Postcard From Tom: Sonoma, California

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Move over, Napa. When it comes to great places to eat in Northern California's wine country, Sonoma is garnering some of the best reviews. And no town in the county claims more interesting choices than Healdsburg.

BARNDIVA (231 Center St., 707-431-0100)

The diva(s) in the title are the dozens of area farmers and growers who provide the "barn" with the raw ingredients for a short but worldly menu. For your consideration: kimchi-wrapped pork balls, steak frites, ceviche and goat cheese croquettes with housemade tomato jam. Painted a cheery red and two stories tall, the family-run restaurant looks like an actual barn from the outside, though the airy interior is as contemporary as they come. Entrees $18-$26.95.

CYRUS (29 North St., 707-433-3311 )

The most talked-about (and elegant) restaurant in Sonoma unites a veteran Bay Area host, Nick Peyton, with an inspired young chef, Douglas Keane. Peyton kicks off the evening with a champagne and caviar cart, explaining each course like a great tour guide; Keane sends out compelling flavors, running from Thai marinated lobster with fresh hearts of palm to red wine risotto, rich with a Parmesan froth and shaved truffles. Four-course tasting menu $75.

WILLI'S SEAFOOD & RAW BAR (403 Healdsburg Ave., 707-433-9191)

Name a favorite fish dish and chances are you'll find it in this friendly retreat. Soft-shell crabs slip into BLTs, catfish fills "tacos" made from lettuce cups, chopped clams decorate a bacon- and garlic-topped flatbread and tuna tartare is perked up with ginger and jalapenos. Funky music, a leafy patio and primitive art suggest you're dining at the beach -- as does the rum-and-pineapple punch laced with cilantro. Small plates $4-$13.50.

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