'Best of' local romance (Staff Picks)
"Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."
--William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
"To err is human--but it feels divine."
Best Unlikely Place to Spend a Cozy Night
There is no shortage of romantic bed-and-breakfast spots in wine country, but none is as unusual and unexpected as the world-class B&B located upstairs at Sonoma's Ramekins Culinary Institute. As chattering students congregate below, stirring up delicious recipes, the upstairs inn--just walk up the asparagus-spindled staircase--remains quiet, elegant, and uniquely inspiring. There are five rooms--plus a large chef's suite--whimsically decorated and furnished with remarkable taste and wine-country flair, from the down-quilted four-poster beds to the open-view showers and earthenware sinks. The sheer out-of-the-ordinariness of it all makes for a surprisingly intimate romantic environment. Best of all, the prices are less than you'd pay at a lot of other places. Bonappa-sleep! 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 933-0450.--D.T.
Best Wedding Minister
The Rev. Kimberly Thompson performs weddings. Now, on the surface, this is not especially noteworthy. There are, after all, hundreds of ordained ministers working in this county who routinely perform the odd sociolegal ceremony we've come to call a wedding. What sets Thompson apart from many of the others is that she has performed weddings while on horseback, while floating far above the ground in a hot-air balloon, while scuba diving, and while bungee-jumping. She's even performed a few weddings in churches. A nondenominational minister, Thompson tailors her ceremonies to the needs and desires of her clients and is as capable of performing a religious ceremony as a purely civil one. But be warned: Thompson's services are in constant demand, so be sure to book her as far in advance as possible. Call 253-1492 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.--D.T.
Best Place to Lick Caramel Off Your Lover in Public
SMEAR. LICK. MOAN. REPEAT. This is how our dessert experience went at Syrah, the barely-a-year-old French/California cuisine heaven. We sampled several of pastry god Michael Glissman's ambrosiac concoctions, starting with the Peanut Buster, one of the desserts on his Charles Schulz tribute menu. As we spooned up mouthfuls of crunchy peanut chocolate clusters, caramel, and marshmallow goo, I couldn't help noticing what a swell crew Syrah has. Everybody seems genuinely happy to be doing the job they are doing, which can be rare in a world often staffed by grumpy and bitter wait persons. But back to the sensual sweets. Next came crunchy sour green apple slices to be twirled in a plate of housemade caramel sauce (the best I've had yet, and I'm a serious caramel connoisseur), and we got to take home a purple, cinnamon-flavored caramel lollipop each, also house-made (his was shaped like a button; I got the "hang 10" hand). All in all, a splendid experience, enhanced by the tasteful and comfy ambiance. I can't wait to go back for dinner. (For the record, folks, the love birds above are just good friends.) 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 568-4002.--S.L.
Best Place to Snuggle in a Yurt
Isis Oasis Lodge, in Geyserville, is a retreat center such as you've never seen. Unless, of course, you've been there already. While the place is elegantly functional as a conference location, with a dining pavilion and outdoor theater area, plus a main lodge that sleeps up to 80 people, the real magic of Isis Oasis lies in its, um, alternative housing possibilities. For instance, you can spend the night in a comfortable room that is actually a teepee, or in a fully furnished massive wine barrel, or in a tower, or in an Enchanted Cottage (with its own fireplace and private hot tub), or--most romantic of all--in a yurt. A yurt, inspired by a circular Central Asian nomadic dwelling, is a surprisingly charming and cozy environment for a memorable night's stay. And check out the Temple of Isis. Though you can't sleep there, the mystical feel of ancient Egypt positively seeps from the sinews of the place. 20889 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 857-ISIS.--D.T.
Best Place to Meet a Blind Date
My mom told me once that it's always a good idea to meet a blind date in the morning or early afternoon, because if you wind up hating him, you can tastefully excuse yourself without hurting feelings. Sound advice, Mom. That said, I feel that a coffee shop is an excellent meeting place. It's crowded, it's perky, there are newspapers to be read and pastries to be et. Not only does Wolf Coffee offer the strongest cuppa joe in the county, but it has a fine selection of exquisite teas, and its munchies are not to be sneezed at (I've eaten a bagel and cream cheese a day there for the last two years). There are four locations, all in Santa Rosa; after coffee, you and your date could take a stroll around the JC rose garden, visit the bridal fair in Coddingtown Mall (in the case of love at first sight), sit on the bear at Montgomery Village (still one of my favorite pastimes), or waltz to the canned music in downtown Courthouse Square. Options galore. Wolf Coffee, 1810 Mendocino Ave.; 336 Coddingtown Center; 722 Village Court; 614 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 546-WOLF.--S.L.
Best Place to Fall Head over Heels in Love
If you can keep all that pink chewy popcorn, pink lemonade, and pink puffy cotton candy in your belly where it belongs, the Zipper at the annual Sonoma County Fair can be the perfect romantic spot. You and your squeeze suffer the bonding experience of sheer terror, being upside down together, and when the ride ends, you've got the perfect excuse for clutching each other to keep from falling down. Take a sawdusty stroll down carny row and try for the big stuffed-animal prizes, get a sunburn, and rub lotion on each other. Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. 545-4200.--S.L.
Best Cheap Date
My friend's dog's new favorite words are "chow fun!" since he sampled a bit of it, cold: the leftovers from a cheap Ting Hau date. I've been going to Ting Hau Restaurant since I was in the womb (literally!), and in 21 years it's stayed consistently greasy, cheap, and delicious. Taking your lover there for lunch is always an excellent deal, because you can get a plate of almond chicken (Tuesday lunch special) heaped up more than a foot high for $3.99. Rice included. After lunch take a digestive hike around the fountain outside or walk down the quiet (except for the shouting bums) alleyway to the parking lot behind. Ain't love (and lunch) grand? 717 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 545-5204.--S.L.
Best Place to Dance by Moonlight
The gazebo in downtown Sebastopol gets plenty of use. If it's not the farmers market on Sundays or the musical acts in summer, it's the skateboarders wearing the edges of the steps down to a black, rounded sheen. But night is when the pavilion comes into its full power, as a playhouse for grown-ups, a dance floor for dreamers in all seasons. Crisp winter nights, when the breath blows white and the waltz keeps you warm; hot summer evenings, with a rare breeze blowing mists off the fountain and seeming to make rainbows around the moon. The pillars are sturdy and wide enough to shelter the most lascivious leanings, until you must either dance or find a private room. If the dark doesn't seem enough to hide your impromptu promenade, dance anyway, and thrill to the notion that some other soul, restless with desire, might see you and be inspired to his or her own semi-public act of the art d'amour.--M.W.
Best Place for Java and Romance
AH, THE JOYS OF SINGLEHOOD. No jealous other, no trying to plan your schedule around somebody else's life, all options open for a freewheeling Sonoma County denizen. A'roma Roasters and Coffeehouse is a swell place to meet other swingers in the spring. It seems like the whole town crowds around the patio tables on sunny afternoons, and what better place for poignant chatter over an icy caffeinated beverage than beautiful Railroad Square? Pull up a piece of ground and strike up a conversation, because today is the first day of the rest of your life. 95 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 576-7765.--S.L.
Best Place to Tie the Knot in Wind-Swept Nuptial Bliss
Looking for a place to get hitched? Elegant wineries and quaint inns abound. But if you want to get married on the wilder side of Sonoma County, head to Goat Rock State Park. There, on a bluff overlooking Blind Beach (ignore any metaphors that spring to mind) is a grassy expanse that has postcard-perfect views of the craggy cliffs and crashing surf of the north coast. Of course you have to get lucky and score blue skies instead of the ubiquitous coast fog. And don't pay too much for a fancy hairdo--the winds can whip up a frenzy (parasol and huppah carriers, beware). Avoid spike-heeled shoes, unless you're an expert at mincing your way down dirt trails (a good time to rely on Dad's steady arm). And pay attention to parking--nothing spoils a wedding ceremony like a ranger slapping tickets on the cars. Couples may be required to provide liability insurance coverage, depending on alcohol and catering at the event, and there is a $25 fee for the permit application. Tousled wind-blown hairstyling free of charge. Russian River State Parks and Recreation Department, 865-2391.--J.W.
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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.