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Kathleen Hill: Rhone Room closes, Layla training and more

The Rhône Room closes this weekend

From Sondra Bernstein, one who always knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em:

'It is with a heavy heart that we are closing the Rhône Room Saturday, Jan. 27. It has been a passion project for over the past two years, and though we have had some great milestones, (strong club membership base, new relationships, and fun open house events) we have decided to consolidate our efforts with our other properties.

'I have learned in 21 years that no risk, no reward. We realized that staffing five buildings was too complicated and that we have to rethink the model,' Bernstein said referencing the Fig Café and Wine Bar, the Girl and the Fig, Girl and the Fig Caters, Suite D, and the Rhône Room.

'So we are consolidating our resources and offering even better benefits to wine club and social club members,' she continued.

'We have come up with creative ways to take care of all of our members (Wine Club and Suite D Social Club), continue to educate about all things Rhône, produce amazing Rhône varietals with our talented winemaker friends and keep the lineup of fun events going in both Suite D and at the Fig Farm.'

Bernstein said, 'I am truly grateful and really appreciate everyone who has worked so hard at the Rhône Room, with a special shout-outs to Melissa Chavez, Mark Kaufman, Jenn Adams, local landscapers. Craig Miller and our other management team members.'

Starting March 1, the new clubs' discounts and Wine Shop website will be launched.

In the meantime, visit the Rhône Room through Saturday and enjoy 25 percent off on the remainder of the wine stock in the store. Don't forget to visit Craig Miller's Fat Pilgrim and Harvest Home while you are there.' Bernstein added.

'PS: If you know someone interested in a tasting room just outside the Sonoma city limits, or another business possibility please let me know.'

Super Bowl pancake breakfast

Brilliant idea by Seth Dolinsky to have the Springs Community Hall, formerly Sonoma Grange, pancake breakfast on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3.

Chef Sean Paxton, aka homebrewchef.com, will create the breakfast menu for the second time. It's pretty incredible for the price. Here we go.

Seasonal frittata with local eggs, Paul's Produce leeks, onions, potatoes, Oak Hill Farms Delicata squash, Kale infused pesto, Straus milk, and all topped with pea shoots; Bloody Mary infused sausage made from ground pork shoulder made with Eat beer products, caramelized onions, mole and roasted garlic.

Try Sean's buttermilk pancakes with freshly milled flour (a tradition at this breakfast), buttermilk, melted butter, local eggs and vanilla, served with mulling spiced honey infused maple syrup and orange bourbon butter. Paxton might also throw in a pancake inspired by the Rams' and Patriots' regional flavors. Bloody Mary mix available. BYOB. $12 adults, $6 children, coffee and juice included. 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. 18627 Highway 12, Boyes Hot Springs. 935-1322.

Chinese New Year's luncheon soon

Celebrate Chinese New Year's right here in Sonoma with a large Chinese banquet prepared by Bruce Riesenman's Park Avenue Catering on Sunday, Feb. 17.

Hosted by Sonoma Sister Cities Association's Penglai, China committee, the 'Year of the Pig' luncheon will feature a roast pig and multiple other courses and choices, accompanied by wines generously donated by Jacuzzi Family Winery and Cline Cellars.

One of the goals of the Penglai committee is to build a Chinese pavilion, known as a Ting, in Depot Park where the cupola was. Their hope is to honor the Chinese laborers who worked hard to build Sonoma County's wine industry in the 19th Century. Buena Vista and Simi wineries are the only two I know of whose owners admit to or credit Chinese workers' important roles in their construction.

Special guests at the luncheon will include Wang Donghua, consul general of the People's Republic of China in San Francisco, and soprano Morgan Harrington.

Park Avenue's menu will include passed hors d'oeuvres of pan-seared tofu dumplings, shrimp dumplings (both with chili sauce), and salt baked chicken and ginger lettuce cups. When guests arrive at tables they will find scallion pancakes, pickled vegetables and pistachios.

Large dishes to pass (now called 'family-style') will offer choy sum or steamed flowering cabbage with hoisin and oyster sauce with steamed rice; chao nian gao or sticky rice cakes with mustard greens, pork, bamboo shoots and black mushrooms; traditional roast pig; and dessert of dan tat or egg custard tarts with orange wedges. And, of course, fortune cookies.

Come for the lion and dragon dancers if nothing else, and leave happy, entertained and satiated. $88. Noon to 4 p.m. Tickets at Sonoma Community Center until Jan. 29 (938-4626, ext. 1) or online at svbo.org. Advance sale only. sonomasistercitiesassociation.org.

Special note: $88 because the number 8 has special significance in Chinese culture. It is thought to be the luckiest number of all and means prosperity, success, as well as high social success. See you there!

Sunflower Caffé policy changes

Sunflower Caffé on First Street West is trying out the tip sharing policies several restaurants have tried throughout the country. The point of it is that all tips will be charged equally on customers' bills and distributed equally to order takers, servers, and 'back of house' staff which includes dishwashers, cleaners and prep cooks. In traditional restaurants, the back of house people get very little of the tip revenue.

So, 'All employees will be paid a minimum of $15 per hour, plus revenue share in the company, which is derived from the 13 percent service fee. One hundred percent of it is distributed equally to all employees. Employees are eligible for 401K and healthcare if they are working an average of 30 hours per week or more,' according to Aaron Mills, partner and director of operations for Sonoma Sunflower Caffé, Mint & Liberty, Have the Moon and Chanamé wines.

As well, Mills suggested that there is no need to leave an extra tip beyond that included in your bill, but if you feel so inclined, go ahead.

MacArthur Place training at Sonoma Community Center

More than 20 Sonoma and Napa residents show up daily at the Sonoma Community Center for the several week training of new and returning employees to MacArthur Place to work at Layla, the Mediterranean restaurant that will replace the disappeared Saddles Steakhouse.

Some Sonomans chuckled when IMH Financial, the purchasers of MacArthur Place, announced that they would create a 5-star restaurant. It seemed like an odd goal, to aim for reviewers' stars while still soliciting investment.

But this is serious, folks.

On Monday this writer actually enjoyed the full day's class on proper water service, just part of several three-week classes employees will take.

Tina Littleman, SVP of human relations (formerly Personnel) for IMH has developed the training classes, presumably used at its other resorts, namely L'Auberge de Sedona and Orchards Inn in Arizona.

This training is extensive. Those in attendance are already being paid full time just to come to the trainings three or so months before opening. We saw many recognizable faces from previous Saddles employees to workers in other local restaurants.

Ruben Cambero, whose mother, Nina Sedano, had a Michelin star hotel and restaurant in Spain, continues as general manager. His wife, Amaya Goni, will manage the dining room for breakfast and lunch, the coffee shop and pool service. Nathanial Russell is restaurant general manager, Chris Brown has stepped in as restaurant manager in the evening, Liddy Parlato, formerly with Katie Bunschu at Abbot's Passage is Creative Marketing Manager, David Nepove has been there during the whole transition as Director of Beverage, and local John Schantz, formerly of EDK, will be bartending.

The new MacArthur Place first cooked out of a 40-foot trailer/food truck to keep Saddles going in its former library, and then rented most of the Community Center's kitchen schedule for baking and then cooking, and now has rented two downstairs classrooms. One is used as a classroom with rows of chairs, and the other is set up as a mock dining room using the actual old chairs and tables from Saddles.

So each session begins with a little review and service vocabulary, enhanced by pastries, water and coffee, and then the group moves to the mock dining room for experience and finite instruction.

Without giving away lots of their secrets of 'five-star training' some of their themes were interesting, such as always be graceful, your table is your stage, consistency, how to pick up a glass, and the intricacies of pouring and serving sparkling and still water. Several times instructors said 'the ladies will want sparkling.'

As an aside, this writer asked Chris Brown how guests keep servers from pouring still water on top of sparkling water. His answer was, 'it will be written on the bottle or on our chart.'

According to Littleman, the series of classes will begin again on Feb. 4 for all those attending this group and for any new hires who join the team between now and then.

A final thought

Betty White was born in 1922. Sliced bread was invented in 1928. Therefore sliced bread is the greatest thing since Betty White. - Anonymous from Facebook.

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