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Cornerstone sold; Burgers & Vine’s wild opening; Ledson’s fab new menu; Cary’s Sports Grill closes; Starbuck’s Tunisian gum; Paula Deen to rise again?

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill

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Chris Houghie and Teresa Raffo have sold Cornerstone, formerly known as Cornerstone Gardens, with the escrow scheduled to close soon.

Walter Thompson (not J. Walter Thompson) president of GenerX Real Estate Services, LLC, will manage the improvements and has impressed most tenants with his progressive passion for improving the entire property and making it “about Sonoma.”

Thompson (no relation) seems like a terrific person. A native of Toronto, Ontario, he loves Sonoma and wants to feature local food artisans, growers and artists, leading to a marketplace similar to Ferry Plaza in San Francisco or Oxbow in Napa. Seemingly with little personal ego, Thompson enthused by phone that he wants to integrate the Sonoma community into the center, saying, “If you do what’s best for Cornerstone and the community, all stakeholders will benefit. All boats will rise together.”

Bruce Riezenman of Park 121 restaurant and Park Avenue Catering (a certified Green Business) confirmed that he will now cater all events at Cornerstone, including weddings and small parties. Riezenman said, “This will allow Park Avenue Catering, Park 121 and me an even greater opportunity to become a part of the community and to continue to give back in a meaningful way. We are already involved locally with La Luz, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Vintage House senior center, Rotary, the Film Society and others. We can now do even more.”

Other tenants enthuse that Thompson exclaimed in their first meeting that, “I want this to be the coolest thing that’s happened here in 20 years.” They say he also has plans to improve and expand the professional gardens attractions and create “the gateway to Sonoma.”

Houghie was originally inspired to create Cornerstone Gardens, which feature the work of 17 to 25 creative garden designers from around the world, following several trips to France to see the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire.

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The Meadowcroft Winery tasting room at Cornerstone will feature manager and Louisiana native Phyllis Hyland’s annual Gumbo Cooking Demonstration Saturday, March 1, which will be served with a glass of wine and other temptations. A blast last year, reservations are recommended. $25, or $20 for wine club members. 934-4090.

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Burgers & Vine finally opened around 5:30 Saturday evening to an initial line of a good 50 people waiting at the corner door. Once we were let in, confusion reigned but everyone found seats while a hostess and a big guy kept more people waiting outside until others left. Co-owner Carlo Cavallo posted on Facebook that 500 people attended Saturday night and 300 on Sunday evening.

The wine barrel motif with copper trim is beautifully done, but without one piece of fabric, which raises decibels, and then guests raise voices to be heard, which raises decibels, and upward it continues.

Does a Jolly Roger (skull and cross bones) black flag now flying over the building mean they serve a Jolly Roger cocktail? Or that the U.S. hockey teams were a total sunken disaster in the Winter Olympics? The bar appeared to be a huge success. And hopefully all of this success will help neighbors, such as La Casa next door on Spain Street, and restaurants down First Street East.

No one should judge a restaurant by its “soft opening” these days. Restaurants used to put out their best food for free at “soft openings” to impress future customers. This was not free, and we should give the place a week or two to recover, get realigned, and get the rest of the menu thought out, tested and printed.

Servers offered a brief menu and insisted much more was to come. This menu notes which items are gluten-free, including super spicy Mary’s free-range chicken wings, hand-cut fries, truffle oil and Vella Mezzo Secco fries (ours never came), and sweet potato fries ($3 to $5).

The basic burger consists of one-third pound of Niman Ranch beef on an ale bun or potato bun, bread and butter pickles, tomatoes, butter lettuce, a slice of red onion and choice of Sonoma Creamery (David Viviani) cheeses ($8), with gluten free or brioche buns $1 extra.

“Signature burgers” included an Asian vegan burger made with edamame, shiitake mushrooms, cashews and garbanzo beans on a gluten-free bun, a Diestel turkey burger with herb goat cheese on a potato sesame bun, a wild Alaskan salmon burger with ginger lime aioli on a Basque Dutch crunch roll and a surf ’n turf made with Kobe(-style) beef, four small prawns and truffle aioli on a brioche bun ($10 to $16).

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By contrast, the elegant French café ambiance at Ledson’s Centre du Vin bistro, has a new late winter menu perked up by chef de cuisine Thomas Meuleners, working with general manager and executive chef Justin Bruckert.

Now that winter has arrived, hopefully, you might want to slip into Ledson’s for an excellent and ample dungeness crab cake ($13), a delicious risotto croquette with lamb ragout and roasted tomato sauce ($13), shoestring French fries either with truffle oil and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or blue cheese butter ($5 to $6).

I guarantee you that on a rainy day, the fall-off-the-bone tender, red-wine braised beef short ribs (which are hard to find), will warm the cockles of your heart and a few other places. The accompanying creamy Parmesan polenta, caramelized wild mushrooms and sauce are probably better than your mother or grandmother used to make, unless you are Italian, which I am not ($26). 480 First St., E., Sonoma. 996-9779. Centreduvin.com. Corkage $20. Full bar.

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Local ranchers seem pleased at the prospect of Marin Sun Farms buying the shut-down Rancho Feeding Co. slaughterhouse in Petaluma. They trust Marin Sun Farms to do everything right and look forward to working even more closely with owner David Evans. While Evans is best known for growing grass-fed cattle, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he has to resort to grain since there isn’t enough pasture grass to support his (or other ranches’) cattle. He also hopes to rehire most of those who worked at Rancho before it was shut down by the USDA. ABC News claimed Wednesday that Rancho had processed some cancerous cattle.

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Judy Baker fundraiser: Join in the joyous cancer fight of Judy Baker, whose friends, husband, Garry, and other family, will cook a delicious meal of “gratitude gumbo,” delightful dirty rice, appreciation pie, radical self-care red velvet cake, happiness hush puppies and rocking recognition ribs” at Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club Saturday, March 8. Who can resist that spirit? All to help Judy Baker with peritoneal cancer expenses. You can just, straight-out donate to help at conta.cc/LinRku or send check to Judy Mae Baker c/o Bank of the West, 201 W. Napa St., Sonoma. More info via Garry Baker at 938-8844 or glb@glbarchitects.com. Event 3 to 6 p.m. 574 First St. E., Sonoma.

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So there I was at Starbuck’s and eyed their new brown-wrapper, “peppermint naturally and artificially flavored after-coffee gum,” skillfully placed in the impulse purchase area on the back of the cash register. But then isn’t everything at Starbuck’s. It was a splurge at $2.25. The wrapper also says, “sugar-free gum not a low calorie food.” I guess that means you’re not supposed to swallow it.

Let’s see. It contains 18 pieces, as does a package of Eclipse minty gum, at half the price.

Aha! The Starbuck’s package says on the back in fine, fine print “manufactured for Starbuck’s Coffee Company” in Seattle. That would be the packaging, apparently, because it also says, “Gum manufactured in Tunisia.” Let’s see again. Eclipse is made by the “Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company” in Chicago.

OK. So Starbuck’s, the supposedly environmentalist purveyor of coffee and tea, is flying gum from Tunisia all the way to the United States and Sonoma. That must be why it costs twice as much. Got a better reason?

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Cary’s Sports Grill seems to have closed, completely. A peek in the smudged windows showed a partially torn up old wooden floor, no people, a white sweater hanging on a bar chair, and stacks of baseball books on tables. Both the website and phone are disconnected.

The Arnold Drive beer and burger joint started out great, as did several other occupants of the location next to the golf driving range. We hope for them success in whatever adventure is next.

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The fireside chat scheduled for tonight, Feb. 28, with Lodge at Sonoma Carneros Bistro sommelier, Christopher Sawyer, and Ravenwood’s founder Joel Petersen has been canceled.

But Ravenswood’s Wine Club pick-up and barbecue will rock the hillside Saturday, March 1, with great food and beverages. New wine club members welcome. 1 to 3:30 p.m. $25 non-members, $15 club members. Same RSVP required.

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Christopher Sawyer will also be one of seven sommeliers from around the country invited to Raymond Vineyards, selected by Jean-Charles Boisset and his director of winemaking Stephanie Putnam, to “help make the final blend of the Sommelier Selection Cabernet Sauvignon” on March 3 and 4, according to Sawyer.

Then he will lead a seminar at the Pinot Noir Summit at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco March 9. All this after taking his wife, Simone, and son, Rupert, on a great vacation to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Carmel Valley, Big Basin State Park, and the Roaring Camp Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Well, maybe a few winery stops along the way.

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Glen Ellen Star chef Ari Weiswasser will step out of his Glen Ellen kitchen and into The Epicurean Connection on Wednesday, March 5, to prepare a dinner hosted by Sheana Davis. Guests will enjoy spring Sonoma lamb confit, marinated Glen Ellen fava beans, creamy polenta with black olive oil, and Glen Ellen Star’s deliciously rich and creamy assorted ice cream flavors. $55 inclusive, wine or beer extra. 6 to 8 p.m. 122 W. Napa St., Sonoma. Reserve at 935-7960 or sheana@vom.com.

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Nibs & Sips: 

Peet’s Coffee & Tea plans to open 20 new stores in Washington, D.C., this spring, converting Caribou Coffee locations to the Peet’s brand … Black Bear Diner has donated two $50 gift certificates to the Sonoma Valley Democrats to be raffled, benefitting the Gerald N. Hill Scholarship in History at Sonoma Valley High School … Katie Holden, who recently left the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley after many years, just joined former club president Marchelle Carleton and her husband, Curt, in their successful Carleton Group business, which supplies hospitals with large medical equipment. Holden steps in as “project manager” and is delighted to learn something new and to work with such great people.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, former Y’all Food Network star Paula Deen has raised upward of $75 million to reinvent herself as Paula Deen Ventures for television, through Najafi Cos., owned by Jahm Najafi of BMG Music Service and Book-of-the-Month Club. While Paula Deen Ventures says they are talking to television networks and others, the Food Network says not us, baby.

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See y’all next week.

  • David Ian

    Saw the writing on the wall for Cary’s soon after they opened, crappy food, lousy service [one of the servers tried to keep my $30 change out of a $50]. I haven’t heard many positive reviews, mostly all like mine.