When looking for a place to eat in Wine Country, "charming," "rustic," "al fresco," "quaint" spots abound. For foodies looking for something different, here are five out-of-the-ordinary restaurants to try. Who's afraid of ghosts?
Okay, so dining in a hotel lobby might seem strange. But with a romantic fireplace and cozy communal tables, Zina, inside the Ledson Hotel, is a perfectly beautiful space to mau on chef Yoshiharu Sogi's six-course tasting with inflections of Japanese, French, and Sonoma County. Dishes are exquisite, service is precise, and wine pairings are hyper local—from the Zina Hyde Cunningham Winery tasting room onsite.
Pairing to try: Duo of Hama Hama oysters with 2013 Zina Hyde Cunningham Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. // 480 1st St. East (Sonoma), ledson.com
Want to eat in a haunted house? Who doesn't. Share your baby back rib eggrolls with the spirits in this recently renovated and reopened landmark restaurant known for its resident ghosts. Under the toque of new chef Jason Franey, well-heeled guests are served perfectly modern delights.
Pairing to try: Hand-cut pappardelle with young garlic, favas, pea tendrils, cherry tomatoes, and Nueske's lardons...with a Torrid Affair. The cocktail is made of Sombra mezcal, rhubarb shrub, honey, lemon, and Averna. // 500 Hartnell Street (Monterey), restaurant1833.com
The diner next to you may be an animal. At Safari West—otherwise known as the "Sonoma Serengeti"—you can grub on ranch-style barbecue in the Elephant Room, the Savannah Café (decorated with African murals and artifacts), or on the patio where an African moto (fire pit) overlooks the feeding ground for giraffes. We promise the simple seasonal fare, made by real chefs with Wine Country ingredients, is far better than anything you'll find at the zoo.
Pairing to try: House-rubbed smoked chicken and slow-roasted pulled pork shoulder with South African beers. // 3115 Porter Creek Road (Santa Rosa), safariwest.com/savannah-grill
Timber Cove Inn
It's high times when you're dining at the edge of a cliff: In Jenner, Alexander's Restaurant sits high above the Pacific Ocean, and it's so close that you might feel nervous leaning toward the floor-to-ceiling windows. The menu reads straightforward Californian, but chef William Oliver puts true, terrific flavor in Sonoma Coast cioppino and Dungeness crab cakes, both stocked with local seafood.
Pairing to try: Wild mushroom risotto (foraged onsite!) and 2012 Wayfarer Pinot Noir, Fort Ross Seaview, Sonoma Coast. // 21780 North Coast Highway 1 (Jenner), timbercoveresort.com
Lunch with pairings is ubiquitous in Napa Valley, but Del Dotto—a small production family winery—is putting a luxurious twist on the deal. For $75, chef Joshua Schwartz rolls out five courses of delicacies like caviar, lobster, American Wagyu, and truffles...and then he serves it to you in a cave, complete with barrel tastings. Currently, the experience is offered only on select dates through August.
Pairing to try: Russian Ossetra caviar pavé, with Russet potato and hen egg salad, and 2010 Bubbles Brut Sparkling Wine, Sonoma Coast. // 1445 St. Helena Hwy. South (St. Helena), deldottovineyards.com