Sonoma Raceway’s new cuisines; BottleRock food; Aventine coming; Pirate flag gone; Kids cooking camp

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill


Big stuff is going on at Sonoma Raceway, and it isn’t on the track.

Steve Page and Victoria Campbell are on their way to possibly changing the food culture of auto racing.

Page persuaded Levy Restaurants of Chicago, who cater all of the major raceways throughout the U.S., to hire Campbell, who had worked at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn as director of catering for eight years and managed the clubhouse at the golf course for three years.

While others among us were talking loudly about creating organic school gardens, the San Francisco Giants were boasting in the media about planting a garden, the professional twosome were planting an organic garden at the raceway. With consultation from Lydia Constantini of Sonoma Mission Gardens and a little from me, they and staff got the soil and planter boxes ready just below the water tank against the hillside to the west of the track.

After I enjoyed an excellent chicken breast sandwich ($8.50 with fries) in the Raceway Café with Campbell last week we went to the garden and found Chef Jake Mickus on his knees planting more veggies for this year’s race season. He and Campbell have rototilled some of the flat dirt and are adding space for a farm-style in-the-ground garden as well. Yes, the raceway chef really was planting vegetables to serve at Sonoma Raceway.

Raceway vegetables will be served in the VIP areas and suites, as well as at their indoor Raceway Café, the new Sears Point Taqueria, Sears Point Grill and Sonoma Farmstead coffee stand. NASCAR foodies need not worry – deep fried Twinkies will still be available.

At the Taqueria, you can get street tacos, Sonoma Loco Quesadilla with carne asada or chicken tinga, a taco bowl, loaded salsa bar and imported and American beer, margaritas and soft drinks. Sonoma Farmstand will feature artisan pastries, a conewich meaning a Caesar of turkey cobb salad in a fresh bread cone, healthy kids’ meal, and gluten free chips and gummy bears along with iced tea and Coca Cola beverages.

At the Sears Point Grill you can actually get a Niman Ranch Vella Daisy Cheddar burger or hamburger, a beer and bacon barbecue bratwurst, chips, garlic fries, beers and Coca Cola beverages. Enjoy!

If you want to try going to NASCAR Sunday, June 22, Lucky Market has the best deal on tickets.


Meanwhile, “back home in Indiana,” as the song goes, at the Indianapolis 500 last weekend guests could purchase crab rangoon (a crab-stuffed wonton) vegetable lo-mein, shish kebab, a Po’ Boy sandwich with pork, shrimp or catfish, or “a walking taco” with chili, cheese and corn chips; all $5 to $7.


Ramekins Culinary School offers a Kids Cooking Camp, open to anyone age 7 to 12 from June 16 through June 19. The fun teacher and Ramekins Chef Ambassador Lisa Lavagetto, young grandmother to several, will lead the kids on their own culinary adventure.

Kids of all abilities are welcome to learn in Ramekins’ kitchen to make breakfasts, pastas, learn kitchen skills and techniques, baking, and all American favorites such as whoopee cookies, mac ‘n’ cheese from scratch, lemon bars, pizza and healthy chicken fingers. Very hands-on. $350 for the week, food included. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 933-0450. ramekins.com.


When it opens in June, you might enjoy trying Aventine, the new restaurant at the old Grist Mill in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village. This is the fourth restaurant created by the Alioto-Veronese family, including chef Adolfo Veronese, Gian-Paulo Veronese, and “adopted son” and family friend Rodrigo Nevado.

The Veroneses are the sons of attorney Angela Alioto and the late Adolfo Veronese, and the grandsons of the late Angelina and Mayor Joe Alioto of San Francisco. They have done a marvelous spiff up of the restaurant, pouring money and time into the effort to make it ideal for long meals and parties. But the old restroom is still not accessible, since apparently they were given a hardship dispensation in the old building.

I took cookbook author Paula Wolfert along for the small press dinner and the evening’s tasting menu was truly fabulous. We each received a bowl of popcorn popped in black truffle oil with a little Parmesan and Italian parsley, preceded by Moet & Chandon champagne. Next tasting plate bore a sautéed jumbo shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and a divine Balsamic glaze served with B.R. Cohn’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; followed by a small meatball stuffed with mozzarella, basil pesto and golden raisins served on excellent soft organic polenta with Verotto pinot noir.

The seared Maine day boat scallop was perfect on faro salad with roasted bell peppers and with crispy parsnips paired with Sam Sebastiani’s La Chertosa Reserve Chardonnay (label by Patti Britton), followed by a boneless short rib, spinach and potato purée and topped with fried celery root ribbons with Dane Cellars 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel. We all moved to the deck for butterscotch pana cotta with salt and shaved milk chocolate accompanied by a light Passito Acinidoro Moscato by La Montecchia, Veneto.

Don’t forget Catherine Venturini’s Olive & Vine and Yeti, long established and popular in Jack London Village.


Carlo Cavallo announced in Friday’s Index-Tribune that he would, indeed, close Sonoma Meritâge Martini Oyster Bar & Grill on Saturday, June 8. He says he will be “cooking some of my best dishes every evening in the form of” three- and five-course meals until then.

Things do change, and they apparently did since he denied that rumor a while ago. A couple of months can be a lifetime in health, politics and the food business.

It can be difficult running two bar/restaurants in the same town or Valley, sometimes competing with yourself. Many have tried here, and the only person to accomplish that feat is brilliant Sondra Bernstein. She knew when to cut losses and move on from some of her “babies,” and has succeeded royally with the girl & the fig on the Plaza, the fig café in Glen Ellen and the girl & the fig caters.

Cavallo has removed his controversial Jolly Roger pirate flag over Burgers & Vine and has replaced it with a flag that blends well with the building’s colors. Cavallo did not respond to my email inquiring whether the new flag represents Venetian independence as he had said it would.

His business partner, Codi Binkley, announced that the corner establishment has started happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily offering $2 to $3 beer specials, $5 cocktail and wine selections, $3 sliders, fries and wings.

Happily, La Casa restaurant, just east of B&V on East Spain Street, is doing very well, and has added a healthy new specials menu as well.



BottleRock Napa, the musical event that went bust last year leaving some musicians and vendors unpaid, has been resurrected by new owners, food and music lineups running today, May 30 through Sunday, June 1.

Organizers seem to have tapped only Napa wineries, although the Cejas are bi-county, and the food is decidedly Napa with a few exceptions. The new Tips Tri-Tip Trolley and Krave Jerky will be there, along with Angele, Morimoto Napa, La Condesa, The Thomas, Nick’s Cove, Tarla, Napkins, Villa Corona, Smoke Open Fire Cooking, Eiko’s, Jax White Mule Diner, The Q, Il Post, Fume Bistro, Bui Bistro, Ca’ Momi, Oakville Grocery, Gerard’s Paella, Ristorante Allegria, Whole Foods, Kara’s Cupcakes, Me So Hungry, Curry Up Now, Sunrise Deli, Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, Marks the Spot, Bacon Bacon, Ultra Crepes, Clearly Kombucha, Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks, Mariposa Ice Cream, Vintage Sweet Shoppe, Three Twins Ice Cream, Napa Valley Crust, Sweetie Pies and Sprenger’s Tap Room.


Highly respected international cheese expert Janet Fletcher of Napa just had her weekly column cancelled by the San Francisco Chronicle, part of the paper’s goal of dumping the popular Food & Wine section.

Fletcher bounced back, of course, with her new and informative newsletter, Planet Cheese, where you will find “profiles of the world’s best cheeses plus insights into everything cheese: shops, recipes, interviews, pairing discoveries, classes, videos and travel.” It looks great.

Meanwhile, Fletcher will lead a series of cheese classes as part of her “World Cheese Tour” at the spectacular Hall Wines south of St. Helena on the first Tuesday of each month August through November 2014. Classes will begin with a half-hour wine tasting, a sit-down cheese tasting and a different themed class each month. $60 a class, $225 for all four classes. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 401 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena. For more info or to register for classes, go to janetfletcher.com and click on cheese classes or call 265-0404.


Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s new food services manager, Cody Williams, just received great coverage in a blog called “Who’s Cooking School Lunch,” written by award-winning author (and friend) Georgeanne Brennan and former Davis mayor Ann Evans. Having sat on the interview committee, I can say that it is exciting to see a young chef and graduate of the CIA who has worked for Elaine Bell, Mustard’s Grill and Boon Fly Café inject new energy into our student food program. He has quickly figured out what to do with food from our school vegetable gardens, how to make the food appeal to students, and start to set up regular purchases with Paul’s Produce, Oak Hill Farm and Field of Greens.


Several host families and arriving Sonoma Stompers baseball players were invited to meet at Saddles Steakhouse last Friday, many with expectations of a Saddles steak dinner. First, hosts and players seemed delighted to meet each other and look forward to the three months during which the hosts will house the players in their homes and enjoy lots of baseball games.

Second, the food was a surprise: small hot dogs and cold buns, augmented by large bowls of mustard, catsup, relish, onions and sauerkraut. That was it, and it was not Saddles’ fault. They worked within the budget the team owners gave them.

Saddles staff did all they could to jazz up the place, decorating with their own collections of Crushers and Giants memorabilia and dressing servers in little white hats to look like ballpark vendors. Many families and players went home hungry, and that was after one of the “front office guys” asked me to write about the food. I just did.

Among those nibbling on hot dogs and meeting their players were local hosts including Arnold and Joan Riebli (Oakland A’s season ticket holders since 1986), Patt and Charlie Bettinelli, Margaret Hage, Lori Kennedy, Bev Armstrong, Georgia and Don Herrick, Deidre and Mike Verdu, Lorna and Barry Sheridan and Marc and Steph Ray. Tim Livingston, who has returned to Sonoma after a stint as broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays, will broadcast the Stompers’ play-by-play on KSVY and SVTV.

By the way, the Stompers will bring all of their own food concessionaires and will not open up the opportunity to local food producers. But the games and Sonoma County beers should be fun, starting in July.


“Take me out to the ball game …”


  • Jack Shmollie

    Oh no , no free steak dinner for the professional moocher at Saddles ? Must have been so disappointing .