Trecini’s 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and in true Pinot-pairing fashion, it was a tasty matchup for the salmon with its medium body, smooth texture, and fruit-forward flavors of cranberry and raspberry.

Another go-to favorite of mine for dining in the Russian River Valley is Backyard. Situated in Forestville in the heart of the Russian River Valley appellation, Backyard has been open for a few years now, and has easily become one of the most popular dining spots for local winemakers and viticulturists. What’s more is that this restaurant offers a ridiculously tasty menu that is full of local produce and meats at reasonable prices.

The seasonal menu dishes up classic dishes with a California flair. In early March, when my husband and I stopped in for dinner, the menu was chock full of dishes composed of locally raised goat from the Giving Garden in Santa Rosa. Among this farm, there are countless others listed on the menu for featured items in the seasonal dishes.


To start, we ordered a duck prosciutto salad with a glass of Benovia Winery’s 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The salad, served on chilled slate, was composed of wild foraged greens, dried olives, cured egg yolk and tangy mandarin slices in a zesty vinaigrette. The dried olives offered nice depth and flavor complexity to the earthy flavor of the greens, while the cured egg yolk gave a rich and creamy texture that added contrast to the bright crispness of the entire dish. Side by side with Benovia’s luscious 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which boasts classic RRV aromatics of cranberry, strawberry and orange zest, and earthiness mingling with bright red fruit and baking spice on the palate, the two tasted exceptionally well together.


Moving forward, we opted for a Russian River Valley glass of 2014 Chardonnay from Hartford Family Winery, paired with a tasty bucket of smelts. The Chardonnay exudes notes of lime, lemon meringue, a touch of caramel and wet stones, along with subtle nods to the oak aging with hints of toasty vanilla. The palate is creamy with gentle roundness and a zesty, refreshing finish. You can taste the malolactic fermentation in the background, balanced well by the mineral tones and soft fruit flavors of green pineapple and lemon. Of course, this was no doubt the right matchup for the bucket of smelts, which is exactly what it sounds like—a large bucket of buttermilk fried smelts. Perfectly battered and fried to crispy perfection, with the smelts still retaining tender juiciness, the chef manning the fryer clearly knew exactly what he was doing. This dish was tasty and not too heavy, but rather, exhibited lightness while still offering those rich flavors and crispy fried edges.

For the main course, I chose one of the seasonal specialties that had recently been added to the menu, the smoked goat carbonara, paired with—believe it or not—a Russian River Valley Zinfandel (they exist!) from Martinelli Winery; it was a 2012 by the name of Vigneto d Evo. Small case production and made in a classic RRV Zinfandel style, light-bodied and not over-ripe (as the varietal can often be), this expression was beautiful with the smoked goat carbonara. The nose of the Zinfandel is light and bright with bramble fruit aromas, followed by a palate packed full of white pepper in a subtle-fruit style with medium body and nice voluptuousness, even in its cooler climate restraint.


The aesthetically pleasing smoked goat carbonara was beautifully plated with a full rainbow of colors. The tasty al dente pasta was presented in a creamy, egg yolk-based sauce with plentiful and tender chunks of goat belly, savory greens and faint flavors of preserved lemon. With the wine, the pairing was fresh and spicy, very light, tasty, and full of synergy and contrast. The egg yolk-based sauce is rich and creamy against the preserved lemon's gentle acidity, and the rich flavor of the goat is matched to the savory greens. I really enjoyed pairing this local, lighter-styled Zinfandel with this hearty, local dish.


To finish the meal, a scoop of candy cap mushroom ice cream, served with candied candy cap mushrooms on top, offered a decadent end to a flavorful night of delicious local cuisine.

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