s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Continue reading with unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
For just $5.25 per month, you can keep reading SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?

Delicious California comfort food at Sonoma’s Harvest Moon Café

X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

Harvest Moon Café

Where: 487 1st Street West, Sonoma

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sun., Mon., Weds. & Thurs., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat.

Contact: (707) 933-8160, harvestmooncafesonoma.com

Cuisine: California, Mediterranean, Asian

Price: Very expensive, entrées $22.95-$34.95

Corkage: $20

Stars: **

Summary: After 12 years, the beloved Sonoma Plaza bistro continues to shine with its nightly-changing menu of inspired Cal-Med cuisine.

Nick and Jen Demarest don’t make life easy for themselves at their Harvest Moon Café in downtown Sonoma. The graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, change their menu every day, spanning six appetizers and five entrees for executive chef Nick, plus up to seven desserts for pastry chef Jen.

That means shopping for what’s freshest and finest, then devising and pricing out new recipes, then posting new menus to their website and restaurant entry signs. Every single day. The staff, my server explained, arrives each evening to learn the new menu, and then the chefs stay after service each night to take ingredient inventory and start dreaming up the next evening’s offerings.

Yet to my sympathetic mutterings, my server only smiled. Operating that way keeps the chefs and staff interested and happy, he said. Customers like it, because many are regulars, and they like the surprise of finding out what’s for dinner. And to be honest, favorite dishes do make repeat appearances, including classics dating back to opening day, plus menus that have held traction over time to showcase seasonal splendor.

Either way, I still think it’s admirable work for the charming mom-and-pop spot that’s been a Sonoma Plaza fixture since 2006. And for that, I say, thank you, Harvest Moon. Though all these years, while trends come and go, the restaurant has remained true to its roots: delicious California comfort food with spark and soul. The clean cooking makes it easy to tell that Nick trained at Chez Panisse and the former Eccolo in Berkeley, and Jen at the former Downtown in Berkeley plus the former La Toque in Rutherford.

You can feel the family vibe as soon as you enter the space that zigzags through a 20-seat front dining room, past a small wine bar, then a kitchen work station bar and another tiny dining room out to a tree lined gravel patio seating 50. We’re immediately greeted with a friendly, “welcome.”

Unfortunately, the current décor is a little too down-home these days: dark, cramped-feeling and tired, with warped white-plaster walls devoid of art, dark wood tables and the only life lent by small chandeliers and some pillows on banquettes. The space used to be prettier with paintings, and now, it could benefit from some refreshing.

Still, I immediately zoomed in on the basket of bread on the bar — the beautiful crusty loaves are Jen’s work, and they help me understand the $6.95 charge for a half-dozen slices with a hefty chunk of salted butter.

You might luck out, too, and find that the nightly soup comes with grilled bread, such as one evening’s velvety potato-celery model dolloped with crème fraîche and chives ($10.95). Another evening’s yellow squash-zucchini recipe was breadless, but still satisfying, especially because its mild flavor was enlivened by that tangy crème fraîche and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil ($10.95).

The marinated beet salad caught my attention, too. The slightly tart vegetables were stunning, surprisingly paired with spicy-sweet Galia melon sprinkled in mint, hazelnuts, yogurt and lemon ($14.95). What a wonderful recipe, for earth, acid, cream and crunch all together. Another appetizer, penne, wasn’t inventive, but it was perfect, in its mantle of slow-simmered, hearty pork Bolognese finished with fried herbs, just a hint of black truffle oil and Parmesan ($15.95).

Harvest Moon Café

Where: 487 1st Street West, Sonoma

When: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sun., Mon., Weds. & Thurs., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat.

Contact: (707) 933-8160, harvestmooncafesonoma.com

Cuisine: California, Mediterranean, Asian

Price: Very expensive, entrées $22.95-$34.95

Corkage: $20

Stars: **

Summary: After 12 years, the beloved Sonoma Plaza bistro continues to shine with its nightly-changing menu of inspired Cal-Med cuisine.

The kitchen usually cooks up fish, sometimes chicken, and always, its very popular rib-eye. The steak presentation varies, but the meat is reliably tender and full flavored, whether it comes with slightly sweet Italian heirloom polenta Integrale, ratatouille, Zinfandel sauce or a knock-out, fiery horseradish salsa verde ($34.95), or as a more mainstream au poivre with sautéed rapini, twice-baked potatoes and Zinfandel sauce ($34.95). Here’s a tip, though – get the Zinfandel sauce on the side, since it floods the plate, often over-flavoring the side dishes.

Saikyo miso butter sauce was a lovely complement to a seared sesame-crusted ahi plate, on the other hand, seeping its richness into fluffy quinoa pilaf, green beans and nori tempura ($27.95).

Amply cumin seasoned meatballs were pleasing bites, as well, delivering four robust, chewy-dense albóndigas slicked with a tomatillo sauce-garbanzo bean-tomato stew over aromatic rice and alongside shredded carrot-purple cabbage salad drizzled in cilantro-lime vinaigrette ($25.95). It might sound like a lot of flavors all on one plate, but they melded nicely, and now I’ll be stalking the restaurant’s online menu to see when the dish returns.

Desserts don’t change as often. So call me boring, but no matter how many times I visit here, I tend to get the same treat. The signature s’mores is hard to resist, with its pillowy globe of charred, house-made marshmallow over layered graham cracker, chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse ($9.95). Generally, I don’t care for marshmallow, but with the peanut butter, it’s divine.

It’s worth noting that, even with its pub-like mood, there’s no full bar here. So instead, focus on the lengthy wine list, that in another happy surprise, extends beyond California to France, Italy, South Africa, Austria, Spain and even England, for a Brut Nyetimber N.V. Classic Cuvée from West Chiltington ($80 a bottle). Armenia is in the house, too, as a Kataro 2015 Sireni Artsakh ($10 a glass). Among the local beers, meanwhile, you can also explore a Hitachino Nest White Ale from Japan ($8), or a nonalcoholic Erdinger Weissbrau from Germany ($4).

Managing such an eclectic drinks selection seems like extra work to me, for such a small, family-run outfit. But then, as I understand it, the Harvest Moon Café team never takes the easy way out.

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com