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Dining Out: California’s wine valleys come to Whitestone

SONOMA NAPA &

15-01 149th St. Whitestone

746-3446

They gutted the place from top to bottom.

More than 40 years ago, Rafters opened as a neighborhood steakhouse, dark and pubby, with a huge bar to the right and a small dining room to the left. Photos of old Whitestone once decked the walls.

New owners have changed all that. You now dine in a spacious, soft, cream-colored, dining room rather than the usual mahogany steak house decor. It's a tad Victorian, with huge windows that look out on a tiny tree-planted triangle aglow with miniature white lights. There's a fireplace flanked by a 21-foot mural depicting vineyard workers, Napa to the left, Sonoma to the right. This steakhouse, of course, takes its name from the two famed California wine valleys north of San Fransicso. It's a name specifically chosen to highlight the restaurant’s 170-label wine cellar, 90 percent of which comes from California.

Richard Reilly, Napa & Sonoma's CIA-trained executive chef, features wine in his sauces, perhaps picked up in his five years working in France, Germany and the Caribbean.

The Chilean sea bass, pan seared and finished with crisp pancetta and a pinot noir reduction, is a perfect example of the continuity between menu and wine list. At this point, Reilly’s menu reflects American comf ort food.

We were seated opposite the fireplace, on top of the bar (or at least where it was before being moved to maximize the space). The room now seats 90, an imtimate number for a steakhouse.

The all-male wait staff is mature, attentive and dressed in steak house best, black pants, white shirt and black tie. (Ditto the bartenders, plus a black vest.)

Our celebration meal began with three winners. Crab cakes were attractively plated with salad greens and cherry tomatoes. A fine herb sauce added distinction to the dish. Delectably creamy wild mushrooms were presented with an impressively large top hat of puff pastry set dead center. This was truly a feast for the eyes. On the other hand, Oysters Rockefelller, the non-traditional Napa & Sonoma version, was delightfully light and fresh tasting. It was a twist on the classic. Here, oysters are topped with fennel as well as spinach and a light pernod cream. But they are pesented on a naked plate. Sans the traditonal coarse salt bed or the newer peppercorn bed, they appeared forlorn.

Our bread basket held two types of great raisin rolls, one semolina (my favorite) and one whole wheat. The wine glasses were voluptuously large and pleased the eye.

Cautioned by our waiter, “They're large,” we split a house salad - a taste triumph. It tasted as if each leaf was hand dipped to be sure it was properly coated with dressing. The intriguing addition of figs added a just-right touch of sweetness that did wonders for flavor.

Cheers for our rib eye steak entree. The marinade added great taste to the heart of the beef, and most especially to the charred edges. The roast potatoes were creamy inside with a crusted outside. Carrots, zucchini and yellow, squash were colorful accomanying vegetables. Though Napa & Sonoma is a steakhouse it is also noted for its seafood, and the diver scallops (hand picked and so named) had a wonderful sauce with zucchini and yellow squash half slices. These added inerest and flavor to the pasta. Our third entree, the filet mignon Wellington, disappointed. We asked for medium rare. It arrived as a true Wellington, wrapped in puff pastry, topped with duxelle, but uniquivically overdone.

Our desserts were the steakhouse regulars - key lime pie, chocolate cake and cheese cake. Coffee? Of course.

From a pubby neighborhood steak house to a light, bright, medium-sized, higher-end steak house. From photos of old Whitestone to murals of California's famed vineyards. From basic steak to wine-sauced items. That's the new Napa & Sonoma in Whitestone.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A new steak house featuring the wines of California. Light and bright ambiance. Good American cusine. Professional, mature wait staff. Noisy when full.

CHOICE CHEF'S

Napa & Sonoma Crabcakes (lump crabmeat served with caper and fresh herb remoulade)...S8.00 Oysters Rockefeller (our twist on the classic. Oysters topped with spinach and fennel with a pernod cream. Baked and finished with a butter sauce)...$13.95 From the Grill:

40 oz Porterhouse Steak (for two)...$58.00

Filet Mignon (pueen cut)...$24.00

12 oz. Filet Mignon (King cut)...$28.00

Chilean Sea Bass (pan seared and finished with crisp pancetta and pinot noir reduction)...$25.00

Seafood ala Tasco (lobster, jumbo shrimp, callops and clams with basil and garlic over linguini)...$28.00

NY Cheesecake...$5.00

Chocolate Decadence...$5.00

Cuisine: Steakhouse

Setting: Light and bright

Service: Mature professionals

Hours: Lun M-F, Din 7 days

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Valet

service road Cross Located: S

Credit cards: All major. No Disccover

Dress:Very casual

Takeout: Week days

Off premise catering: No

Children: Will accomodate

Private parties: To 90

Noise level: High when full

Smoking: Bar

Handicap access: Yes

Island Pky & 149th St

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