Once upon a time, before Sonoma County became a slightly gentrified version of Marin County mashed up with a bit of Napa County nouveau riche, it was filled with the most amazing restaurants, all of which had great character and excellent food. Sonoma County was founded, in part, by Swiss-Italian immigrants, and Dinucci's in Valley Ford is part of that heritage and is a cultural legacy of a Sonoma County that is hard to still find. It is a palimpsest of another time. And the food is quite good!
I had the pleasure of dining there recently with my partner while returning from Goat Rock. "Dinucci's!" I declared, having not eaten there in twenty years but remembering it was "an experience" and quite delicious. Filled with local charm, from named tables to kitschy paintings that may not be hung with much irony, to fresh roses on every table, we sat down and ordered lightly. Or so we thought.
The meal started with an appetizer platter with pickled carrots, salami, three bean salad, bread, and butter, quickly followed by an exceptional minestrone soup. Everything was perfect. Also, the fully stocked bar sent over two Old Fashioneds (my drink of choice), and they were spot on. After this came a little ravioli taster with marinara sauce that was to DIE FOR. No, wait, let me say this more emphatically: the marinara sauce was literally to die for. Unlike so many brushes with sauce that left me wondering what on earth is difficult about getting a marinara sauce to just taste like fresh tomatoes, this one tasted like that: like vine-ripened tomatoes without any fuss to it. A little iceberg lettuce salad followed (typical Americana style; not my favorite thing, but it wasn't a bad salad by any means, and at this point, we were starting to wonder if we had room for the main courses besides). Finally, out came my spaghetti with more of the wonderful marinara sauce, and along with it, my partner's very nice chicken marsala. The chicken was wonderful although not quite tender enough, but with such ambiance and such a perfect marsala sauce plus heaps of fresh mushrooms, who wants to be choosy? An excellent dessert list was eschewed for obvious reasons.
While this was not the most delicious meal I've ever had, it was, for once, a real meal. It was not the meal dreamt up by foodies with gastronomy degrees but rather a home-cooked meal created by someone's great-grandmother whose parents came from the Swiss Italian Alps, served with many frills, great fanfare, and excellent service. HIGHLY recommended if you are tired of all of the boring four-star restaurants and bistros that weary the "historic" downtowns of Sonoma County all the way from Petaluma to Healdsburg. At Dinucci's, instead you'll be treated with real, authentic regional cuisine and can actually say, "I've been to Sonoma County."
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