“Some say Napa is Porches and Mercedes and we’re pick-up trucks and cowboy boots,” said Saddles’ Sandy Weaver, relishing the irony as she passed out the restaurant’s four-star menu. “I love that we’re known for that.”
Indeed, Sonoma has long been a juxtaposition of opposites and Saddles, the top-drawer steakhouse nestled in the grounds of MacArthur Place Historic Inn and Spa, is perhaps the apotheosis of this notion. Its decidedly down-home ambiance (a Western theme expressed in bronzed cowboy boots and porcine portraiture) and its upscale cuisine make for a dining experience that is expertly balanced between hometown charm and world class dining.
On a recent Indian summer evening, a companion and I entered and were led pass the bar and lounge area where the house-band played an enchanting cover of Stand By Me. We were seated in the outside dining area – an enclosed space meant that be opened or shuttered with the seasons that looks like something out of the Restoration Hardware catalog (which is a compliment – I’d live in that catalog if I could).
I began with the Stable Martini, one of a dozen of such signature concoctions that would have James Bond doffing his jodhpurs and donning a ten-gallon hat. I was both shaken and stirred. The drink, or should I say the “swim,” was a heap-big-man size cocktail, and mysteriously, made me feel all the more macho upon having completed it.
For appetizers we enjoyed hearty and crisp portabella mushroom fritters sprinkled with aged-parmesan as well as fresh oysters on the half-shell culled from Washington’s Fanny Bay served with a red-wine infused mignonette dressing. The Saddles Salad (baby greens in a cider vinaigrette tossed with candied walnuts and goat cheese) was a refreshing respite before venturing onward into Saddles’ stellar steak menu.
Under the “specialty cuts” portion of menu are featured a number of fine steaks all served a la carte. A terse survey includes a Niman Ranch Filet Mignon (“naturally-raised, hormone free and fed a strictly vegetarian diet” boasts the menu), a Dry-Aged New York steak and an exquisite American Kobe New York steak, a cross of Japanese Kobe and American Black Angus beef, well-marbled and excellently prepared in a ten ounce portion that could well be Saddle’s crowning achievement.
Now, some may think it brash to smother such a nuanced meat with peppercorn sauce (Saddles has numerous toppings from a classic Bernaise sauce to a Cabernet demi glaze from which to choose), but like life, strange collusions of events often lead to revelation, or in this case, deliciousness. The steak and sauce combination was both heavenly and devilish. In fact, I dare say that this steak is fine enough to tempt vegetarians of weaker conviction to the dark side (my dining partner, herself a former vegetarian, claimed it was steaks like this – and bacon – that brought her back into the world of carnivores).
My palate having been roped in by Saddles’ all-American motifs, I continued down the happy trail of meat and potatoes, and accompanied the steak with a hearty side of potatoes au gratin. The side was comprised of at least two members of the tuber family – I detected the ambrosial whisper of a sweet potato amidst the melted cheddar – and the serving was copious enough to be shared.
At our behest, Weaver selected a 2001 Benziger “Reserve,” Sonoma County cabernet from the extensive wine list where area wines are well-represented. The wine, a tart number with notes of dried currant and cedar contrasted wonderfully with the mellow, luxuriant flavors of the meat and like the Saddles experience itself, proved a stellar pairing of opposites all ’round.
29 E Macarthur St
Sonoma, CA 95476