Kathleen Hill: Martini Madness gets its swizzle sticks stirring

Martini Madness coming

Martini Madness brings its great martini competition and tasting to Saddles Steakhouse at MacArthur Place again on lucky Friday, Jan. 13.

This year’s event is sponsored by local distillers Prohibition Spirits, Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka, and Spirit works Distillery. Guests will watch bartenders get themselves and their martinis shaken up, taste all the martini concoctions, and vote for the best martini garnish, most creative martini and best overall martini.

Ten local bartenders will compete in the olive-inspired shindig, originally associated with Sonoma Valley’s now defunct “Season of the Olive” promotional series of events. Without the olive festival, bartenders no longer have to include an olive and are released to be as creative as they can dream.

Bartenders from Saddles, the Girl & the Fig, Murphy’s Irish Pub, Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Starling Bar, HopMonk Tavern, Sonoma Grille, BV Whiskey Bar, Carneros Bistro and Aventine have signed up to compete so far.

Saddles executive chef Dana Jaffe and crew prepare substantial appetizers in a tasty attempt to keep people relatively sober. $45, dinner package $95 for three-course dinner. 5 to 7 p.m. 29 E. MacArthur St. macarthurplace.com.

Last Minute Christmas Dinner opportunities

Holy you know what! It’s only two days away. And you don’t have any plans?

In addition to last week’s suggestions of where you and yours might enjoy eating out Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, here are two more restaurants whose information came in after last week’s deadline.

Black Bear Diner will be open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for more or less “traditional” turkey and fixings.

Sonoma Grille will serve an à la carte menu adding a steamed lived Dungeness crab, and a steamed live Maine lobster, several fish entrées, prime rib and surf and turf on Christmas Day. Reserve at 938-7542.

Or order at a grocery store or serve yourselves from Sonoma Market’s hot table.

Cocoa Planet update

Cocoa Planet chocolate factory and cafe on Broadway at MacArthur made its 1,000th sale last Saturday in the first six weeks it has been open. That includes selling about 800 chocolates a day, plus café receipts, which might include more than one customer. Open Thursday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday they have to close to make chocolates. cocoaplanet.com.

Jack London Saloon Christmas party

Last Wednesday’s annual Christmas party at Glen Ellen’s Jack London Saloon felt “more like a final night” to some of the regulars who packed the place to down a few beers and martinis and indulge in the generous free buffet dinner.

Linda Richards repeated her mantra that “it just felt like the right time to sell” when Mehul Patel, 38, of Danville, approached her after several years of offers. She introduced Patel who said he didn’t plan to change anything for now. Richards’ improvements during her tenure have been welcomed, from the flowers, patio and deck in back to the bar food and good hamburgers.

The buffet seemed to never run out of Caesar salad, fresh rolls and butter, creamy polenta, roast beef, and chicken thighs and drumsticks for hundreds who filled the old “Wolf House” dining room and bar.

“Everyone” was there, from truck drivers discussing union issues to photographers, techies, wine workers, poets, Benzigers, parade organizers and Tommy Smothers. Mounds of popcorn arrived before you scraped the bottom of the wooden bowl, as always, and there seemed to be a few more olives in martinis than usual. And lots of discussion of how Glen Ellen can get more political clout, again.

We remember ages ago when Bill Wallace and daughter Pam fired up excellent steaks and drinks served by appropriately sassy waiters (not servers then) who kept even my mother coming back for more.

Sonoma Market update

Some customers have noticed the absence of favorite staff members Joyce and George. Joyce, the great soul who hosts the sample table, had foot surgery a couple of weeks ago, and George just had hand surgery last Friday. Hope to see them again in six to eight weeks.

Pop-up cheese

Sheana Davis, aka the Epicurean Connection, will host a pop-up raclette party on Thursday, Dec. 29 at Starling Bar where she will serve the traditional raclette of cheese made with Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.’s San Geronimo cheese, chicken sausages, Willie Bird smoked Turkey, tomato tortellini, brioche rolls and winter vegetables. According to Davis, Fred Johnson will create some specialty cocktails to go with the raclette. $20. 6 to 9 p.m. 19380 Highway 12, Sonoma. RSVP to Starling Bar at 938-7442.

La Hacienda Taqueria & Grill expands

With business exploding out the door after its remodel and subsequent fire and another remodel, La Hacienda is adding a 68-seat patio in part of its parking lot. Since the location faces northwest, hopefully it won’t be too hot in the summer, and a short wall and coverage will hopefully protect customers from cars turning into the parking lot. The new dining area doubles the restaurant’s seating capacity.

Sonoma Speaker Series sounds off

Kathy Witkowicki, clinical psychologist Wendy von Wiederhold, longtime NPR correspondent John McChesney, and CBS and ABC journalist Alex Chadwick’s Sonoma Speaker Series hit the highest note possible earlier this month with Randy Thom. The winner and nominee for several Oscars from “Apocalypse Now” to “Forrest Gump,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles” and many more taught everyone about the “layering of sound” by singling out weeds blowing, guns firing, actors screaming and bullets flying, and adding them back together in the making of “Apocalypse Now.” He now works at Skywalker Ranch. Many of us will never hear a movie the same way again.

Idell Family, Random Ridge, Hughes, Muscardini and Sonoma-Loeb all donated their wines and all profits went to A Homeless Inn, several locations across the U.S. where foster and post-foster kids can get mental and emotional help. The hosts served substantial charcuteries, cheeses and bread, which many attendees made into dinner.

The next speaker will be New York Times writer John Markoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who will talk about how artificial intelligence could affect our lives over the next 10 to 20 years. Readers’ Books will sell his latest book, “The Machines of Saving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots,” at Hanna after the presentation on Monday, Feb. 6. Tickets $35 or $75 VIP. The latter includes wine and appetizers from the Girl & the Fig. sonomaspeakerseries.com/upcoming-events/

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and everything else to all.