The décor at Santé, the main restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, seems to be a work in progress these days, but the food remains as good as ever.
It was closed for renovations for the first three months of this year and reopened on April 5. The lighting was changed, comfortable chairs put in and, most noticeably, the walls, pillars, window frames and mullions were all painted a deep black. The hostess said this was done to put the visual interest on the food. “It makes the food pop out,” she said. The sound system played soft jazz.
During that down time, the restaurant lost its place in the 2013 edition of the Michelin Guide to the Bay Area, where it had been given one star in 2012. It will undoubtedly regain that star next year. Through the years and a succession of chefs, the culinary thread that holds the Santé experience together is European-style quality — more precisely, French spa cooking — and impeccable service. Executive Chef Bruno Tison was classically trained with top chefs in France, became the youngest-ever executive chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and brought all his experience to Sante, where he crafts the menu.
Chef de Cuisine Andrew Cain realizes Chef Tison's ideas and adds his own. It's he who sources most of the ingredients locally and runs the kitchen day to day. The collaboration of these two results in deceptively simple-looking small portions, beautifully presented. The deception is revealed when you take a bite and discover the refined way in which the ingredients are brought to life by techniques and the spare but ideal use of flavorings.
The service can best be described as pampering. It's old-school, with plenty of concern for your happiness.
The wine list is fun. It's contained on iPads, so you can scroll through its choices of many great bottles with finger flicks. Wines by the glass run in the $12 to $20 range. I had a glass of superb 2011 Hirsch “Bohan-Dillon” pinot noir for $18 and my dinner companion had a glass of muscular 2007 Keenan “Spring Mountain” merlot for $16.