West County Grill gets everything right 

The instant success of West County Grill, a big, warehousy restaurant just off the main plaza of Sebastopol, owes to a super-experienced team with a clear vision.

Architect Cass Calder Smith designed the iconic LuLu. Stephen Singer and Jonathan Waxman, partners in the former Table 29 in the Napa Valley, knew that western Sonoma would embrace a bustling, urbane grill. Manager Mike Hale of Willowside and Manzanita, two smaller and successful Sonoma country restaurants, put together a crack dining room crew. And most important of all, chef Darren McRonald, a Chez Panisse alum, is doing everything right. I could eat his cooking every night — and a lot of locals are doing just that.

The menu format reminds me of that of Zuni, but leans more toward Italy — oysters on the half shell, salumi, a few starters and salads, pizza and pasta and a handful of main courses. Over two visits I ate through most of the menu, and in every dish, the ingredients were pristinely fresh and seasonal, their preparations sparkling, the presentations simple and appealing. I’ve had this kind and level of cooking in San Francisco and Berkeley, but never in Sebastopol. And frankly, I’ve never had better.

Wood oven pizza ($11-$13) here has its own distinctive and delicious crust: crisp, chewy, thin, almost buttery with olive oil. Pastas run from hearty to spring-inspired: toothsome farro triangles coated in a rich, bolognese-style sauce ($15/$20); al dente tubes tossed with a dreamy ragout of asparagus and baby artichokes ($14/$19) galvanized by crunchy, olive-oil roasted bread crumbs.

As a salad lover, I was smitten by a pastel pastiche of avocado, pink grapefruit and mache ($8). Little cigars of treviso radicchio, tightly wrapped in pancetta, crisply grilled and drizzled with aged balsamic ($12) represent the best version of this dish I’ve had. If you’re a chicory fan, you’ll like a plate of chewy dandelion greens in anchovy dressing with a runny, olive-oil fried egg on top ($9).

The main courses are as fun as the small dishes. The juices from a grilled duck breast ($22), sliced into thick hunks, lubricate baby red lettuce leaves and hazelnuts along with a splash of sweet and sour saba, a wine juice reduction. Spring pea risotto is served with a grilled quail wrapped in pancetta ($23). How did two of my favorite dishes land on one plate?

Layered desserts served in revealing glass tumblers are delightful. My favorite: spring gelatina misti ($6), layers of panna cotta, mandarin gelatin and whipped cream.

The wine list specializes in wines from all over the planet, but also features Singer’s tasty Baker Lane pinot noir, made a few miles away.

The sprawling, rough-edged space — wood beams, red brick walls, unfinished ceiling, cement floor — allows for many seating options: bar, kitchen counter and roaring dining room. From day one, locals filled every seat, many of them investors. Peter Krause of HBO’s "Six Feet Under" sat next to us one night; so did the potted herb seller at the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market. Every time I’ve been there, the same guy in a cowboy hat has been eating at the bar. Everyone is treated warmly — on the phone, at the door, at the table.

West County Grill has pulled off the impossible. Already it has joined my short list of favorites. I can’t drive across the Golden Gate without stopping there.

West County Grill

Location: 6948 Sebastopol Ave. (on the plaza), Sebastopol

Contact: (707) 829-9500

Hours: Open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays

Price range: $8-$12 for starters; $11-$14 for pizza and pasta; $12-$22 for entrees; $6-$8 for desserts

Recommended dishes: Halibut tartare, grilled radicchio with pancetta; pizza napoletana; pizza with porcini and leeks; pasta with asparagus, artichokes and pecorino; braised lamb; grilled duck breast, quail with spring pea risotto

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted; unreserved bar and counter seating available

Patricia Unterman’s San Francisco Food Lover’s Pocket Guide is available at bookstores now. Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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Patricia Unterman

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