News that Chef Vargas was cooking at La Bodega in the Sonoma Wine Shop, as reported here was cause enough for celebration,
Sonoma: La Bodega Cheese and Pasta in the Sonoma Wine Shop?
Then when I read the announcement in Biteclub that he’d be returning to the space that once housed his Bistro V, I had to check it out.
In the middle of last Friday’s downpour, I pulled up to the restaurant to see what might be going on. I learned that it had been serving for a little more than a week. This was supposed to be a “soft opening” but word has gotten out. There's no real sign yet, but I knew the location across from the flea market. The young woman at the wine bar by the entrance explained to me that the set-up was for counter service and that I could help myself to plates, utensils and water set out on this station and choose a seat.
She said that it’s been a little bit of a challenge to get customers used to the idea. This became evident when I stepped over to pick up my place setting and one of the staff members rushed over to take them from me and help me find a seat. Later she would also refill my glass. I commented jokingly that I was trying to get into the self-service mode but she wasn’t helping, and she nodded that it was hard for her to get used to as well.
Here’s the opening menu for La Bodega (Sonoma Wine Shop), the name for the establishment seems to be in some flux as well. I mentioned thatthe layout needs redesign to make it easier to follow, also the terminology should be tweaked. The "small" plates are entrée-sized, whereas "large" are family-size, so value is better than it seems at first glance.
While I was waiting for my food, I guess one of the staff felt that I was alone for too long and brought over a complimentary helping of some deliciously smoky, spiced candied pecans.
Soon a piping hot plate with my cannelloni came out. Five-cheese bechamel, black trumpet mushrooms, braising greens, and marinara sauce with porcini, $14, this “small” was a huge portion, more than I could eat in one sitting.
The runner turned out to be Chef Vargas, and he came back to check on how I liked the dish. He explained that this was an unusual day, as he would normally not be in Sebastopol during service. He plans to use the kitchen here in the morning to bake and prep for the much smaller Sonoma location and coordinate with Sebastopol’s staff. His cook for Sebastopol has been with him since Bistro V and will execute the dishes. He said that with self-serve, customers can be assured that they’re getting the maximum bang for their food dollars. His locavore sourcing includes meats from Sonoma Direct and produce from Greenstrings and Laguna farms, predominantly. His current menu is a wild mushroom lover’s delight, utilizing black trumpets, chanterelles, porcini, and horns of plenty that he collected himself. His plan is offer ready-to-eat dishes, fresh pastas, desserts, and mise en place ingredients that patrons can pick up after work with a bottle of wine from the retail shop and have an instant meal at home or to eat on site.
When I stopped at the bar to pay for my meal with a credit card, my receipt was printed out on the wine shop computerized invoice. No place to add an optional tip . . . La Bodega is serious about self-service.
Stalking Chef Vargas at Bistro V (Sebastopol)
Chef Vargas @ Stoa
Sonoma Wine Shop
2295 Gravenstein Hwy S, Sebastopol, CA 95472