Sarafina's serves Italian in Arnold
Sierra Lodestar 01/20/2010

Foothill Flavors

By Antoinette May Herndon

You can read about food any time. So instead, let me tell you a story of desire and frustration, fear and betrayal. It’s a cautionary tale, one you really need to hear.

For months now I’ve been receiving laudatory emails from readers raving about Sarafina’s Italian Restaurant. “You’ve just got to go there and write about it, “they’ve insisted. Charles and I have also heard a number of yum-yum tales from people we know who also highly tout this bistro. Too bad we didn’t listen to them more closely because the most important detail escaped us. Like where is it?

Anyway, the other evening all of that good stuff we’d been hearing began to kick in. Nothing, it seemed, but country Italian would satisfy our culinary cravings. Wasn’t this the very night to try Sarafina’s?

Maybe it wasn’t, since on this, our first visit, the heavens were cursed with a mercury gone retrograde. Now a serious astrologer might double check her facts before starting out to a new place. Unfortunately, I’m only a half serious star-gazer.

Blissfully unaware that our stars were crossed, I read the website for Sarafina’s and copied down 1461 Wingdam, a street in Murphy’s. Charles duly map quested the route and we were off.

Suffice it to say, we drove and drove and drove. Wingdam is a narrow, winding road. I’m sure lots of bears and lions live out there, but not too many people. We drove some ten miles further and finally came to a few mailboxes, a smattering of lights twinkling far off in the distance. Finally we located 1461 but it seemed to be up a very steep driveway. Wouldn’t

a restaurant have signs? Lights, maybe a parking lot?

It was getting late. Our reservation was for 7:30. The approach looked scary in the dark. This couldn’t be right. Finally I whipped out my cell and, happily, had Sarafina’s number with me. “Where are you?” I whined into the receiver.

Nowhere close, it turned out. One of those far off twinkling lights belonged to the owner of the restaurant. She uses 1461 Wingdam as a business address. The restaurant was located, we were told, was in far off Arnold.

By now Charles and I were both ravenous and determined. It was a long way to back to Murphys after first retracing our route on Wingdam. Then we turned east onto a winding, woodsy stretch of Highway 4. Sarafina’s was waiting for us at the eastern most end of Arnold, 794 Highway 4. Remember that address, because—very fortunately—this restaurant is worth going the distance for.

Though it was midweek, the parking lot, ringed by snowdrifts, was packed. An encouraging sight. We took the last conceivable space, rolling right up to the front door. (Our car is tiny and we felt we’d earned that spot.)

It was delicious to step out of the cold night into the warm and lively wine bar. It’s Sierras rustic with an intimate cabin-like interior that’s very appealing. This time we were too hungry to linger and sidestepped into the main dining room where the solicitous wait staff had kept a table for us. They couldn’t believe what had happened, since their correct address also appears on the website. What can I say? Blame it on map quest . . . or the stars.

Looking about the room, I was delighted by what

I saw: log wainscoting, dark knotty pine walls and a large stone fireplace. The room was filled with happy looking diners. A glance at the goodies on their plates explained why.

We settled back and ordered a bottle of chianti, San Fabiano, ($18). It was absolutely perfect for what followed.

Sara (of Sarafina) was trained in Italy and her food is solid, comforting, and homemade. She definitely knows her pasta textures and sauces.

Charles and I began with Nettie’s Caprese, a delicious salad of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, mixed greens tossed with extra-virgin olive oil. ($8.95) It was done to perfection and could easily have served four.

This was followed by cups of minestone soup with finely cut vegetables (very much appreciated when spooned from a cup) in thick hearty broth. Very mama mia. ($3.95.)

Charles may have had the best rib- eye that I have ever tasted. ($21.95) He loved it too—what was left when I got through with “just one more bite.” This steak was 10 oz., covered with mushrooms and arugula and sautéed in fresh tomatoes. It was “just” marvelous,

My own choice was outstanding as well. I opted for veal scaloppini sautéed with lemon and capers in white wine. ($17.50) Veal scaloppini just doesn’t get any better.

I can honestly say Sarafina’s is worth the drive from Mokelumne Hill or even San Francisco. It just might be the best country Italian restaurant in Northern California. Check it out for yourself—but don’t get lost.

VITALS: Sarafina’s, 794 Highway 4, Arnold. Phone: 795-9858. Open Wednesday through Sundays from 5 p.m. until 9. Reservations advised. Credit cards accepted.