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Cafe La Haye Zagat Review

MICHELIN Guide’s Point Of View
For years, Cafe La Haye has been a standby off the square in downtown Sonoma. One bite of its luscious burrata, surrounded by Early Girl tomatoes and crispy squash blossoms in the summer, or vinaigrette-dressed pea shoots in spring, proves it hasn’t aged a day. The small, modern space is still charming, with large windows and lots of mirrors. Stunning local artwork for sale decorates the walls. The food spans cultural influences, including a delicate risotto with pine nuts in a cauliflower broth, or soy-sesame glazed halibut atop whipped potatoes and braised kale. A postage stamp-sized bar pours glasses of Sonoma chardonnay and cabernet, perfect with rich strozzapreti tossed with braised pork ragù, Grana Padano and toasted breadcrumbs.

• The Plate: Fresh ingredients, carefully prepared: a good meal
• Quite comfortable
• 25 - 50 USD
• Californian

Wine Spectator

Saul Gropman and Jeffrey Lloyd from Cafe La Haye

Located just off Sonoma Plaza, Cafe La Haye offers an appealingly unfussy sophistication. The split-level dining room holds just a dozen or so tables, but its open kitchen, raftered ceiling and walls adorned with modern art create a vibrant energy that’s contagious.

Convivial owner Saul Gropman and chef Jeffrey Lloyd make a formidable team. Lloyd, former executive chef of restaurant Michael Mina, offers a seasonal menu that’s discreet in its complexity, featuring the sort of dishes that seem to get better with each bite. Wolfe Ranch quail is paired with a sauce of black olive and white wine, while petrale sole comes with a delicate porcini cream sauce.

Gropman’s wine list comprises a modest 100 bottles, but it’s a smart, well-focused selection that ranges from value choices such as Bedrock Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Old Vine 2010 ($47) to splurges such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2005 ($3,500).

Jeff Cox
March 29, 2014

Cox: Cafe La Haye just keeps getting better

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.
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...
Chef Lloyd keeps the ingredients local and organic, the preparations simple, and the quality of the finished dishes superb.
To sum up: Hooray for La Haye!

Michael Bauer
September 10, 2009
Sonoma's Cafe La Haye retains charm, quality

The Wine Country may be growing, but Sonoma has continued to exude a small-town vibe. Few restaurants capture that charm as well as Cafe La Haye, which has been in business off the town square for 15 years and has been a perennial Top 100 restaurant pick.

Owner Saul Gropman has been a consistent presence at the front of the house, while various chefs have cranked out satisfying food from a kitchen many home cooks would reject as too small. Now Gropman has hired Jeffrey Lloyd, onetime executive chef of Michael Mina and Aqua, and most recently chef at Nectar in Burlingame. He's used to high-style fare, but he's dialed it down a bit to adjust to the location and size of the kitchen.

Salads make the best of available produce. Organic mixed greens with grapes and candied pecans ($8.95) are lightly dressed in a sherry Dijon vinaigrette that accentuates the ingredients. There's also a tomato bread salad ($9.95) and a more substantial dishes, such as house-smoked trout crepes with a shaved torpedo onion and frisee salad ($12.95).

The main courses always include a risotto and pasta. On the last visit, it was fresh tagliarini ($18.95) with lamb meatballs in a Mediterranean-inspired sauce with roasted peppers, eggplant, picholine olives and feta and goat cheeses. There's a lot going on, and the sauce overpowers the pasta, but the flavors are vibrant.

Flat-iron steak is a bargain for $19.95. Slices of medium-rare meat, accented with Walla Walla onions, fan out over basil mashed potatoes so green they could have been touched by a leprechaun; fortunately, they tasted better than they looked.

The most expensive and complex main course is pan-seared quail ($24.95), its cavity packed with quinoa and pecans, moistened with brandied cherry gastric.

For dessert, the kitchen excels at butterscotch pudding ($8), drizzling it with hot fudge sauce.

Gropman keeps the service friendly. The decor is simple, with an open-beamed ceiling that keeps the room from feeling cramped. It's pleasant, but the interior takes a back seat to the food, which continues to showcase Sonoma's best.

Jeffrey Lloyd, onetime executive chef at Michael Mina and Aqua, has enhanced the appeal of this jewel-box restaurant just off the Sonoma Square. His regularly changing menu features the best Sonoma products and always includes a risotto, pasta and a daily roast chicken with accompaniments such as caramelized onion jus with sour cream-fingerling potato cake. Owner Saul Gropman creates a welcoming front of the house, as he's done for the last 15 years. The beamed-ceiling interior is arranged on two levels overlooking a postage stamp-size bar and open kitchen; it's simple, but has a warm, inviting feel.

A tiny place just off the square in Sonoma, Cafe La Haye is stark, minimalist and nearly monochromatic: white, black and various shades of gray dominate. This Manhattan feel is countered by large windows and an open front door, both of which bring in light and air. And the food provides color -- lots of color. The produce is local, organic and superb, and almost every dish is determined not as much by what might be called the main ingredient -- the protein -- but by the vegetables, which provide character.

This goes for the nicely done pot roast, overshadowed by the accompanying root vegetables and horseradish mashed potatoes; the gorgeous Liberty duck breast, made all the more so by the turnips and carrots served with it, and even the smoked salmon with potato pancakes and creme fraiche, which was outshone by an apple-horseradish compote.

The dishes based on vegetables -- heirloom tomato salad, or greens with nuts, blue cheese and roasted beets (a classic combination that appears on nearly every menu in town) -- are sure winners. One salad was spiked by hyper-aromatic basil and fragrant olive oil, another was served with a super vinaigrette containing preserved lemons.

In fact, nothing disappointed; the crowded, closet-sized, semi-open kitchen produces shining examples of updated bistro food, and it can keep up the pace nicely because the dining room has only 32 seats.

The wine list is as local as the food, with exotic selections coming from as far away as Napa, and no farther; the by-the-glass selection is superior to most. The excellent sour dough bread comes from the Artisan Bakers, an award-winning operation in town. Service is attentive without being annoying.

Finally, desserts are delicious and nicely presented: intensely dense chocolate pots de creme are served in black cups; Basmati rice pudding -- mine could have been cooked until the rice was fully tender -- is graced with caramel sauce, and the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce was, well, great.