Welcome to another Rich Life Travels post!
Instead of a hotel or winery, this time I’m telling you all about Glen Ellen Star restaurant!
Glen Ellen is located about five miles from where I live in Kenwood. Both are small towns with lots of wineries, vineyards, beautiful scenery and visitors seeking to experience all that Sonoma Valley, our world-famous wine region, has to offer including fantastic food!
When Glen Ellen Star opened in 2012 there was quite a buzz! Newly married, Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser, fulfilled their longtime dream of owning a restaurant. They remodeled a long-standing building on the corner of the only 4-way intersection with a stop sign in Glen Ellen and turned the property into a rustic, inviting, neighborhood hot spot. Soon they would make Glen Ellen a destination for food lovers everywhere.
I have known the Benziger family since the late 1980s and attended college with one of the Benziger sons. When I moved to Kenwood in 2000, I promptly applied for a part-time job in the Benziger Family Winery’s tasting room to learn more about wine and meet new people (and get a wine discount!). I worked at Benziger off and on for 13 years. One summer Erinn, home from college for the summer, worked in the tasting room and got to know her a bit. It was fun working along side her. She is a warm and friendly person and pleasure to know.
When many years later I learned Erinn and her husband were opening a restaurant in Glen Ellen, I was thrilled for them and for me and couldn’t wait to try it.
I have dined at Glen Ellen Star several times since it opened three years ago. I love the casual and always bustling atmosphere. It’s a small, compact restaurant with an open kitchen and has a wood oven where much of the food is cooked. Many customers enjoy eating at the bar where they can get an up close view of all the action.
I was invited to join several other women in media – bloggers, journalists and public relations executives – for special family-style dinner recently, shortly after Chef Ari was named Food and Wine’s ‘People’s Best New Chef’ for California. Quite an honor!
Our dinner was different from the regular service at Glen Ellen Star as it was already planned out for us. No decision making needed! What I liked about dining this way – having no say in what I’m offered to eat – is that it gets me to try new things and boy, did I try new things!
Here are some of the highlights from our food adventure at Glen Ellen Star!
To start, we were presented with a glass of French Champagne. Soon after an impressive appetizer platter that they refer to as “snacks” arrived at the table. On the platter was wood roasted and stuffed shishito peppers topped with shabazi spice, Point Reyes fried oysters with ramp top kimchi and chicharones dusted with swarnadwipa.
What is swarnadwipa? I had no idea until our server explained it’s a curry spice blend, said to be based on an 800-year-old recipe.
I loved the shishito peppers and the chicarones. My kind of snacks!
Next we were presented with either a Kale Salad with Vadouvan Wanuts, Strawberries and a Spicy Peanut Dressing or Spring Pea Soup with Ricotta Gnudi. I was served the Spring Pea soup. A Ricotta Gnudi, I learned, is like gnocchi except it’s made with ricotta and a little flour. Light and airy, this gnudi added an interesting dimension to the fresh and tasty soup.
Next up was something I most definitely would not order on my own as I have never acquired a taste for sea urchin. Nevertheless, I gave this Sea Urchin Tostada with avocado, jalapeño, and cilantro a few trys. With complex flavors, a bit of spiciness and the crunch I love, I still could not overcome my lack of love of sea urchin. If I could learn to enjoy it, this dish would be a big hit.
The highlight of the meal for me came in the form of this enormous King Salmon, cooked in the wood oven and stuffed with lemons. It was topped with crispy fried spring onions. Wow! What a special treat!
The King salmon dish was followed by Roasted Lamb Saddle with house-made cavatelli pasta in a tomato ragu sauce, roasted artichoke, yogurt and olives. It was melt in your mouth comfort!
As you would imagine, by this point we were all STUFFED! But there is always room for dessert, right?
We were presented with Strawberry Cobbler made with berries from a local strawberry patch and four varieties of homemade ice cream. Mouthwatering! And to make dessert even more tasty, we were served a small glass of port from Italy.
Don’t you love these little cast iron serving dishes?
As we were finishing up our sweets, Chef Ari came over to our table to sit for a while and talk about his passion for his cooking and for Glen Ellen Star. Ari comes from an impressive background that includes French Laundry in Napa Valley, Daniel in New York and Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.
It’s apparent that Ari and Erinn care deeply about the food they serve, the people who enjoy it and the Sonoma Valley community. It’s important to Ari and Erinn that they source local purveyors for their ingredients but give an international flare to the dishes they serve. I must say that as a local, it makes me proud knowing Chef Ari and Erinn chose to turn their dream of owning a restaurant into a reality right here in Sonoma Valley! They are such an asset to our region.
As we were walking out the door – bellies full – we were each handed a Margarita pizza and a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon encased in a Glen Ellen Star koozie. Chef Ari told us to take it home and have it for breakfast the next day. So kind! I wonder if he meant the beer too?
I did as instructed and ate cold pizza the next morning and it was delicious! Just the way I like it – thin, crispy with simple but flavorful ingredients. I left the beer in the fridge for Bill to enjoy later.
It was wonderful to experience Glen Ellen Star this way. A true culinary adventure! I will return again and again and always recommend Glen Ellen Star. For more information and to book a reservation, visit the Glen Ellen Star website.
I wanted to mention that I co-hosted a FlipKey Twitter chat earlier this week and learned a few new tips for traveling like bring a jumprope along when you travel to get your exercise in, as well as, some don’t-miss things to do in certain destinations. It was fun to partake in the chat. I hope to get a chance to do it again sometime. If you’re interested in taking a look at what was discussed search on the FlipKey travel chat hashtag: #FKTravelTips
This evening, I’m attending an industry party with Sandee to celebrate the grand opening of Starmont Winery’s tasting room. I’m looking forward to seeing it and to sipping on some wonderful Starmont wine.
Grand opening parties for the public will be happening throughout the weekend! If you’re in the area, stop by and check it out. There will be food, music and plenty of vino!
Have a fantastic Friday and make it a rich day!
Disclosure: My dinner at Glen Ellen Star was complimentary. All opinions expressed here are, as always, my own.