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Posted May 2006

Farmhouse Inn Restaurant

By Heather Irwin

FORESTVILLE, CALIFORNIA—The long country road that winds toward the Farmhouse Inn is just about the perfect distance from town to reset your brain from the hard day behind you. Just off Highway 101, acres open up to vineyards and pastures on both left and right. Roll down the windows as you pass oak knolls, groves of eucalyptus and redwood crowd toward the road, perfuming their cool enclaves. Breathe in deeply as dusk sets in, cooling the senses and filling them again with sweet hay and earth as you meander into the rolling hills of Forestville.

Though it's just about 20 minutes northwest of Santa Rosa, the quiet, country setting of the Farmhouse Inn feels worlds away--or at least miles away--from everyday life: a rural retreat where the dinner bell has just been rung. One of the most lauded restaurants in Sonoma County, the Farmhouse has long been a favorite stop for both visitors and locals seeking the truest taste of the region in a setting that reflects the charm of centuries past. Using only fresh, local ingredients on his oft-changing menu, chef Steve Litke serves up French-inspired California cuisine with ingredients like foie gras, local greens, asparagus and rabbit in a family-owned ranch house that's nearly 100 years old.

The restaurant itself is little more than a few rooms in the renovated main house, simple romantic and quaint with sunny yellow walls and intimate white-linen tables and farm chairs taking up most of the room. Near the ceiling, diners can see a painted tableau of moments stolen from the family pictures.

The local tableau of ingredients is spun into creative, yet simple meals. A soup is always featured—green garlic and white asparagus ($10) when we visited and the pan-seared Sonoma foie-gras ($17), and tuna carpaccio ($15) are frequent guest stars.

Entrees change with the seasons as well, though Litke keeps Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit ($29) on the menu, which includes a smoky, meaty bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack and confit of leg with mustard sauce. Dessert is a lingering affair that almost always includes something chocolate or a dish spotlighting seasonal fruits (we tried a rhubarb and strawberry tartlet).

Getting up from the table for the ride home can be a daunting task, which is why the Farmhouse conveniently offers accommodations onsite. The Inn, itself, is a quaint, cozy spot in which to ponder, philosophize and—and most of all relax—after such a meal.  With eight luxuriously appointed rooms, the Farmhouse Inn offers additional amenities including spa treatments, featherbeds, jet tubs and just about every other room indulgence imaginable: a perfectly civilized way to end your meal.

Tip: Ask in advance if the chef is in the kitchen. On both visits, Litke was in the kitchen and we had superb meals, though we've heard that quality can sometimes (understandably) suffer on nights when the chef is elsewhere.

If you go:       

The Place: Farmhouse Inn, 7871 River Rd., Forestville, CA
Open: 5:30pm, Thursday through Monday
Service: Highly attentive, but not overbearing. The Farmhouse is known for its pampering service, and maitre d' Andreas Willausch will bend over backward to accommodate almost any request. Waiters are well-versed on what's on the menu and are good at guiding diners to the best selections.
Reservations: Highly recommended, 707-887-3300
Chef Celeb Factor: Chef Steve Litke is an alum of Healdsburg's venerated Bistro Ralph and has been at the helm for several years. Though he rarely seeks out attention and glitz, Litke is clearly one of Sonoma counties most respected chefs…and always makes the grade with Zagat, the San Francisco Chronicle and others.
Wine List: A well-thought out list that includes both locals and a solid-lineup of French whites and reds. Sommelier Geoff Kruth is a whiz, however, and a strong presence in the dining room. Use his knowledge to pair the evening's dishes impeccably.
Dress: Business casual
Price: Starters are about $12 to $18; Entrees start at $26 and top out around $35. Dinner for two, with wine: $120
Romance Factor: The intimate seating makes for a highly romantic evening; the fact that you can extend the evening and stay at the Inn makes it all the more convenient.
Kids: Not recommended

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