Friday, December 4, 2015

Sonoma County tasting room named America's best restaurant -- again

Is this wine pairing, or lunch?
For the second time in three years, Open Table has declared St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County to be the No. 1 restaurant in the United States of America.

"We're still pinching ourselves," St. Francis CEO Christopher Silva told me.

Pinch hard. It's quite an honor, especially because St. Francis isn't a restaurant. It's a winery. And technically it doesn't serve meals.

Five days a week, three times a day (no dinners), St. Francis holds private sit-down wine tastings with food pairings for $68 in a room that looks out at Hood Mountain. Everybody sits together at a round table for 16.

It's a lot like lunch, although you can't order anything. But probably for legal reasons, it's not technically lunch: it's wine pairing.

"It is still all about the wine," Silva said. "The first thing Chef Bryan Jones does is not say, I've got these wonderful peppers, what should I make with it. He says, I've got this wonderful Zinfandel. What food do I prepare to go with that dish? It's a wine and food pairing and we're deliberate about the fact that wine is the first word."

We may be getting into technicalities here.

I posted a pic of the current menu from the website, and it sounds delicious. Silva says St. Francis has a 2-acre organic vegetable garden on its property and gets many of its vegetables from there.

People love it. Open Table's rankings are based on customer ratings. You can look at that menu, imagine the view, and think, yeah, I'd 5-star that.

And it is on Open Table, unless most tasting room reservations. "We made the choice about 2 1/2 years ago because we thought it was most efficient," Silva said. "We wanted our team to focus on the guests."

I wouldn't blame other food emporiums for being irritated at falling short of the top spot, though. The other establishments in the top 10, including tourist-focused Mama's Fish House in Hawaii and super formal Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan, have to make money from food and wine sales.

I asked Silva if St. Francis' wine pairings make money. He laughed.

"It's not our primary profit center because our food costs are incredibly high," Silva said. "But in the process, people join our wine club. They ship wine all over the country. We use amazing ingredients and they're very expensive. And we're not going to change that. But we do not treat the experience as a selling event. You're there to enjoy it."

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