Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
Housed in a comfortable roadhouse along Highway 12, the Vineyards Inn offers meals in its rustic dining room, fireside at the bar or on the grapevine-covered patio in warmer weather. But diners will have more decisions to make than where to sit; the menu is huge and ranges from raw ahi poki to pasta to pot stickers to enchiladas. Once a Mexican restaurant, the Vineyards Inn retains some Mexican dishes but now bills itself as a bar and grill with "flavors of Spain." It also, the menu assures, tries to be "as green as possible and raise most of our (certified organic) vegetables."
We settled at a table in the warm patio and ordered the house margarita with Sauza Silver ($7), blended, no salt. It was perfectly balanced between sweet and tart. A glass of house red, the restaurant's own organically grown and produced Slanted Bench Primativo Zinfandel ($4.50) was disappointingly acidic.
Wary of the overwhelming variety of choices, we settled on sharing a meal of tapas, chef Esteban's specialty. We started with the recommended ceviche ($11), and were wowed by the super-fresh albacore and black cod diced with home-grown pico de gallo salsa and avocados on a crispy tortilla. Warm stuffed artichoke crowns ($14) filled with Dungeness crab, bay shrimp, green onions and grated Spring Hill organic dry jack had a nice mix of flavors, but the fire shrimp ($9), two six-shrimp skewers, were dry and only mildly spicy.
I bravely ordered the Basque crispy chicken liver salad ($11), thinking that it would feature small crispy pieces of meat, but the pieces were too large to get a crisp bite. Served on romaine with Rose Ranch basil vinaigrette, something more than salad was needed to balance the overpowering liver taste, so I paired it with bites of delicious, fresh red onion rings ($6), battered and flash-fried to a non-oily crispness. Chorizo bocadillo ($8) was made with tasty, grilled homemade Spanish sausage on fresh baguette slices, with diced tomato and a dab of aioli.
We finished the meal with a piece of cheesecake ($6) in a German graham cracker crust, but missed the promised garnish of organic Kenwood strawberry sauce. No fresh fruit was available except oranges, so we opted for a drizzle of chocolate sauce, which was a good choice, as the cheesecake was as dry as billed.
With a menu as vast and varied as the Vineyard Inn's, another visit—or three—is in order.
The Vineyards Inn Bar & Grill, 8445 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday–Monday. 707.833.4500.
Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.