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Chalky Santi

A 2004 Sonoma/San Francisco travelogue; part 9

by Thor Iverson

[Chalk Hill]

Chalk Hill
15 August 2004 – Geyserville, California

Santi – A beautiful early-evening drive through Chalk Hill and the Alexander Valley leads to Geyserville, a trapped-in-time micro-town sure to disappoint fans of a name made rather large-scaled by Ridge’s eponymous blended wine. For us, it’s highly reminiscent of any of a dozen frontier-style hamlets in the Sierra Foothills, and it means that we can’t possibly fail to find our dining destination for the evening.

Santi is bigger than one expects; a wood-darkened bar that can’t quite decide if it’s rustic or touristy leads to a rather large pair of dining areas, with well-spaced seating and, tonight, a lot of empty seats. It’s a dark, moody restaurant that probably shouldn’t be quite so moody (or dark), but maybe things are different when it’s not so quiet.

The menu is classic Italian and Italian-American done in the most authentic way possible outside Italy…which is to say that the ingredients are local, providing some interesting twists on Italianate classics. Semi-crispy polenta crespelle with fall vegetables and parmesan are a little thicker than I’d like, and though the overall effect is quite tasty the dish is somewhat dominated by a rather doughy expression of ground corn. On the other hand, a relatively straightforward osso buco is fabulous, with a few bonus marrow-filled bones on the side. An espresso granita with crème anglaise rounds things out nicely. Service is highly rushed – for no apparent reason, as the restaurant is still doing a steady business when we leave, yet never approaches even 50% capacity – but pleasant enough.

The wine list features a good selection of local product (exclusively from the Sonoma side of things, and definitely skewed towards the north) and a less-interesting collection of grossly overpriced and mostly pedestrian Italian wines. I’m interested in revisiting a wine we’d tasted the day before, to test some theories on how it might do with food.

Nalle 2002 Pinot Noir Hopkins Ranch (Russian River Valley) – Bright, succulent strawberry with earth tones and great acidity. Supple and freshening with our heavy food, it weaves in and out of the gustatory mélange, finishing long and lovely.

And with a cool nighttime drive back along 128 and Chalk Hill Road, our ultra-brief Sonoma excursion is done. Tomorrow, the city awaits.

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