Village Inn & Restaurant
20822 River Blvd.
Monte Rio, CA 95462
Upscale comfort food
Winter hours: Fri.-Sun. 3-6 p.m. (Happy Hour); 5-9 p.m. (dinner)
Full bar; Sonoma County wine and beer
With a riverside location and balconies overlooking the water, Village Inn in tiny Monte Rio is a serene West County getaway—though we hear things can get a bit feisty around Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, when fireworks shows light up the Russian River. There are just 11 guest rooms at the inn, and stays include a continental breakfast daily. If our dinner experience is any indication, this is a morning meal not to be missed.
We were seated in the lounge, a cozy room with Old World style—dark burgundy walls, large pieces of art and intimate lighting—and a full bar. Window tables overlooking the water are also available, as is patio seating (weather permitting). One night each week, the restaurant expands its offerings with a Locals Night Menu, a bit more casual and priced accordingly, to bring in the neighbors.
In addition to the bar (which serves a great Negroni), the Sonoma-centric wine list includes established favorites (La Crema, Seghesio, St. Francis) as well as lesser-known standouts (Hart’s Desire, Wild Hog, Symmetry). Only a few beers are available, but again, they’re Sonoma County stars—Bear Republic Brewing Co., North Coast Brewing Co., Anderson Valley Brewing Co. and Lagunitas. Really, what more do you need?
Chef Sam Murchie has put his stamp on the menu, both in preparation and presentation. Each of our choices was delicious, and we heard similar exclamations throughout the evening from our fellow diners. We started with butternut bisque and a crimson little gem wedge salad. The soup was a beautiful golden yellow, topped with pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds) and fresh herbs. It was creamy and light—but hearty—with the lightly sweet squash flavor accented by a bit of chevre blended in. Perfect soup on a cold winter night? Check.
The salad was presented as a piece of art. Using butter lettuce instead of iceberg gave the Point Reyes blue cheese vinaigrette cups and curls to settle in, and tangy pickled onion slices were a nice counterpart. The star, however, was sweet, savory bacon jam, which elevated the dish to standout status.
My entrée choice, low country shrimp and grits, hit all the right notes. The grits were a creamy delight, with parmesean cheese and scallions mixed in. They were topped with succulent jumbo shrimp and spicy Andouille sauce that permeated every bite. Jumping between the delicate, sweet shrimp meat and bold bits of sausage, I couldn’t get enough. Just writing about it is making me hungry again.
My husband’s braised short rib was met with equal enthusiasm on his part. A nice-sized portion of melt-in-your-mouth meat sat atop creamy roasted garlic and thyme mashed potatoes, accented with a few butter poached dill carrots. The whole dish was drizzled with a red wine reduction sauce. The carrots had a deep flavor (not so sweet), thanks to a light pickling, the potatoes soaked up the reduction sauce for best effect and the pork was positively silky—delightful.
A cheese and charcuterie sampler, presented on a redwood plank, was enough for a shared light meal. Housemade copa was chewy, with a peppered edge and deep, smoky flavor, while imported Italian dry salami offered a similar flavor profile with a contrasting mouthfeel. Slices of grilled La Brea bread were crunchy with a fluffy interior—perfect for gooey Brie topped with candied walnuts and tiny black currants. Tiny housemade pickles and slices of firm, buttery carmody cheese went well together, and a thick wedge of Point Reyes blue cheese brought it all home.
A dessert sampler put us over the top. A warm brownie, drizzled with dark chocolate sauce and paired with a scoop of Three Twins salted caramel ice cream was dense and intense—a delicious wake up after extreme comfort food intake. Speaking of comfort, salted caramel apple pie was a perfect taste of the season. Want something more decadent? The red velvet cake is tall and fluffy, with an inner layer of Swiss cream (sweet, silky) and tangy cream cheese frosting.
Thanks to Village Inn owners Judy Harvey and Roger Hicks, and to our attentive, knowledgeable server, Alice, for a memorable meal on the river. We’ll be back soon.
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