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Posted July 2006

Syrah Restaurant

Syrah Restaurant


By Heather Irwin

SANTA ROSA—The trouble with really great restaurants in Santa Rosa, like pretty much everywhere else, is that they rarely stick around more than a year or so. There was 707, and before that, the well-intentioned Popina. There was Mixx, and Café Lolo, Lisa Hemenway's--all now long-gone, or so radically transformed as to not be recognizable.

Insider Tip

Call ahead to see if Josh is in the kitchen for that extra special touch.


But in it's seventh year (gasp, shock), Syrah Restaurant (205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707.568.4002) is aging gracefully, and showing no signs of slowing down. A favorite of many locals, the California-French cuisine has remained innovative, yet classic throughout the years, using simple ingredients and local, seasonal produce.

Headed up by chef Josh Silvers and his wife, Regina, the restaurant is broken into two areas: an intimate front room, dominated by the open kitchen and a bar running the length of the back wall, and a sort of faux-alfresco area, that is essentially a large indoor hallway. I'm not as fond of the hallway, as it can be a bit noisy and, during early evening, the nearby hair salon patrons are coming in and out fairly frequently. If you're looking for romantic, quiet dining, the bustling bistro atmosphere may leave you a bit cold.

But what makes Syrah a perennial favorite is the food. I've had friends call me up, breathless, after a meal of Liberty duck, just to gloat about their meal. Almost always on the menu, the duck varies seasonally with a variety of sauces and preparations—from a wintery pairing with braised chard, to a lighter fruit-reduction sauce in spring and summer months. Other favorites typically on the menu are salmon, lamb, pork chops and a seafood selection of shrimp or mussels (depending on the season).

And where many restaurants go astray—the small plates or appetizers—are actually where Syrah has a special aptitude. I've been known to skip the entrée altogether and make a meal out of soup and a couple small plates. Soups can be hit or miss, however. A recent chilled asparagus soup, served up with blanched spears of asparagus was bland and uninteresting. Other heartier soups, however, can be soul-satisfying. Salads are simple, but well-done, including nearly naked butter-leaf lettuce and Caesar. Make a beeline, however, for the seasonal preparation of foie gras. Josh has a special touch with this silky, often-seared or terrined delicacy. Also, don't miss the crab cakes, which are some of the best in the county.

Desserts can be hit and miss. We recently tried a Meyer lemon tart that left us cold, despite its rather stunning presentation with raspberry coulis and tiny spikes of meringue. Instead, head for a cheese plate, loaded with local cheeses like Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, Redwood Hill Farm's Crottin or goat cheese from Laura Chenel.

We'd be remiss in not mentioning the extensive wine list. Silvers has put together a collection that leans heavily on local, Sonoma County wines, but delves deep into Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, as well as bringing in the best of France, New Zealand, Australia and destinations beyond. The list is enjoyable to read, listing both by varietal, and including some lesser-known types in the "Interesting Reds" and "Interesting Whites" sections. By-the-glass choices are limited, but solid.

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