Willi’s Wine Bar was the first of Mark and Terri Stark's restaurants in the Santa Rosa/Healdsburg area. While all three restaurants have some similarities in their menu design, Willi's Wine Bar has what they describe as "roadhouse" atmosphere. It is a casual spot with a menu of “International Small Plates” designed to share and can be a fun place with a lively group who are game to order widely and have little tastes of each dish. A cautionary note though - many of the choices are made up in “pieces” (for example 2 or 3 pieces), so make sure you are willing to cut them up – as the small plates can add up to a hefty sum quickly.
All of the wines are available by 2-oz taste, glass and bottle, but it is not a place to go just for the wine. The choices are mostly local. Like its sister restaurants, the cocktail list is prominent and raw oysters are usually available. There is also usually a cheese offering.
When it’s crowded, it can be loud. The building is a converted house with little rooms and a closed-in terrace in the winter with heaters (which becomes outdoor seating in the summer).
We have found on multiple visits that consistency and attention to detail are not strong points. That aside, on a good night the food can net some cries of "delicious" and on a poorer one, something ordered will usually still be above average.
One great thing about Willi’s is that from Wednesday through Saturday, the restaurant is open all day (11:30-9:00), so it’s a great choice for odd-hours dining or a mid-afternoon snack... say, on your way to the Russian River Valley from Sonoma Valley.
Note to parents: Willi’s food is not a great choice for most kids, as menu items are often highly spiced or sauced. It’s not easy to find kid-friendly food here even by making menu adjustments.
What we had: Warm Spinach Salad, Goat Cheese, Dates, Cracked Almonds, Pancetta Vinaigrette
Good. Lots of cheese, nuts and dressing, but balanced. A favorite at the table, but not my favorite.
Dungeness Crab Tacos
Very nice Dungeness crab with a sprinkle of hot pepper in crispy flaky taco shells.
Foie Gras Poppers, Apple Marmalade, Vanilla Bean Syrup, Smoked Fleur de Sel
3 puff pastry shells filled with tiny bits of apple and topped with foie gras. However you try you eat them too fast for any nuances to show through.
Maine Lobster Gnocchi
The sauce was a bit lackluster and very creamy, but the gnocchi tasted house made. Actual lobster pieces throughout.
Cheese: Tumalo Farms' Pondhopper, Andante 's Melange, Cowgirl Creamery's Pierce Point
Pondhopper cut from edge of rind (from just inside the rind). Pierce Point was “on it”. Melange had a bit of acridness - it was okay but not at it’s best.
Tuscan Pork Riblets on Julya's Apple Sauerkraut
Served on a bed of Apple Sauerkraut. The ribs are on the spicy side and tasty!
Smoked bacon done like Chinese duck on a bed of tasty slaw with a nice piquant hoisin sauce and light chive studded crepes to fill. Yum. Hard not to re-order it and so we did.
Portabello Mushroom French Fries with Shaved Parmesan and Meyer Lemon Aioli
Not at their best today. New oil? New batter? Off day? Sauce was good.
Scallop Dumplings with Crispy Pancetta and Lemongrass Butter
Pretty little dumplings with chopped scallop filling in a light sauce with a sprinkle of pancetta. A bit bland but fresh, with some lightly cooked greens (spinach?) which was great in the sauce.
Oysters on the half shell
Topped with mignonette and scallions - be sure to order plain if you want them that way.
Filet Mignon "Sliders" with Whole Grain Mustard Béarnaise
Two tiny rolls. Heavy on the béarnaise which was not a bad thing, but the tiny bits of filet were rather lost in their little rolls. Tasty though!
Wine: The entire wine list is available by the glass and "taste". This would be great except that there are very few interesting choices. This is why we'd rather bring our own wine when we dine here. Too many other restaurants in the area have better and more diverse wine lists. Corkage is $15.
Review - February, 2005
Willi’s Wine Bar 4404 Old Redwood Highway
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Ph: (707) 526-3096
Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Beets, Chevre, Almonds & Smoked Bacon 8.5 Uh huh. Salad with stuff in it….
Tommy Boy Farms French Fries with Romano Cheese & Black Truffle Aioli 7. These were the hit. The Aioli is really something worth trying with fries. The fries are hand cut but could have been a bit crispier.
Rosemary & Caramelized Onion Skillet Bread 7.5 The topping on the bread was great but the bread itself was pretty horrible. Hard hard crust and doughy with a hard bottom.
Sea Scallop Dumplings with Smoked Bacon Butter 12. Trent wouldn’t eat them and he LOVES scallops. A big failure.
"Moroccan Style" Lamb Chops 15. Lamb Chop-py flavor. Good. If you eat here order this. But don’t come here for it.
Cedar Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Miso Vinaigrette 9. Lots of cedar-y flavor – this could have a been a fantastic dish if the mushrooms had been cooked long enough. Instead of intense flavor and delectable crispiness they were really rubbery.
Filet Mignon "Sliders", Whole Grain Mustard Béarnaise 15. Very tasty. Very little Mustard in the Bearnaise. Flavors were flat and integrated to “fattiness” there was little overall impression except for richness… which isn’t bad but doesn’t make a standout.
Pancetta Wrapped Quail with Roasted Grapes 12. One of the good dishes.
Red Wine Braised Short Rib Gnocchi, Tomato Confit, Fresh Horseradish 10. We ordered the horseradish on the side. This was a tasty solid dish. Flavors integrated well. Tasty and easily shared.
Sautéed Brussel Sprouts, Andouille, Sage, Apples & Point Reyes Blue 7.5 Not standout. Too much going on for the brussel sprouts to shine.
You may notice that we do not give out a lot of praise. Having been to so many high-quality restaurants, it's pretty tough to impress us.
Most of our reviews are based on just one visit. We neither have the time nor the money (or often, the inclination) to visit most restaurants multiple times. So, please keep in mind that a single-visit review is a snapshot - the restaurant may be "on it" that day - or not. If the meal has a calamity involved (foreign objects in the food, wine poured on us, etc.) we try not to let it shade the overall review.
We pay for the food and beverages; restaurants never comp us. We try to be discreet about taking photos so that the staff doesn't notice/get an idea we're going to do a review. We rarely take notes in the restaurant.
Like the rest of our website, we update our restaurant review pages based upon subsequent visits.