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Posted May 2006

El Dorado Kitchen

Perfectly Poolside, This Sonoma Restaurant Is a Summer Haven for Visitors and Locals.

By Heather Irwin

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA—Sipping wine poolside is a luxury afforded to few of us, though I'm happy to take a turn at it from time to time—imagining myself to be one of the beautiful people, if just for a few happy gulps. Hold my calls. Gulp. No autographs, please. Gulp. Yes, darling, I will marry you and your fortune. Gulp.

It's a reverie that's within reach at El Dorado Kitchen, which opened in 2005 in the former Il Piatti on Sonoma's town square. Grab a glass of rose and head out to the patio, which is a rather decadent place to plant your self from May through October—shaded by large umbrellas during the day and open to the stars come evening, not to mention the pool just feet from your table (which, when gulping wine, one may want to be attentive to).

Located inside the El Dorado Hotel, the restaurant is a favorite of travelers looking for a unique Wine Country dining experience featuring upscale California cuisine and a chef with impressive chops. Hailing from such hotspots as Thomas Keller's French Laundry (in Yountville) and Per Se (in New York), chef Ryan Fancher's food has the precision and delicacy of Keller's. The menu is an ode to seasonality, as well, with a recent dinner including asparagus soup with lemon oil, mache salad with picked rhubarb and expertly pan-seared halibut: late spring on a plate. But there are standby's, as well, that work through all seasons, like duck breast, perfectly pillowed raviolis, salmon, and a delicate fritto misto—tempting little artichokes and green beans with garlic aioli.

The interior of the restaurant has recently undergone a pricey facelift, rendering it sleek and contemporary with nice plenty of natural materials—long wooden tables and bright open windows—that keep it from feeling stark. But despite an open kitchen and close-together tables, the noise level is kept at bay by well-thought-out sound barriers.

Outside, the tables are more casual, as is service, making it a good choice for lunch, brunch, or cocktails. You may end up feeling a little put off by the t-shirt and shorts-types who flock outside if you happen to be planning a quiet, romantic night. Inside is a more staid choice for business or intimate dinners.

Either way, don't miss the creative cocktail menu that includes a signature mojito made with lime, mint leaves, rum and soda, the peach jalapeno  (slice jalapeno peppers, peach vodka, lime juice and white cranberry), or a perfectly poolside sipper: muddled blackberries, crème de cassis, lemon-lime soda, bourbon and fresh lemon juice. Just mind the pool, darling.

If you go:

The Place: El Dorado Kitchen, 405 W. First Street, Sonoma, CA.
Open: 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5:30pm to 10pm (bar menu to 11pm). Bar open 11am to last call.
Service: Exceptional to fumbling. Though our dining experience was comparable to some higher end restaurants, several tables around us waited for drinks, meals and desserts. Several times dishes or large trays were dropped.
Reservations: Recommended. 707.996.3030.
Chef Celeb Factor: Chef Ryan Fancher was sous-chef for Thomas Keller's French Laundry and helped to open Per Se in New York. He's taken some hits for inconsistency in the kitchen, though for the most part, his food has clean, fresh flavors and the precision of Keller. Desserts can be less lustrious.
Wine List: Mostly regional wines, with few exceptions. With Fancher's food, sometimes big, fruity Californian wines can struggle and even dominate.
Dress: Casual
Price: Starters are about $8 to $11; Entrees start at $17 and top out around $26. Dinner for two, with wine: $85-100
Romance Factor: Head inside if you're getting really romantic, as the outdoors can have a more casual, touristy feel. However, there's nothing like dining under the stars.
Kids: Best for outside.

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