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Posted May 2006

Finding Fieri in Sonoma

The Next Food Network Star finds fame, but locals are familiar with his high-energy cooking style.

SONOMA—We've been cheering for Guy Fieri around our house for weeks. Not only because the now-crowned Next Food Network Star is from our hometown of Santa Rosa, but because my kids think his spiky gelled hair is totally rockin'. Okay, that and the fact that they think the Johnny Garlic's fries (Fieri is a part-owner) we get every year at the fairgrounds are about the best thing since Spongebob Squarepants.

So, yes, we're well-familiar with Guy's cooking around these parts. In fact, though a brush with Fieri himself may be harder to come by, now that he's become a television celebrity, eating at his restaurants are a breeze, here in Sonoma County. That is, if you can handle things like sushi with French Fries, or spicy lava chipotle shrimp, which among the more adventurous things on Fieri's diverse menus.

Coming to Wine Country, there are plenty of places to dine out, but Guy Fieri has just added yet another. If you come, seeking out his spicy grub, you can visit any of his three restaurants dotted around the Santa Rosa area—the gateway city to Wine Country, about an hour north of San Francisco. Keep in mind, they're each a lot like Guy himself: flashy and fun; creative and interesting in the kitchen (though sometimes a little confounding) and maybe a little over-the-top, but all and all a good time.

Tex Wasabi's:

Part disco, part rock and roll sushi, Tex Wasabi's is a favorite watering hole for local college students most nights. If you're seeking food, however, the menu is a confounding mix of barbeque and sushi. Yes, you heard that right. The menu features southern style bbq dishes like pulled pork sandwiches and ribs right along side a variety of creative "California style" sushi—mostly cooked stuff like tempura shrimp, eel and the occasional raw hamachi thrown in for good measure. Those nervous about sushi can peruse the "gringo sushi" menu that includes a bbq and French-fry roll that would have most Japanese gasping in horror, but is actually pretty darned, well…if not good, at least interesting. The décor is upscale funk, but this is definitely a jeans and t-shirt kind of place. It's Fieri's place, after all. You'll do well to try and eat on the early side, as later in the evening the music cranks up and wobbly young drinkers like to shake their grove things a little too close to you martini glass. Outdoor seating is available during nicer times of the year. One downside: As the evening wears on, bouncers can sometimes get a bit nasty and refuse to let accompanied women enter with their dates, even though the place is all but empty. We're sure Guy would never approve such silliness. Because of the bar-like environment, it's not recommended as a place kids would feel especially welcome. 515 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.544.TEXX.                   

Johnny Garlic's:

Another local favorite, Johnny Garlic is located just north of Santa Rosa in the small town of Windsor. It's a terrific lunch spot to meet friends, featuring lots of fresh pasta dishes, pizzas, grilled meats and creative salads like the Hidden Chicken, Crouching salad that's a spin on traditional Asian salads, as well as their famous Caesar. Johnny Garlic's also has a catering arm and is a popular entry at most public events in Sonoma County (don't miss the garlic fries). Kids welcome. 8988 Brooks Rd. So., Windsor, 707.836.8300.

Russell Ramsey's Chop House:

Simple, unpretentious steak is the name of the game here. The menu features steakhouse standbys like onion rings, calamari and a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese dressing, as well as simply-fired steaks and fish. Like most of Fieri's places, the restaurants turn into an after-hours scene once the diners have cleared out. The bar features a wide range of "usual suspect" local wines—meaning if you have a local favorite like Sonoma Cutrer, Kunde or Kendall Jackson, you'll likely find it on the menu. Of all of Fieri's restaurants, this is the most upscale, and may not be a good fit for smaller kids. It's trendy and fun, but not especially romantic if you're looking for a quiet hideaway. 1460 Farmer's Lane, Santa Rosa, 707.571.1800.

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