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Restaurants & Bars 26

Kenwood: Vineyards Inn All-Organic Basque dinner – One of the ten best meals of my life … good for the planet, palate and soul

rworange | Dec 12, 200909:12 AM

This is the restaurant of chowhounds’ dreams. The unknown, unsung place, oozing charm where the food is top-notch, plentiful, inexpensive and served by a warm, welcoming staff.

On the second Thursday of each month there is a $40 six-course Basque dinner with unlimited wine that is served family-style. The rotating recipes are from Chef Esteban’s family.

The greatness of the dishes is not captured in the following deceptively simple descriptions. The menu for Dec 10 …
- White wine and two reds … one red was an organic wine made by the restaurant
- Basque chicken soup
- Baskets of Wild Flour Bread
- Swiss chard with chopped egg whites
- Roasted chicken
- Braised lamb shanks
- French fries
- Green salad
- Pound cake with chocolate syrup
- Amazing coffee from Tom and Dave’s (San Rafael)

All of the food is organic and much of it grown by the restaurant.

Three bottles of wine were on each table and were replaced when empty.

Soup bowls with shredded Spring Hill cheese were at each place. A large stainless steel bowl of chicken soup was brought out. It was enough for two bowls each.

This is such a friendly, down-home restaurant that makes everyone feel like family, so I’m going to drop the Chef Esteban which is way too formal. Most of the repeat customers were on a first-name basis … Steve.

Steve gave a brief description of each dish. He talked about roasting the chicken bones for the soup, the farm supplying the chicken and picking the rosemary one hour before and adding it at the end for flavor and fragrance. It was lovely.

I forgot the Basque name, but it usually has potatoes. Since the menu had a lot of substantial dishes, Steve said this version just had cabbage and carrots.

Steve is someone who is deep into the enjoyment of delicious food and it came across with every bite.

The Swiss chard dish was based on a string bean dish once served at the closed Des Alpes Basque Restaurant in San Francisco.

Swiss chard was substituted because it is in-season now. The garlicky chard was mixed with chopped egg whites. It was so tasty.

Next was a platter of roasted chicken with the most wonderful rich jus.

This was followed by large tender lamb shanks that were served with the most flavorful French fries. The greaseless, crisp fries had a roasted potato flavor to them.

Next was a refreshing and nicely dressed green salad.

The buttery pound cake drizzled with chocolate sauce was made by the chef’s mother-in-law. I finally found a rich, deep coffee I like better than Graffeo. It was by a San Rafael roaster, Tom and Dave’s

Steve talked about each dish as someone who really enjoyed the whole process from growing the produce, selecting top-notch vendors and cooking the meals.

I love simple, rustic food that relies on top-notch flavorful ingredients. This meal was one of the best examples of that.

My dining companion had a medical emergency the night before and could not come. While I often eat alone, I was a little uneasy doing this at a family-style dinner. Believe it or not, I’m pretty shy.

Beverly was one of the first diners to arrive and asked if I was dining alone and could she sit next to me. It turns out she was Steve’s mother-in-law. She made me so welcome and soon everyone at the table was chatting like old friends. Also thanks to my fellow dining companions at the table who made me feel so welcome, Jay (who supplied one of the wines), Jeff (a local journalist) and Bill. I hope I remembered all your names correctly.

Six round tables were pushed together in the center of the room and there were about 20 diners. The greenhouse-like room has live grapevines covering the ceiling .They still had leaves, some beginning to turn golden. Bunches of plump purple grapes still dangled overhead. White Christmas lights were strung on the vines. It was lovely. .

Stepping into the bar with a lighted fireplace on a cold rainy evening could not have been cozier.

The dinners are by reservation only, are popular and booked months in advance A party of 12 or more can make special arrangement for Basque diners at other times.

This exceeds five stars.

This is my restaurant find of my life. I doubt I will ever equal it.

How I found Vineyards Inn

Kenwood: Vineyards Inn - Sturgeon chowder, Spanish tapas, Basque dinners, vegan menu and the greenest restaurant in the valley

Vineyards Inn
8445 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

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