Kathleen Hill: Red Grape reopens, farewell to Beni the dog...

The Red Grape unpeels

After a two-week closure for remodeling and redecorating, Carol and Sam Morphy have reopened their Red Grape with its thin crust pizzas, ample salads, and the best clam chowder around, to say nothing of hamburgers and huge stacks of truffled union rings and meatballs. But the big news is the décor – all soft grey with a marble floor, soft wood rounding the counter, new red bar chairs, new red banquets in the middle of the dining room and a huge living Ficus Benjamin on wheels that I would love to ride the length of the restaurant.

Go in and see for yourself. Same lovely employees.

Muscardini mascot celebrated

If you have ever even come close the Muscardini Cellars tasting room in Kenwood, undoubtedly you have been cuddled by Beni, Muscardini’s snugalicious Golden Retriever winery dog. After 10 months withstanding cancer, Beni passed away last week.

Beni’s life will be celebrated with a two-day party, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 21 and 22. There is no admission to the event, but visitors can donate to Pets Lifeline, and those who have pets can bring them for photos to be placed on Beni’s “friend board.”

You can purchase food from Drums and Crumbs food truck on Saturday and from the Fig Rig on Sunday. Lots of dog biscuits and treats will be available for pets. Ten percent of the weekend’s sales will go to Pets Lifeline. 1 to 5 p.m. both days. For more information, contact natalie@muscardinicellars.com.

Bollywood comes to Sonoma

Kanak Raj of Broadway Cleaners, Raj Singh of Delhi Belly Restaurant, and Deepak Gulrajani of Nicholson Ranch Winery will host a Bollywood blast Sunday, Jan. 22 at Nicholson Ranch.

Guests at the Sonoma Valley Rotary event will enjoy bottomless glasses of chardonnay and pinot noir from Nicholson Ranch, Indian-themed décor, live sitar music, a Bollywood dancer roaming among the tables, India-related videos, instruction on how to drape a sari, and a multi-course dinner from Delhi Belly. $125. 4:30 p.m. Contact susansonoma@gmail.com.

Sonoma Preservation Tour and Wine Tasting

The League for Historic Preservation will host a fundraiser on Saturday, Jan. 28 that will include three unique tour itineraries starting at Buena Vista Winery, Pangloss Cellars or Three Sticks tasting room. Each group will experience a 90-minute tour and tasting with a preservation focus.

The three tour groups will join together for lunch at another historic Sonoma location, the Depot Hotel. The day will end with an optional reception of coffee and cookies at the Sonoma League’s Heritage Center, the Henri Maysonnave House, at 5:30 p.m. The tour offers an opportunity for preservation and wine enthusiasts to experience each property with in-depth discussions on the history of each building, the extensive preservation efforts made to restore them, and enjoy wine tastings offered at each destination.

Transportation will be provided to and from Buena Vista Winery. All other historic properties are within walking or rolling distance of each other around Sonoma Plaza. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring an umbrella in case of rain. Tickets are $225. Event begins at 9:40 a.m. Park behind Sonoma Barracks. More informaiton at concierge@threestickswines.com or 996-3328, ext.1.

Martini Madness winners and creativity

Last Friday’s Martini Madness at MacArthur Place was indeed just that. Good to get there early before you can’t get through the crowd to the martini tables. And by the time a couple hundred people down an ounce of 11 “martinis,” things get a little crazy, in a good way.

This year, Saddles Steakhouse definitely cranked the food up a big notch. One room had tables of charcuterie, olives, cheeses and substantial focaccia, while the other room offered chicken wings, vegetables, meatballs and lots more. And Chef Dana Jaffe personally passed some delectable Parmesan madeleines and ceviche.

Meanwhile, since an olive is no longer required in the drink since the demise of the olive festival, local spirits producers and bartenders branched out into what seemed more like Manhattans than martinis. According to Fred Groth of Prohibition Spirits, nine of the 11 entrants used their products. Sponsors included Prohibition Sprits and Hanson Vodka of Sonoma, as well as Sprit Works Distillery of Sebastopol.

Winners were: Best Overall – Saddles Steakhouse bartender Bryan Tatum created a Doc MacArthur’s Elixir with Solano vodka, pear, basil, fresh lemon juice, agave, line olive oil, all garnished with Key Lime.

Best Garnish award went to Murphy’s Irish Pub; bartender Sade Oyedeji made a French Quarter with Hooker House bourbon, blueberry, maple and rosemary reduction, bitters, Pernod, and lemon juice with a garnish of Peychauds Pernod and rosemary and blueberry.

Hopmonk Tavern bartender Daxton Marchus won Most Creative for the Alpine Afterglow made with Chauvet Orange bandy, pears, persimmons and a clove, syrup, Figcello, Meyer lemon juice and orange flower water.

Other unusual ingredients used in the “martinis” included non-dairy whipped cream, orange brandy, Gloria Ferrer bubble floaters, a chocolate covered fig, spiced pickled apples, ginger beer, Rye Bourbon, Grand Marnier, a beignet (donut hole) and a chocolate nib with spiced-candied walnut garnish.

Sonoma in ‘New York Daily News’

Allen Salkin wrote a story in the New York Daily News last week called “Sonoma offers old California charm and new California chic,” calling it “like a throwback to an ancient French village.” Hmmm …

Obviously Salkin enjoyed his time here but didn’t see much. He did like Roche Winery’s tasting room and wine bar with “a few sips of wine and a plate of salami.” Next he ventured out to Hamel Family Wines on Highway 12, and then over to Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen, calling the latter “a country gem.”

Nibs & Sips

McDonald’s Corp. has agreed to sell the majority stake in its business in China and Hong Kong to CITIC Limited Capital Holdings and The Carlyle Group. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, CITIC will own 52 percent of the company, Carlyle will own 28 percent, and McDonald’s will own 20 percent.

The group plans to add more than 1,500 locations in China over the next five years to its 2,400 current locations in China and 240 in Hong Kong. Mickey D’s wants to ultimately operate less than 5 percent of its 36,000 “stores” around the world.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Starbucks has stopped its experiment to sell alcohol in 400 of its U.S. “stores” as of Jan. 10. Apparently the program never made it to Sonoma.

Some big snow cities in the Midwest are using a mixture of brine and organic beet juice to fend off ice and snow. Watch what snowballs you eat.

There seems to be a move to disqualify sodas and sweets as foods food stamps can purchase.

Point ‘Blanc’

The Last Wednesday Food Group will resume its get togethers at Readers’ Books on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

Our guest will be former Sonoma City Manager Pamela Gibson who will read from “Sauvignon Blanc to Sigh For.”

The hot romance is food- and wine-centric. Gibson will also read a short excerpt from “You Were Mine at Merlot” which will be available at Readers’ Books.