Restaurant Week is one of those rare marketing conceits that actually works for everyone. Restaurateurs get customers in the door during a normally slow time, while customers get to enjoy the niceties of a full meal, often for the cost of an entrée.
It’s like dating for diners — at prices set at $19, $29, and $29 for a multi-course meal, it allows you to flirt a bit with different spots. So why not try a fry bread taco or flash-fried fava leaves?
To that end, what follows is our short list of the best bets for 2017’s Sonoma County Restaurant Week, running Monday, March 6 though Sunday, March 12. Get out and try something new. There are tremendous deals to be had, great dishes to enjoy, and a bit of edible flirtation to take with you on the run.
Luxe Spots for Less
The Girl & The Fig
Sondra Bernstein's ode to the Rhone Valley begins in the bottle and extends to the plate. Her $39 dinner special includes a lamb T-bone, roasted carrots in fennel pollen, and a switched-up dessert of rhubarb tartin with strawberry ice cream. The bar is a glorious place to dine in this warm, French-inspired room. 110 West Spain St., Sonoma
Underwood Bar & Bistro
Single-handedly responsible for making the tiny town of Graton the sexiest spot in Sonoma County, the Underwood has a killer nickel-plated bar, cozy dark corners, outdoor seating, and a bocce court. For one week, it also has a $39 dinner with three choices for each course, including mains that normally cost around $24. It will feel like a splurge and cost like restraint. 9113 Graton Rd., Graton
Chef/owners John Stewart and Duskie Estes have built a palace of pork (and produce some of the best bacon, Black Pig, in the nation), but their approachable spot in the Barlow can be curiously expensive, making their $39 three-course meal of asparagus, short ribs with gnocchi, and chocolate crepes — no muss, no fuss, no choice—a nice price. Pro tip: Try the house Pinot Noir, which is their own label. 6770 McKinley St., Sebastopol
This Healdsburg destination restaurant offers a sumptuous $39 three-course meal based on seasonal produce (think: onions and favas), housemade charcuterie, homemade pasta, and good local pork. Dustin Valette's highly acclaimed kitchen occupies the building that once housed his grandparent's general store — now elegantly updated. This is a steal. 344 Center St., Healdsburg
The Sonoma Standbys
John Ash & Co.
Josh Ash has OG wine country cuisine in a comfortable setting, perfect for taking visitors. This week, it’s featuring a $39 seasonal dinner with plenty of options to upgrade. 4350 Barnes d., Santa Rosa
Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen
This corporate property offers a $39 dinner with pork cheeks or bouillabaisse, carrots or faro, and pear fritters or lemon three ways. 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
Best Bang for Your Buck
Boasting a large front yard with plenty of shady seating when the sun shines, Backyard's intelligent menu showcases exactly what is fresh and local right now. The $29 three-course dinner offers three choices per and includes the restaurant’s famous buttermilk fried chicken as well as a halibut salad and — of course — mushroom (candy cap) ice cream. 6566 Front St., Forestville, CA
Canneti Roadhouse Italiana
Tuscan chef Francesco Torre cooks local ingredients with the relish of his homeland. His $15 lunch features a tondo choice of pork shoulder and beans or grilled romaine salad followed by a house-made pasta. Take a nap in the car and then return for a $39 three-course dinner that offers three choices for primi and secondi and a brilliant duet of desserts. Don't miss the fava leaves. Yes, leaves. 6675 Front St., Forestville
Fogbelt Brewing Co.
Fogbelt's $19 dinner menu pairs each course with a four-ounce beer pour, beginning with a poached pear salad (Atlas Blonde Ale), braised short ribs over polenta with greens (Del Norte IPA), and a pear-blackberry crisp a la mode (Dyerville Giant Imperial Red Ale). 1305 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa
If the $29 resto week prix-fixe is anything like their New Year's Eve prix-fixe — in which gluttonous patrons feasted on full-price portions of everything in sight and barely staggered home with dessert resting lightly upon their gullets — this asparagus salad or trout on toast, lamb shoulder (vegetarian options available), and strawberry rhubarb crisp trio is certain to be worth way more than you're paying for. Dinner only. 401 S. A St., Santa Rosa
An Under-the Radar Option
Named for the Finistère, an area of Brittany famous for its buckwheat crepes, Bistro 29 is a tiny jewel box of a spot that pulls out the Francophilia for Restaurant Week, with a $39 menu of choices from consommé to crepes, beef to Scottish salmon, panna cotta to gateau. Of course it all begins with an amuse bouche. 620 Fifth St., Santa Rosa
Excuses to Explore
With one of the best views of Bodega Bay, Bluewater is offering a $15 two-course lunch special that starts with either mushroom bruschetta or fresh ceviche and moves on to grilled fish tacos or a slider trio of fish, chicken, and pulled pork. The $39 dinner balances charcuterie against calamari, salmon against steak, and has house-made ice cream to end. But really: the view. 21301 Heron Dr., Bodega Bay
Tucked out in Occidental, this tiny spot featuring two wood-burning ovens is owned by a husband and wife team who split duties between the savory and sweet. Which means: dessert, yes please. The $39 dinner includes schnitzel, lamb meatballs, roasted chicken, and ice cream sundaes. 3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental
Nawlins-style goodness out in the middle of nowhere (okay, Valley Ford) served up sweetly either in the charming bar, farmhouse dining room, or on the capacious back porch. The three-course $29 dinner hits collard greens and fried chicken with as much assurance as it does oysters and shrimp. And for a special final treat: elusive Buffalo gelato. 14415 California 1, Valley Ford
Fresh Spots to Try
Brand-new, un-reviewed, and with no Restaurant Week sample menu, Betty's might still be worth a try simply for its emphasis on homemade food and fresh housemade pastas. R3 Hotel, 16390 Fourth St., Guerneville
Not exactly new-new, this result of a partnership split among the Rosso Pizza and Winebar team finds customers the winners. With a $29 three-course dinner, Franchetti's offers an Italian-positive take on Wine Country dining, casual and fresh with plenty of local crab, Buffalo mozzarella, and early season strawberries where tomatoes will reside this summer. Order at the counter. 1229 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, CA
The latest from Peter Lowell, Handline takes a specific slant on SoCal fish and burger culture with an emphasis on line-caught, sustainable, and delicious. Making its own masa, Handline's tortillas are a revelation and the tacos, burgers, and chowders outstanding. With a $15 lunch and $19 dinner menu for Restaurant Week, you can't miss. Dinner, however, ends with a soft-serve cone in honor of the restauratnt’s home in a former Foster's Freeze, and that's a sweet deal, indeed. 935 Gravenstein Hwy.,
Where to Take a Chance
Flower & Bone
It just opened, it's not yet been reviewed, there is no menu or price suggestion attached to its Restaurant Week catalogue page, the photos are twee and precious, but — as brought to you by the same folks who have made the Naked Pig the world's tiniest hit — the chances for happiness here are very, very good. 640 Fifth St., Santa Rosa
You can have a meat pie, a veg pie, a sweet pie ... Pie for lunch, pie for dinner, pie for one, pie for two. 125 Petaluma Blvd. N., Suite D, Petaluma
Francis Ford Coppola's odd fantasy take on East Coast Native American cooking served cafeteria-style and featuring the poverty-based deep fry pastes of the reservation can be tried during Restaurant Week for less than $20, so this is perhaps the best time to go there. At just $15 for lunch and $19 for dinner you get a fry bread taco, some grains, and for dinner, a chance to share pine ice cream. It closes at 6 p.m., so "dinner" is relative. Virginia Dare Winery, 22281 Chianti Rd., Geyserville