The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is the ultimate luxury getaway, well-known for its natural mineral hot springs discovered more than a century ago, and still a draw today. Over the years, the inn’s restaurant, Santé, has received much acclaim for its cuisine, but since executive chef Marcellus Coleman arrived in 2018, he’s been shaking up the food scene at the inn and recently revamped its brunch menu.
There’s nothing I like more than lazy weekend mornings, brunch out and a spirited beverage. On a Sunday, Alex and I arrive at 11 and though we were tempted to try the Bloody Mary bar, we opted for mimosas, concocted with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, which we sipped while studying the menu. Coleman has created a brunch menu that honors classic dishes and flavors, drawing from his Midwest background and inspiration across the country, but also offers an inventive assortment of sweet and savory items.
We begin with one of Coleman’s signature starters—banana bread, which I have to admit, I can easily forgo. There’s something about the texture and aftertaste that’s hard for me to stand. Maybe the versions I’ve tried haven’t been the best ones, but since it’s such a beloved confection for most everyone, I thought I’d at least try it. Once our server plunked a generous slice on the table, I was intrigued. Dusted with powdered sugar, Coleman’s banana bread is served warm from the oven with a light and fluffy espresso peanut butter. Somehow it’s both airy and melt-in-your-mouth good, but also decadent. Best of all, no aftertaste. “It’s made with buttermilk, and it’s all in how he whips it,” says food and beverage manager, Jennifer Venezio. We quaff it down with coffee, served in oversized mugs that make you feel right at home.
Next, we try a sampling of brunch items on the menu, letting Venezio lead the way. The Sonoma duck confit hash is exceptional. Food of the gods. The duck is sourced from Petaluma, slow-roasted, then shredded and served with crisped, browned morsels of tator tots, finely diced peppers and onions, topped with poached eggs and a generous drizzle of hollandaise sauce. A work of art, it offers layers of savory flavors.
We also enjoyed a Southern-inspired dish—fried green tomatoes, topped with Dungeness crab, remoulade sauce and fresh greens. There are a number of noteworthy sides on the menu. Hobbs’ thick-cut bacon is garnished with fresh scallions. For bacon lovers, this is a must-try. The duck fat potatoes have an incredible thick, roasted brown crust with an unbelievable crunch. If you’re looking for something light and vegetarian, try the avocado toast, served on multigrain bread with shitake “bacon,” which gives it a satisfying earthy note and adds a lot of flavor.
Originally from the Chicago area, Coleman brings more than 18 years of culinary experience to the inn, and has earned a reputation for combining creativity and passion with classic French techniques and an Italian-inspired focus. A Chopped champion on Food Network, Coleman was recently listed in the book, Toques in Black, a celebration of black chefs with recipes and stories. What’s more, word has it that he’s a dream to work with and well liked by staff. “He’s so talented and creative,” says Venezio. “It’s inspiring to watch him.”
Another signature dish on the menu is the apple dutch baby, an authentic German-style oven-baked pancake, served with bourbon maple syrup. It's the size of the plate, and a good entrée to share, and a big hit with patrons, says Venezio.
Next time you can’t decide whether you want breakfast or lunch, make a reservation at Santé, which is destined to be the new hauté spot for brunch in Sonoma. And don’t hesitate to bring the kids. There’s a special children’s menu, and tots under 5 eat free.
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