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Kathleen Hill: Wine Garden sprouting, crab season woes and more

May 12, 2024May 12, 2024

Crabby crab?

After all the problems Dungeness crabs and crab fishers have had from domoic acid and migrating whales delaying the crabbing season, another problem has been that something was inhibiting the hardening of the crabs' shells and keeping meat from developing. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory attribute the changes to water temperature and currents that effect availability of calcium carbonate, which goes into the shells of crab, oysters and other shellfish. Scientists before and now suggest that these crabby problems stem from climate change leading to increases in acidic conditions as oceans warm and attract more carbon dioxide.

Kivelstadt-Schellville update

Jordan Kivelstadt is tearing the place apart, and in a good way. That would be at the former Schellville Grill, soon to be called Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery.

Just to give you a picture of what Matthew Nagan started with when he took over Ford's Café nearly 20 years ago, we once wrote in our first Sonoma Valley guide book: “The walls tilt slightly, the people tilt slightly, the American flag gets stolen, and the building floods when Sonoma Creek overflows… A big sign at the end of the kitchen warns ‘Beware. Mean Junk Yard Dogs. Will Bite' A chicklet machine and an empty chewing tobacco dispenser hang from the wall. The walls are covered with old signs, photos and bad jokes, a side of Sonoma history unhung in museums. The waitresses are local and appropriately surly, and everyone knows them and loves them. The restroom is filthy so plan ahead.”

No more filthy restroom. Nagan fixed that and the septic system to sell his Schellville Grill and, after three previous escrows, finely found Kivelstadt, with money and imagination, to take the bait with optimistic eyes wide open seeing what the property could be.

Kivelstadt and friends are remodeling. Already gone are most of the roses along with that huge scary cactus facing the parking lot. Rotting exterior wood has already been replaced. No more pink and green trim that Nagan added after his Guy Fieri Food Network period ended. Watch for a more Restoration Hardware look of beige and brown.

Executive Chef and new General Manager Matt Tucker, most recently of Pangloss and Repris wineries and La Toque in Napa, and Kivelstadt have ambitious plans for four different “experiences” they will offer guests. In what was the diner room, the repositioned long table becomes a bar for a prix-fixe wine and small plates tasting experience; what was the beer room in back becomes a comparative tasting room featuring Kivelstadt and other wines; the patio becomes the main restaurant, with a wine bar on the patio as well.

Nagan left his photo albums and meat smoker behind so Tucker will smoke meats to make tri-tip and porchetta sandwiches and will feature super seasonal salads with vegetables grown at Kivelstadt's parents' property.

Watch for a real opening April 18 followed by lunch service Thursday through Sunday and brunch eventually.

Kivelstadt says, “This is an investment for my kids. I'm playing the long game here.” He can, and he will.

Chili Bowl Express rolls through

The Chili Bowl Express fundraiser for the Sonoma Community Center rolls into town on George Washington's actual birthday, Saturday, Feb. 22.

Community Center Executive Director John Gurney says both of the daytime seatings are sold out but there are tickets left ($60) for the evening meal, which includes cocktails at 5 p.m. served in a ceramic cup made by local ceramicists. You get to take the cup home as well as your chili bowl.

After you choose your bowl, you go into the kitchen to select your chili to fill the bowl, all the toppings imaginable, and cornbread made by local bakers.

There will be just as good bowls and chili offered at the evening seating as at the earlier meals.

Chefs who will be making and donating the chili include John McReynolds of Stone Edge Farm, Kathy King and Denise Hazleton of Sonoma Overnight Support, Knights of Columbus, Swiss Hotel, Sonoma Hills Retirement Center, Delicious Dish, Salt & Stone, Tom Jenkins (former owner of Sonoma's Best), Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Picazo Café, Linda Goudy, Epicurean Connection, HopMonk Tavern, Lisa Lavagetto of Ramekins, the Ackerly Sisters of Sonoma Market, Lauren Wayson, Jacob's Pizza, Girl & the Fig, Wild Thyme Catering & Events and Teen Services. Vegan choices available. Silent auctions, ceramics demonstrations, fundraising and desserts with beer and wine available. $60 evening seating includes cocktail hour with ceramic cup at 5 p.m., cocktails, and chili with bowl at 6 p.m. 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Tickets at 938-4626 or

Pho Ha makes chef change and more

While Sonomans often grumble that we need more interesting ethnic restaurants, we also don't necessarily support them when they get here.

A few months ago Kayjay Ha and his big Ha family from Vallejo opened a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Ha at the Fifth Street West shopping center across from the side of Safeway in the space occupied for decades by Jimmy Ling's Shanghai Restaurant. The Ha family also owns Rainbow Nails Salon in the Fiesta Shopping Center.

Lines of people flocked to Pho Ha to try it, often standing in line for up to an hour. But business has tapered off after the opening rush. And now Pho Ha has reopened after a brief closure. Kayjay Ha and family have hired new servers and a new chef. They are offering a 10 percent discount and free egg rolls through Feb. 25. Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes available.

With a big “welcome” sign, they are inviting us to try Pho Ha again. We sure will. 565 First St. W., Sonoma. 938-7659. Check for menu.

Eighth Street East Wineries open house Feb. 29

Next weekend is a chance to taste or purchase bottles of completely local wines at the industrial park where many of them are made on Eighth Street East in Sonoma.

Enkidu, MacLaren, Obsidian, Stone Edge Farm, Talisman, Tin Barn, Ty Caton, and William Knuttel will pour their wines and offer light appetizers to keep people ever so slightly sober. This is a fun event, rain or shine, and one can easily walk or roll between the wineries because they are mostly next to each other. $45 advance, $50 at door, $10 designated driver includes souvenir glass and tastes. Noon to 4 p.m. 21693 Eighth Street East, Sonoma. Adults only. No pets.

Mayo Family Winery wins

Jeff Mayo and chef John Locher and tasting room manager are ecstatic to announce that the Mayo Family Winery Reserve Room in Kenwood has just rated Number 2 in the Top Ten Best Bay Area Restaurants as voted so by Open Table's users.

We are used to St. Francis Winery winning Open Table awards through three different chefs, but this is s first for Mayo Family Winery. The other winery that is allowed to serve food is Ram's Gate near Sears Point.

Every course of the menu served in the Mayo Kenwood Reserve Room is paired with Mayo's award-winning wines crafted by former Arrowwood winemaker Michel (Mike) Berthoud, made with fruit from Indian Springs Vineyard, Laurel Hill Vineyard, Rossi Ranch Vineyard, Ricci Vineyard old vines, and Kunde Vineyards.

The menu begins with Dungeness crab and avocado “temaki” hand roll, followed by spring pea bruschetta with preserved lemon oil, cured egg yolk and pine nuts; duck confit pot sticker with garlic soy dipping sauce; Tunisian chicken and couscous with preserved lemon; Korean short rib with Chioggia beet kimchi fried rice; local mushroom ragu with housemade bacon and mascarpone polenta; and housemade ricotta cheesecake with Marcona almonds and Yuzu lemon curd. Call directly for any dietary restrictions or needs. $75 public, $35 wine club members and one guest. 9200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. Reservations at 833-5504 or [email protected], or

‘What's Eating America'

A worthwhile short series of educational food shows kicked off last Sunday night on MSNBC, hosted by Andrew Zimmern.

Why Andrew Zimmern? A graduate of Vassar College, he is a chef with several television shows who brought himself out of drug addiction to cook and help the world.

Now his innovative series teaches how politics is directing our food choices through climate change, immigration policy and much more. Last Sunday's theme was the importance of immigrants, legal and illegal, to the productions and preparation of our food supply. He was joined by the esteemed chef José Andrés, hugely successful restaurateur who withdrew from Donald Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel to protest separating parents from children and putting the kids in cages. Andrés' World Central Kitchen feeds thousands of victims of fire, flood, earthquakes and hurricanes everywhere.

The show reminded us of the ICE raids of chicken processing plants in the south that led to the deportation of undocumented workers and, in many cases, leaving their children home alone. The disruption at the plants is also said to have created last year's fried-chicken sandwich shortage at fast food restaurants.

Museum of Art brings back Great Places

On Saturday, Feb. 29 Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (SVMA) resurrects its elegant Great Places, Great Spaces series of events. The outing is from 6 to 9 p.m. and begins and ends with cocktails and dessert at the home of Mary Jo and Jay Ashe, featuring their collection of West Coast “funk art,” bookending a buffet dinner next door at the home of Anne and George Mieling among mid-century modern furniture and heirloom antiques.

Limited to 18 guests at $250 each.

Future Great Places, Great Spaces include a garden luncheon at John and Gail Diserens' Stone Barn Farm on Saturday, May 16; Summer Solstice Dinner on Saturday, June 20 at Ken and Cynthia Wornick's Hydeout Sonoma and Steve and Lori Bush's Gremlin Farms on Saturday, June 20; a progressive dinner called Norrbom Night to Remember at the homes of Elaine and Graham Smith, Bob and Siri Berg and Martha Murphy and Jack Leahy with great views from Norrbom Road. And last of the year will be Sunday, Sept. 20 at Hidden Hillside, the sustainable home of Ken Stokes and Dana Simpson-Stokes with substantial hors d'oeuvres and art. Prices for each event vary. More info at 939-7862 or

Crabby crab?Kivelstadt-Schellville updateChili Bowl Express rolls throughPho Ha makes chef change and moreEighth Street East Wineries open house Feb. 29Mayo Family Winery wins‘What's Eating America'Museum of Art brings back Great Places