With family in town I went to Syrah in Santa Rosa on Saturday night and Gary Danko on Sunday night and thought the two experiences one after another worth sharing.
We all loved Syrah. It was a great combination of good food and a relaxed atmosphere. The service was good and unobtrusive. Our server was very knowledgeable and friendly. We ordered the 4 course tasting menu with the wine pairing for $75 each. The dishes served are at the whim of the chef and the server said that the menu can be highly tailored and that someone else was getting sweetbreads (not on the menu). So the server asked if we had any allergies or aversions and then the magic began. All of the dishes we had were wonderful and the wines were well paired. Some of the dishes we had were the Gravlax as an amuse bouche, then the Heirloom tomato salad with Humboldt Fog goat cheese and tomato soup, soft shell crab with basil aioli, American Kobe beef with a mushroom/port/hibiscus sauce (i think), then different deserts for each - Chocolate/strawberry sundae, coconut/pineapple parfait, and some kind of Almond cake that was wonderful. I don't recall all the wines served but J sparkling wine was served with the amuse bouche and the heirloom tomatoes. Then a rose for the crab. A GSM for the beef and three different dessert wines: Warre's 97 Colheita, RH Phillips Late Harvest Viognier, and a Raisin Port (American but can't remember winery). We all just loved this place and left very happy. Josh the chef was also friendly and asked us how we liked our meal at the end and talked to us for a few minutes. I should also mention that the kitchen is open to the main dining room so you have a great view of the chef at all times. For those who might want a romantic evening I noticed that they have a table in the other room (kind of a courtyard) that is set a little apart from the others near the fountain. You still get everyone going to the bathroom walking by but it seemed more romantic and I'd probably ask for that table if possible next time for my husband and I. I should also mention that one thing I liked about this place is the wine list seemed reasonable - or at least there was enough variety on the list that if you didn't want to spend a small fortune on wine you could find several bottles in the $20- $40 range.
Sunday night was Gary Danko. Again we had a fantastic meal and a good time. The atmosphere is certainly less relaxed and the service can sometimes feel obtrusive. There are so many servers wandering around that we were bumped several times (I even got hit in the head with something) and purses were knocked down. But of course the service is good overall. We each chose 5 courses and each had different dishes. Highlights for me were the foie gras (1st time I had had it seared instead of in a terrine), Rosemary and black pepper crusted tuna, the duck breast and the chocolate souffle. The beef fillet was not nearly as tender as the one at Syrah and the sauce was much less interesting but it was very good. I love the cheese course and trying so many different cheese courses. Overall we loved the food.
But in the end I couldn't help but compare it to our experience at Syrah. I thought the food was of the same level but I am relatively new to this level of gourmet food and so may have missed some of the subtleties. Gary Danko of course felt more like a special occasion place and at $78 + wine (and there really aren't many bottles under $75) ended up costing more like a special occasion : ). I've now been to both places twice and if I was to go to one again it would definitely be Syrah over Gary Danko. Gary Danko was an interesting experience but I think Syrah will prove more interesting in times to come.