It must have been in the stars this month, as three things happened that put Olive & Vine on my radar: 1) Sommelier and co-Owner John Burdick won the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma 2015 award for best Culinary/Restaurant service in Sonoma; 2) browsing Trip Advisor I noticed it was rated the 7th best restaurant in the county meaning it’ll most likely win the travel review website’s 2015 Certificate of Excellence; and 3) my pal Lauren sent me an email: Neighborhood Night was Wednesday and the menu looked awesome. And it was just that: awesome.
Every Wednesday is Neighborhood Night at Olive & Vine: for $28 diners can enjoy a two-course prix fixe menu, which is generally a salad, coupled with a protein-centric entree. Corkage is free, so most people BYOB. It’s a hot ticket in the Valley: locals clamor to score reservations for a primo romantic two top or a large group table in the middle of the dining room. There is also the first come first serve bar that is a behemoth of a wood with a great view of the dining area. We scored a two top that provided a great observation point of the whole restaurant, including what is probably the largest open kitchen in Sonoma County. From our table we could watch Chef and Co-Owner Catherine Venturini hold court. Like a ballerina, she dances from kitchen station to station, perfectly coordinated with her kitchen staff. We were greeted by Maya, our energetic server for the night, who provided us full menus and the specials for the night. While there were many tasty options on the menu, we were here on a mission: the local’s special. I suggest you ask for it – you’ll feel more like an insider.
We started with a salad of local Sonoma spinach and arugula topped with tangerines, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), Cotija cheese, and citrus vinaigrette. I’m not a big arugula fan, as it’s often too bitter for my taste buds, but, tonight, this was the perfect salad. The dressing, cheese, and pumpkin seeds added a perfect amount of sweetness and saltiness, and the tangerines were the diamonds hidden in the mine – a delightful treat at the end of each bite. I took an excessively long time to eat the salad, to the point where I found myself apologizing to my dinner guest, Lauren, for taking so long. It was indeed, an awesome salad. I ate every last bit, picking up the last vestige of cheese with my fingers as the plate was cleared. Venturini has converted me to an arugula fan – as long as she’s making the salad. I’m not over-exaggerating; this was a really good salad.
The salad paired perfectly with the 2013 Pine Ridge Encantado Rosé that Lauren brought from home. It was crisp, clean and had the right amount of strawberry juiciness you expect from a rosé. While we enjoyed our salad, we met the ballerino to Venturini the ballerina, John Burdick. Burdick runs the front of the house – dancing like a firecracker through the tables, greeting each guest and making everyone feel like they just walked into his house for a party. His energy is infectious, and it’s no wonder he was awarded the CANVAS Award for Sonoma this year. Burdick and Venturini get it: they know the locals are the bread and butter to having a successful restaurant in Sonoma Valley. One minute Burdick would be pouring a wine and talking tasting notes sommelier-style with a local winemaker’s table and the next minute he was escorting an elderly visitor to her car, arm and arm. Suffice to say, we were impressed.
We were worn out just watching Burdick work his magic, so by the time the entree came we were ready to dive in: Guajillo (a type of chili pepper) grilled Niman Ranch flap steak with a housemade vegetarian chile tamale, Rancho Gordo beans, red rice, tomatillo avocado salsa, and grilled corn. If I didn’t know Venturini was in the kitchen, I would have thought Rick Bayless would have been in town, cooking one of his famed contemporary Mexican meals. The steak was good, albeit mine was a bit more cooked than Lauren’s, which was a perfect medium rare. But, it was still tender and tasty and when you topped it with a touch of salsa it was really flavorful. The tamale was stuffed with masa and a mild pepper. It was comforting in its flavor and texture, in the way that mashed potatoes are. The grilled corn was a treat, with some spiciness and salt seasoning giving a nice kick.
As if that wasn’t enough, we opted for dessert. We ordered a cheese plate, after seeing one pass by the table earlier, which was masterfully crafted. Ours did not disappoint. Four cheeses, dried apricots and figs, bread, apples and super tasty salted almonds. Something for everyone on the cheese plate, all Sonoma County cheese, from blue to brie. It was a perfect way to wrap up a delicious evening.
Olive & Vine is open Wednesday-Sunday starting at 5:30pm, with neighborhood night taking place every Wednesday. Reservations are recommended. 996-9152, 14301 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen. oliveandvine.com