By Carey Sweet
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do.
The Wolf House of Glen Ellen received "two forks" in the Michelin guide released a few weeks ago. That sounds impressive, though it really means that the tire company's restaurant inspectors simply deem it "comfortable and pleasant"—a bit worthier than, say, a phone book listing.
Yet for casual diners who don't obsessively parse the nuances and tiers of endless guides like Zagat, Mobil and such, seeing the Michelin logo in the window of the restaurant tucked between the historic Jack London Saloon and Jack London Lodge may be all it takes to get them in the front door.
Which would be a good thing. Because while there's nothing earth-shattering going on in the kitchen here, there's plenty to like about this place, with its generous portions of California comfort food, reasonable prices and charming chateau setting with a roaring fireplace and creekside views.
Chef Chris Kennedy Aken shines with his use of straightforward ingredients, well-treated and nicely presented, like the absolutely delightful appetizer of "crunchy little fish bites" ($10). Meaty chunks of expertly fried cod, halibut and potato arrive wrapped in a paper menu, plunked in a clever glass box and paired with a thin, bright lemon aioli. It's a highly addictive nibble.
Another appetizer of paté ($9) was as rustic as they come, the chunky-creamy slab wrapped in bacon and decorated with candied red onions plus a dollop of grain mustard to spread on bread (though I wasn't sure what to do with a silly tower of carrot curl stuck with frisée that was plopped on the plate).
I've eaten flocks of lamb chops over the years, but the Wolf's ($29) stand out for their basic goodness—top quality meat, perfectly roasted and glistening with enough fat and drizzles of kalamata jus for deep flavor. Sides of tempura portobello fries and a flaky tomato tart soaked up the juices.
The most creative thing on my evening's menu was the ahi ($25), seared and sliced over white shrimp-stuffed wontons and miso-marinated asparagus. It was also the least successful: the wontons went soggy under a heavy sour apple "froth" that was more like bubbly cream, and oversalting ruined the vegetables and bland fish.
Yet the simple seasonal salads were wonderful, like a tumble of roasted beets, green and yellow beans, snap peas, shaved fennel and avocado turbo-charged with fistfuls of Pt. Reyes blue cheese ($11). Another plate of cantaloupe, honeydew and yellow watermelon ($9) was sparked with sharp pickled ginger, cucumber and red onion curls under a drizzle of Sonoma Valley olive oil.
It was no surprise to see classic chocolate soufflé ($7) for dessert, and no shock that it was delicious. In old-school style, the crunchy-capped round melted into a thick liquid center, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a tiny pitcher of hot chocolate sauce served alongside.
This Wolf House is a nice beast—friendly, familiar, fairly priced and in a delicious storybook setting. For most diners, that warrants a pretty high rating.
Wolf House, open for lunch, Tuesday–Friday; dinner, Tuesday–Sunday; brunch, Saturday–Sunday. 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. 707.996.4401.
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