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Posted March 2006

Dine Out: Restaurant Mirepoix

WINDSOR/SONOMA COUNTY-It's easy to get blinded by the throng of new restaurants that open each year—sometimes several hundred in Northern California alone. Add the many high-profile "destination" restaurants in Wine Country competing for attention, and the sad truth is that often some of the best local eateries, bistros and cafes get overlooked in the rush.

Not that they always mind. Restaurants like Mirepoix, in the small hamlet of Windsor continue to attract a loyal following of neighbors, as well in-the-know visitors looking for a quiet bistro-style dinner in the heart of Sonoma's Wine Country.   Through word of mouth (Mirepoix does almost no advertising), the soon-to-be-husband-and-wife have continued to bring in customers for the last several years without all the hype and fuss that seems to surround other restaurants. And frankly, they like it that way.

On a busy weekend evening, hardly anyone batted an eye when the restaurant was visited by Congressman Dick Gephardt and his wife. "Oh, they're in here all the time," said general manager and impromptu sommelier Bryan Dempsey, as she seated the former Speaker of the House who is also reportedly building a home nearby and plans to retire in Sonoma County. (Dempsey later told me he ordered the braised sweetbreads. Good man.)

Standing behind the tiny bar, Dempsey pours wine, answers the phone, chats with guests and helps keep things moving efficiently without breaking a sweat. Just behind her, in the kitchen, fiancée Bousquet and his chef de cuisine, Ben Davies, handle flaming pans and terrines—each final plate getting a personal seal of approval by the chef before heading to the table.

And though they have their share of local celebs come through, the restaurant's bread and butter clientele are neighborhood folks who can't seem to get enough of Chef Matthew Bousquet's steak tartare with crisp frites and butter or duck confit with lentils.

 The menu has transformed recently from changing daily to a more simplified bistro menu that includes a handful of entrees (Croquet Madame with mornay, quiche, whole roasted trout, lamb shank), steak frites and pork belly, and various specials each day, including Coq au Vin on Thursday, cassoulet on Sunday and Beef Bourguignon on Tuesday. It's a simpler menu, says Dempsey, brought on in part by the couple's plans to leave Davies at the helm throughout the month of April as they take time off for their honeymoon, as well as the couple's desire to focus more on chef Bousquet's French culinary training.

Nestled in an historic Windsor home, the ambiance is quiet and homey, without the hubbub and jostle of flashier restaurants. Just the sort of place you'd like to sit with a glass of local Zinfandel and escape from your entourage, or maybe just the kids, on quiet Sunday night.

Restaurant Mirepoix, 275 Windsor River Road, Windsor, California, (707) 838-0162. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30am to 9pm. No pets. Though children can be accommodated, the intimate seating and menu could be challenging for younger kids. If you've got kids in tow, try stopping in for lunch, when things are more casual. You'll likely spend about $60 and up for two (without wine) for dinner—in Wine Country, a pretty good deal. Notable: The restaurant is located close to downtown Windsor, which has a number of great shops and a wonderful park for a post-dinner stroll.

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