An old farm saying has it that the best fertilizer is the farmer's footsteps. That philosophy is behind the rip-roaring success of Cafe La Haye in Sonoma, where the food just keeps getting better and better.
On most nights, owner Saul Gropman is not only there, he's drifting among the tables, sincerely interested in not only whether you're satisfied, but how you like individual dishes. He obviously enjoys his restaurant, the customers, the wait staff, and especially, chef Jeffrey Lloyd's kitchen.
Chef Lloyd has been at La Haye for about five years, having arrived after serving as executive chef at Michael Mina and Aqua in San Francisco and Nectar in Burlingame. La Haye's tiny, open kitchen hardly seems like a facility that can turn out perfect provender, but then the erstwhile Masa's — one of San Francisco's best restaurants for more than 30 years — had a kitchen not much larger than a broom closet.
Cafe La Haye
Obviously, a roomy, well-furnished kitchen is no substitute for talent. And chef Lloyd has talent. It's no wonder Saul Gropman is always smiling.
The room — on two levels — is bright and airy, with a two-story ceiling showing exposed beams. The walls are filled with minimalist artwork, all of it for sale, so, in effect, the place is a restaurant in an art gallery (or vice versa).
The wine list is wondrous. It's been put together by someone who really knows their wine, with a focus on Sonoma County wines like the 2012 Rochioli Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc for $48, 2010 Muscardini Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel for $48, 2009 Surround Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $64 and, if you've won the lottery, 2005 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux and La Tache at prices so scary they don't put them on the wine list. Corkage is $20.
Service slowed a bit when all 32 seats were filled, as happens most nights (so reservations are a must), but that wasn't the fault of the two waiters, who still delivered smart and unobtrusive service.