Sonoma and Monterey beckon, and we offer two exceptional experiences this fall.
Fresh breakfast sips from MacArthur Place’s signature restaurant, Layla
Sonoma isn’t exactly a place where change happens quickly. Its downtown, dotted with venerable restaurants like The Girl & the Fig (thegirlandthefig.com) and Sunflower Caffé (sonomasunflower.com), along with Three Sticks Wines at the Adobe (threestickswines.com), is a wine country time capsule. Locals and visitors like it this way, and for good reason: The vibe and appeal are nearly perfect.
The expansive dining area at Layla, which is now helmed by executive chef Jordan Hoffman
MacArthur Place (macarthurplace.com), more than any other property in town, is part of the neighborhood landscape. It’s easy to drive by and completely miss this hidden, low-slung resort, which is shrouded by lush flora. Shortly before the pandemic, the Victorian-style property benefited from a $25 million renovation and redesign; its lobby and public spaces were transformed into square footage that feels like artsy lofts in SOMA or Pacific Heights, complete with a 100-piece mixed-media art collection from Uprise Art (upriseart.com).
The property recently went through a $25 million renovation, which included elegantly updating all suites.
Teams from SFA Design (sfadesign.com) and RDC Architecture (rdcollaborative.com) incorporated pieces of the property’s 150-year-old past (it was once a private home for rancher and miner David Burris), but mostly maintain airy and bright spaces accented with rich textiles, color and more than a little whimsy (we love the “Yo” sculpture in the lobby, which, when read from the other side of the room, reveals its Brooklyn origin story: “Oy”). Each of the 64 guest rooms and suites feature custom furniture, white oak minibar credenzas and spa baths, complete with soaking tubs, Grown Alchemist toiletries and, in some rooms, outdoor showers.
The dining room views at Coastal Kitchen
There’s ample opportunity to get lost amid the flora, as quiet, narrow paths lead to hidden lounges surrounding fire pits, as well as huddles of sunflowers, lavender, bamboo and wildflowers. But discovery is also a big part of the appeal here, and the team provides the perfect mode of transportation for all guests: Blix electric bikes. The speedy two-wheelers are not to be missed when cruising from the property to downtown in five minutes. Staff provide helmets, locks and quick tutorials on the inner workings of these little wonders. It’s an unexpected and brilliant amenity.
Executive chef Jordan Hoff man recently took over the property’s signature restaurant, Layla. He has worked under Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand and oversaw culinary operations at Delano South Beach, among other venues, and begins his tenure in tandem with the debut of the property’s Chef’s Garden in partnership with Flatbed Farm (flatbedfarm.com) in nearby Glen Ellen. The 6-acre MacArthur Place also houses two locally raised bee colonies, with honey harvests finding their way into many dishes.
Chef Michael Rotondo relies on local sourcing for every dish.
Menu standouts from Hoff man’s team include roasted Pacific oyster (chermoula butter, chives, lemon, toasted hazelnut); grilled dorade (green garlic crema, baby turnips and greens, saffron rouille, puffed farro gremolata); and free-range half chicken (grilled with an apricot glaze, shaved fennel and arugula salad). Hoffman hails from Detroit and doesn’t mince words. “We don’t have to do anything crazy here; the local flavors dictate everything, and that provides endless freedom.”
Sort of like this special place in wine country.
MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL AND SPA
When Michael Rotondo uprooted his young family and recently moved to Monterey, it didn’t go over well. The new executive chef at Coastal Kitchen, which overlooks the bay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa (montereyplazahotel.com), says his three kids were slightly apoplectic. After all, the routines of city kids, not to mention their dad’s, who visited the Ferry Building Marketplace and Marin farmers market a couple of times each week, are sacred.
The property’s award-winning spa
“It was a tough decision to move, but I’m so glad we made it,” says Rotondo, who notes his family is now settled and beyond happy. And the chef himself has created a much-lauded tasting menu. “I’ve been able to truly create a solid menu, and the team I’ve built is simply the best.” He’s not wrong; from the kitchen team to the waitstaff to the sommeliers, Rotondo’s vision is carried out with precision by a small, engaging cadre of food and wine experts.
“Everything we’re serving is from within a short driving distance of the restaurant,” says Rotondo. “I’m obsessed with finding the perfect farmer for everything, right down to the onion. Back in San Francisco, I developed great relationships with farmers who produced exceptional fruits and vegetables, and I’m doing the same thing here.”
Delicate confections are part of the tasting menu.
Case in point: He’s using local sea beans harvested from Monterey Bay, offering a rich, robust salinity to the first-course white asparagus. The chef also impresses with the Monterey king salmon, bathed in rhubarb, Sweet 100 tomatoes and aromatic herbs, along with a tender tortellini en brodo, with moonflower, broccolini and parsnip. Wine pairings are precise and a mix of California (2021 Happy Canyon rosé), Italy (2012 Arpepe Grumello—Rocca de Piro) and Spain (2015 Coto de Imaz, gran reserva).
An evening in this grand room also means paying attention to the bay. The team strategically places binoculars on the ledge of every window—better to see the seals and humpback, gray and blue whales, which guests witnessed several times on the night I dined at Coastal Kitchen. Sea mammal calisthenics only add to the allure of what Rotondo and his team have created in this room—nature is merely along for a fairly magical ride.
Photography by: EMMA K. MORRIS; COURTESY OF MACARTHUR PLACE, MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL AND SPA