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Hospitality and Tourism Day: A Demonstration of Sonoma County’s Awesomeness

Tom Schmidt, Josh Silvers, Duskie Estes, John Franchetti, Sheana Davis

Sonoma County is truly an amazing place. I think it’s a “body double for heaven”. Not only do we have exceptional cuisine, wonderful vistas, an abundance of art and entertainment but the people are pretty awesome too! Leadership Santa Rosa is the longest running Chamber of Commerce leadership program in the U.S. at 28 years. I’m president of the alumni association so you can bet I believe in the program and the knowledge it provides the participants.

We added a new day this year, Hospitality & Tourism Day. I wanted to thank Jeremy Little of Carle Mackie Power & Ross LLP as well as Adam Peacocke of City Life Fellowship for being co-chairs on what is sure to be a day that goes down in history as a top notch LSR day! It wouldn’t have happened without you (and the committee).

See Flickr photo album of the day.

The mission of this day was to capture “A day in the life of a Sonoma County tourist” (see the Hospitality and Tourism Day Agenda). Normally LSR days are about Santa Rosa (hence the name) but because this location is so rich with treasures, we extended it out geographically.

The day started at Relish Culinary Adventures with breakfast sponsored by Relish, Costeaux Bakery, and Carle Mackie Power & Ross LLP. I got there as the first panel was just getting started. We were honored to have Karl Bruno of the Kenwood Inn & Spa, Brad Calkins of Santa Rosa Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and Tim Zahner of Sonoma County Tourism Bureau to talk about the micro to macro view of tourism in Sonoma County. The Kenwood Inn is known far and wide as one of the most amazing spa locations on the planet. No exaggeration. If you have the chance, go! It happens to be directly across Highway 12 in the Valley of the Moon from my favorite place in the world, no joke, see my video of my favorite view. Brad and his team work very hard to help tourists and residents get the most out of Santa Rosa and they do a fine job. Tim Zahner has to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he will charm your face off.

Then we heard from some business owners/managers; Douglas Keane of Cyrus, Shimo, and Healdsburg Bar & Grill; Will Seppi of Costeaux Bakery; and Percy Brandon of Vintner’s Inn and John Ash & Co. We learned a lot about the challenges and joys of owning a business here. Doug was honest and shared with us lessons learned with the new Shimo, adjustments he had to make, as well as how passionate he is about his businesses and how they are run. Will talked about updating a business with a long life to meet the needs and tastes of the customers. Percy is a tremendous long-time supporter of LSR and it was enlightening to hear how you keep a location with such a famous name fresh to the locals. (Happy Hour at the Front Room at John Ash is wicked awesome, go!)

The next panel is where things got really fun. We were thoroughly pleased to have: Sheana Davis, Chef/Cheese Maker/Owner of Epicurean Connection Shop; Duskie Estes, Chef/Owner of Bovolo, Zazu, and Black Pig Meat Co. also of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef; John Franchetti, Chef/Owner of Rosso’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar;  Tom Schmidt, Executive Chef at John Ash & Co.; and Josh Silvers, Chef/Owner of Petite Syrah and Jackson’s Bar and Oven. Whew! We learned a lot about the Farm to Table movement, keeping your sources for ingredients local, knowing the farmer and the land where the food comes from and what makes Sonoma County so special when it comes to cuisine. The energy in the air was electric and when the chefs went into the kitchen to put the final touches on the food they brought with them, the attendees were practically clapping with excitement. It’s not every day that you get a line up like this to bring you food from their own kitchens! (Video of the chefs in the kitchen) After we served ourselves, everyone sat down at a table with a chef so we could eat and talk. The food was absolutely amazing and you shoulda been there!

Anyone that’s ever sat through an all day seminar knows how important it is to get up and stretch after lunch so we sent them on a walking tour and treasure hunt in Healdsburg’s downtown. Then it was to Vintner’s Inn.

I moderated the Vine to Market: Wine and the Business Side panel featuring: Beth Costa, Wine Road; Gerry Forth of Forth Vineyards and board member of Sonoma County Vintners; and Hardy Wallace of The NPA and the winner of Murphy Goode’s “A Really Goode Job” (Ranked #5 of the World’s Best Jobs by Oddee). What I thought was going to be about wine, business, and tourism ended up being more about how social media has changed the way they market their product and reach their customers. Since I am a social media consultant, I was excited to hear how heavily it effected them (though I kept trying to steer them to other subjects) and I was stoked to finally meet Hardy after he’d become an ambassador for wine and social media marketing. We’d “run into” each other a lot digitally but we finally got the chance to shake hands.

And there’s more!!! The next panel was Sonoma County Happenings: Greg Fisher of Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo, Bike Monkey, and Cycle City; Ty Jones of Regatta Arts/Handcar Regatta; Steve Page of Infineon Raceway; and Jennifer Sloan of ARTrails. They talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly of having a great idea or service, the challenges of delivering and the unexpected occurrences they encounter. Again and again, I was blown away by the sheer volume of quality events we enjoy here in Sonoma County on a daily basis.

We got some tastings of lovely vintages by the Vintner’s Inn’s sommelier and relaxed and enjoyed ourselves in the Front Room for happy hour.

This day was full of unbelievable people, information, ideas, conversation, food, wine and camaraderie. I personally want to thank everyone that spent time with us, shared with us, and left a little piece of themselves with those listening. I wouldn’t trade the experience of this day for anything. Leadership Santa Rosa, here’s to another 28 years!

Duck Dreams

Particulars:
Wednesday 2/3/10 7pm
Cucina Pardiso, Petaluma

I’ve eaten at Cucina Paradiso before when they were at their previous location and never had anything to write home about. This time was different.

I’m not a food writer. I’m a real person that enjoys writing about the places I go. That’s why I have this blog. I don’t know about you but I go through phases as to what foods and flavors I crave. Lately it’s been briny, pickled, and spicy foods. When I saw duck with balsamic vinegar, I knew this was right up my flavor alley. (Petto di Anatra al Balsamico e Timo $17.95, Roast breast of Petaluma duck with balsamic vinegar and Fresh thyme sauce)

Roast breast of Petaluma duck

So I’m telling you I will be dreaming about this bird for weeks to come. I don’t know when I’ll get back there for the perfectly tangy taste of that wonderful duck. But trust me, I will not stop thinking about it until I do. I don’t really even remember what else was served on the plate (potaoes and squash, I believe) but I do know that as I was eating, I kept hoping the plate would never be emptied. No such luck.

Also eaten: butternut squash soup (good but needed more than a bit of salt and I never salt ANYTHING, just ask my husband) and vanilla ice cream with espresso poured all over it.

Overall grade: A-
Bonus points for dreaming of tangy duck

I’m hungry now.

Potato Heaven

Particulars:
Thursday 7/17/09 7pm
Stark’s Steakhouse

Okay, three words. Potato Skin Fondue. Are you kidding me? Stark’s, you had me at “Potato Skin”. I’m at a loss for words.

Thanks to Christopher Wisner @wizzlestick for the great local Railroad Square neighborhood chat! And to @sharayray for hooking us up via the interwebs (Twitter for all those that don’t get the @s).

They say we are getting further apart.

This is one instance where technology brought us closer together and made friends from neighbors.

Stark's Steakhouse Potato Skin Fondue

Stark's Steakhouse Potato Skin Fondue

Whiskey Tasting

Particulars:
Wednesday 4/15/09 Tax Day! 8pm
Jack and Tony’s Restaurant and Whisky Bar

One foggy morning I was driving to work and I was listening to KZST and I heard the owner of a new restaurant, Jack and Tony’s Restaurant and Whisky Bar, doing a tasting with Heather Irwin of The Press Democrat (find her @biteclubeats on Twitter). It was early and they were so animated in their conversation about whiskey, it made it really a good listen. I had to turn the radio off before the interview was over but it made me want more. I decided then and there that I was going to do a tasting.

I finally got the chance to go there last week. It’s modern/contemporary, I think, dark wood, big booths, cigar and whiskey classic. I asked the waitress what she recommended on the whiskey tasting flights available. She asked what kind of coffee I drank and what kind of alcohol I liked. I told her French Roast and vodka. She looked a little flummoxed then finally recommended the most expensive flight they had. The price range of the flights is $14-16 so it wasn’t that much of a difference. I randomly chose one in the middle, the Irish. It had Jameson, a 12 year old whiskey I can’t remember the name for, and a Red Breast. The Red Breast was definitely the one I liked. But for the price of the flight, I was happy because it took me the rest of dinner to get through them all. All you need is one, I’m telling you.

I had their pork loin and my husband had the lobster stuffed crab. He gets lobster a lot and, let me tell you, it was THE BEST LOBSTER I’VE EVER HAD. My pork loin was awesome too. Highly recommend the food. And it’s a good idea to have reservations or eat a little late (we arrived at 8:45p) like we did. Next time I go, I’m going to sit in the cocktail area and try an appetizer and another set to expand my horizons a little more.

All around, thumbs up!
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Girls Brunch

Particulars:
Sunday Brunch
The Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa, Santa Rosa

In all my years, the only time I ever brunch is on a major holiday like Easter or Mother’s Day. I find eating out on holidays to be stressful and, generally, not very good food when so many people are being served. But boy did I enjoy my last weekend’s Sunday brunch!

There were a group of 6 of us ladies and we held court in the Terrace Grill at the Flamingo for several fun filled hours! The food was great with all your standard great brunch foods. I am a “breakfast bruncher” and I wasn’t disappointed with their French Toast, which I consider one of the hardest eating out breakfast foods. They didn’t use a fancy bread that doesn’t toast well. But the best part was the champagne! I don’t usually drink so early in the day but the weather was beautiful, the company was great and the servers were very quick to return with the bottle. The topper was 3 out of the 6 of us (myself included) won a certificate for a free brunch in their frequent drawing.

Next month, Bruno’s on Fourth!

**Disclaimer. I am a two time former employee of the Flamingo (banquet bartender, banquet server/hot dog cart maven).

I am Alligator Roast

So as a Sonoma County native, I’m doing my best to buy local, eat local, stay local. I own my own business which means I go on a lot of coffee dates. You say, “I’d love to get together with you to learn more about you and your business.” So then you decide where to meet. It had gotten to the point where I got myself a frequent coffee card from the biggest coffeeshop we all know of *hint hint*. I don’t want to support their corporation so I was at an odds with what to do.

As a disgruntled yut (“My Cousin Vinny” reference), I spent much time wandering/loitering in downtown Santa Rosa. There was a coffee shop named Sonoma Coffee Company that went out of business recently. It was dark and bohemian. Cool when I was 16 but had too many teenage associations for me as an adult.

Enter Cafe Azul. This new business takes over the old SoCoCo spot and has done wonders with what they had to work with. I think my favorite thing is their decor. It’s lighter, more open, airier and BLUE! My favorite color is blue and they’ve done it just right. I’ve now switched my coffee dates to Cafe Azul because I really like to go there and they are a new business that recently joined the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

So next time you are downtown and need a dark roast, I recommend the Alligator Roast.

Newbie in Town

Particulars:
6pm 3/11/09
Rendezvous Bistro, 514 4th Street, Santa Rosa

I heard that Rendezvous Bistro opened up last week but decided to wait until the hubbub had died down before checking it out (I also wanted to give them some time to work out the kinks). So I waited a whole six days before going!

Now my disclaimer is that I don’t really like French food, I didn’t realize that that was their category until minutes before I arrived. I figured I’d check out the menu and make a decision then. I found a few items that I thought I’d like and was seated in the main dining room.

First and foremost, the front and rear dining rooms were both packed and stayed that way throughout our meal, which is a good sign. The decor is really lovely but a tad contrived, kind of like a Disneyland version of a French bistro. But it was beautiful with rich colors. The tables are very small and I felt like (in the words of Chris Farley) “a fat man in a tiny coat”. I actually gave my server back my regular water because I needed the real estate and I’d ordered a bottled water and it would’ve just been duplication.

My friend and I both ordered the steak and frites. It was absolutely lovely. I don’t claim to be a restaurant critic but I know a good meal when I scarf it. The steak was tender, well garnished, with a dollop of spinach (thank you!) and I ate every last bite.

Dessert was another matter. We ordered the special but there may have been some kind of kitchen mishap and it took awhile to learn that they were going to give us a dessert on the house to make up for it. When I told them we were trying to make a showtime, they stepped up the speed. They served us a crepe with, I believe, rum drizzled over the top, it was set aflame and in front of me. Needless to say, I did not bend over the plate until it had extinguished itself. Unfortunately, the alcohol didn’t really burn off and after two bites I had to retire my fork. I felt I was breathing fumes of ethanol out of my nose, it was so strong.

Our server, Manuel, was not only excellent but well spoken and very helpful (cute too!). The owner, Justin, met us at the door and escorted us out. I couldn’t help but mention the note I had on the crepe. He was very open to suggestion and lovely to talk to.

I look forward to sitting at their bar, enjoying an espresso or a drink with my friends. I know all whom venture downtown are happy to have the wonderful location up and running again.

Support our local establishments by Buying Local/Eating Local/Staying Local!

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