Rudy Mihal

Rudy Brings Right Touch to Sonoma

Chef Rudy Mihal of Restaurant Rudy has got more than a few culinary tricks up his sleeve

Restaurant Rudy might just be the best little restaurant in the heart of Wine Country you never heard of. Rudy Mihal, who left Spoonbar last year to start his own place, opened the new spot quietly this fall in Sonoma, in an unassuming space that has been a revolving door with three restaurants in a row crashing and burning in the space since Carlo Cavallo moved his Meritage down the street.

Rudy has come through the fire, passing through kitchens in New York, San Francisco and Italy, on his way to Sonoma — so if anyone has a shot at breaking the seeming curse on the location, it’s him, hot off the very successful launch of Spoonbar in Healdsburg. Before that opening Mihal cut his teeth in New York under Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio (back when the Top Chef-star ran the kitchen of Gramercy Tavern), and busted his butt for Daniel Boulud. He’s also put in a year as an apprentice in Michael White’s kitchen at San Domenico in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, where he acquired a deft touch with pasta fresca. He’s spent summers in Sicily, cooking by the sea, and opened Fiama (with Michael White) in New York’s Soho, and Zuppo in San Francisco (as head chef).

This breadth of experience hints at the treat diners who stop in to Restaurant Rudy are in for.

The handmade pastas are set to be a stalwart. On a recent trip the tortelli stuffed with Bellweather Farms ricotta and sage were perfectly soft and chewy at the same time, a simple dish done right, but a braised octopus pasta bordered on spectacular — a slow-cooked celebration of Mediterranean flavors. On the menu you’ll find things like chicory salads made with seasonal farmers market ingredients joining things like the prawn preparation Mihal picked up in his summers spent in Sicily. But the menu also makes way for a classic pan-seared ribeye, and, on occasion terrines and charcuterie.

Mihal has perfected his terrine technique by dint of pure hard-work, taking on extra steps in the already laborious process because the end result is worth it. For instance, he explains the extra hour’s worth of preparation he recently put in creating a sort of liver mousse that comprised only one element of the classic terrine he’s currently serving. Served rustically, wrapped in fatback, the slices of terrine form an incredible combination of tastes and textures, with some of the duck coming from a supply from Sonoma Artisan Mihal scored.

Mihal honed his hand at Café Boulud in Palm Beach, working with Daniel Boulud himself — as the restaurant’s saucier, Mihal took on a wide variety of roles, and was responsible for all the sauces, stocks, braised meat and the butchering. “I learned a lot there,” Mihal says now. Though the job did not come without long hours, with Mihal often unlocking at 5 a.m. and staying well into the night. “I had the keys to the kitchen,” he says.

After his first 6 months at Café Boulud, Mihal was also put in charge of “special ops,” preparing terrines and foie gras. Mihal recently set out a plate of trotter terrine at Restaurant Rudy, a version of a dish he learned there (“But now I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder,” he jokes), a classic (and classically labor-intensive and precise) French dish. Mihal recalls learning how to remove every pebble-like bone from the trotter at Café Boulud, a task the young chef sometimes didn’t get quite right. As the trotter terrine at Restaurant Rudy attests, Mihal gets it quite right.

While Mihal speaks fondly of all involved in Spoonbar and enjoyed his time there, he felt the food was not his own. There were many voices informing the restaurant’s small plates. “I was trying to please everyone,” Mihal remembers. “It wasn’t really what I wanted to do.”

In Sonoma, Mihal is doing just what he wants.

Restaurant Rudy is located at 522 Broadway in Sonoma. Call 707.938.7373