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Sonoma’s La Salette

Melanie Wong | Nov 29, 200303:07 AM

Last month I had intended to follow-up on the rec for fried chicken at Sonoma Market on the way home ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]). However, the hot foods were long gone and packed away for the night by the time I stopped by. I continued north and saw that La Salette ( ) was still brightly lit. I slid in the door at 9:05pm, asked if they were still seating, and was welcomed in before the doors were bolted. This was a pleasant outcome, but what made me even happier was the extensive line-up of Madeira and Port wines from Portugal displayed on the low room divider.

I was seated in the back part of the dining room next to the rack of red wines. Besides the fortifieds, the wide range of table wines from Portugal and local Sonoma Valley producers has been selected with care (, and I enjoyed studying the labels on the wine rack.

My server Joel brought out the display of fresh seafood for me to choose from the day’s catch. Dungeness crab, sardines, wild salmon, mussels and clams, and a piece of New Zealand snapper so beautifully fresh I was tempted to ask for it to be served as sashimi. Instead, I ordered the sardines.

To start, I had tried the HENRIQUES & HENRIQUES 10-year-old Verdelho ($11/glass). Verdelho is not often seen on restaurant lists. Typically it’s not quite sweet and dense enough for dessert, yet its bit of residual sugar pushes it out of the aperitif range where the dryer Sercial fits so well. The H&H showed a lightly rancio nose, spritely acidity, and almondy flavors, but was a touch sweeter even yet than the meio seco I expected. I decided to hold it for the end of my meal, instead of having it with my first course.

The fresh sardines grilled whole – three large ones to an order – were presented with heads curving up as if leaping off the platter. Dressed with just a touch of good quality Portuguese olive oil, vinegar and sea salt, the charry skin gave way to buttery dark flesh that pulled off the bone easily. Garnishes of slivered sweet onions (the signature “melted onions”), large confetti of multi-colored sweet peppers, olives, and wedges of hardcooked egg completed the picture. With this, I asked Joel if I could have just a splash of 2000 MORGADIO de TORRE Alvarinho Vinho Verde ($8/glass - $28/bottle) to accompany this dish. Served bracingly cold, this was more concentrated and riper than the traditional vinho verde and to pair well with more robust New World flavors.

Before ordering the Caldo Verde ($7), I asked my server if it would be as good as the chef/owner’s grandmother would make. Joel replied, “it’s better”. The hearty, thick and meaty version made by my own friend’s grandmother on our visit to Martha’s Vineyard had been my only experience with Portugal’s national soup. In contrast, here the beef consummé was slightly thickened with potato to a creamy consistency with a chiffonade of barely wilted collard greens and accented with a few slices of Fernandes Sao Jorge linguica. It was enriched with a drizzle of Portuguese olive oil for a much more elegant presentation than granny's. The Verdelho turned out to match well with the soup.

The tab for two first courses and a glass and a half of wine was $35, including tax and tip. I’d been comped on the half glass, but added it back in the gratuity. La Salette delivers a lot of graciousness, delicious food, and beautiful wines for the price.


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