SUNFLOWER LUNCH

That driving all the way up to Sonoma from Danville on a Saturday can even enter the equation only means that the restaurant is a really good place to eat. The traffic gets heavy along the expressway, but while it doesn’t turn into snail crawl, unlike in Jakarta, you’re still very much strapped in your car watching tree after tree (or bush after bush) slowly pass by. There is one distinct difference though that makes the drive enjoyable: the weather. Imagine rays of gold against an almost meditative canvas of cloudless blue skies that puts any grumpy chap in an almost Zen-like mood.

The placid feeling matches the atmosphere of Sonoma, which is roughly an hour and half drive from the quiet affluent residential area of Danville that’s peppered with bungalows or two-storey houses coordinated with manicured gardens front and back. The neighbours are friendly – the ones in Danville – that having an annual block party to get to know the neighbours is part of the social calendar.

Mango chutney-glazed roasted pork loin in warm foccacia is a trip to pork haven

Sonoma, on the other hand, is a quaint town lined with fashion boutique stores and restaurants. Its quaintness was nearly corroded with the intrusion of big chain stores. There was no major exodus of such big retailers although the likes of Ben & Jerry’s ice creamery and Chico’s clothing store slipped through the cracks. Yet all seem copacetic as patrons slip in and out of the two stores which have harmoniously blended in with the natural design and feel of the area. At one part – you just follow the big box formation of the town proper from Sunflower Caffé, the restaurant destination for the day – is the preserved el cuartel de Sonoma (one of the barracks in Sonoma) established in the 1840s and abandoned around 1850.In the centre of the square is park perfect for laying out a picnic blanket and simply relaxing. Dogs are not allowed for obvious reasons.

Wait your turn to order your hearty, delicious repast

Amidst this serene ambience is Sunflower Caffé with its rustic facade, varnished wooden tables and chairs inside and outside the restaurant, and busy kitchen. The line of hungry diners stretched to the sidewalk, but that didn’t deter new customers from queuing for a sandwich, salad, soup or breakfast at lunch (picture waffles – buttermilk Belgian, toasted pecan or peppered bacon served with organic Vermont maple syrup and whipped butter). The set-up is simple: make your way to the order station and order what you want. If there’s a queue, pick up a paper menu from the little box before the cashier. Decide on what you want, order, pay your bill and your food will be delivered to your table as soon as it’s ready.

My order of the day, being a seafood-lover, was the enticing Bay Shrimp Melt served open face on focaccia. The wild, chemical-free shrimps are tossed with lemon, piquillo pepper, celery and parsley, and coated with melted cheddar cheese (jack cheese is an alternative). My old high school buddy sank her teeth into the Roasted Pork Loin – its mango chutney-glazed glory served on warm slices of focaccia with mayonnaise, Sunflower Caffé- made harissa (hot red pepper paste) and paper-thin red onion. Her husband meanwhile was all gung-ho about the huge Grilled Lamb Burger, which wasn’t just any lamb burger. The lamb patty was massaged with house-made harissa and black pepper, and then blended with feta cheese before being grilled. Once grilled to eating perfection, it was swathed in a ciabatta roll and served with special chimchurri sauce.

Cheddar cheese-drizzled shrimps on a bed of foccacia is my perfect lunch

There was no need to ask about the meaning behind the name. The bright, appetising repast and the chatty but polite and quick-on-their-feet servers – young women in black singlet and men in black short-sleeve t-shirt – encapsulated the total sunflower dining experience against the backdrop of sunny and quaint California’s Sonoma.

Sunflower Caffé & Espresso Bar

On the Historic Plaza

421 1st St. West Sonoma CA 95476

Tel: (707) 996 6645

http://www.sonomasunflower.com

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