Christopher's -- Change suits Christopher's well
Sierra Lodestar 08/14/13

Foothill Flavors

Christopher's- Change suits Christopher's well

By Antoinette May Herndon

Have you noticed, Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano isn’t quite so Italiano these days? Actually, if you take a good gander around the bistro, your’ll find the place looks downright New Yorky.

The restaurant celebrated five years in business this past month. The owners, father and son, George and Christopher Segarini, marked the occasion with a promise to move beyond Italian. “Downtown Sonora deserves a first class restaurant,” chef Christopher says, “the sort of place where you’ll be proud to bring your out of town guests.”

Actually, Charles and I have dined often at Christopher’s over those past years—taken guests there too. It’s one of our favourite eateries. We liked the bistro just fine back in the oh, so la mio days. It was quieter then, more romantic. It was fun to watch the other diners twirl their spaghetti slowly, stylistically, around their forks and linger thoughtfully over each sip of carefully selected wine.

But change is a good thing, or so people keep telling me. Though there are still fine Italian dishes on Christopher’s menu, the choices now emphasize California Contemporary Cuisine with a greater variety of steaks and fish dishes.

According to George, the plan is to change the menu every trimester in order to stay seasonal with the focus on sustainable products from local farmers, ranchers and vintners.

But the change I noticed right away is the restaurant’s ambience. Like I said, it’s New Yorky with black tablecloths and maroon napery. The restaurant is more dimly lit. There’s a more sophisticated aura to it; and, though many of the diners were dressed summer casual, one can’t miss the

exciting buzz about the place.

Never fear though, there’s still an aura of romance lingering about Christopher’s. The setting helps. The restaurant is located in a 150 year- old-landmark building, once a historic hotel complete with towers, turrets and arches. I used to say that Christopher’s was the perfect place for a proposal or at the very least a proposition, now I suggest that you write your request on a paper and hold it up to your partner. Due to the growing popularity of Christopher’s, the decibel level has skyrocketed yet still remains an exciting venue to share with someone you care about.

Christopher is a whirling dervish in the kitchen and it’s that very passion for the creation and preparation that acts as a kind of magnet, conveying a sense of culinary happening to a capacity dining crowd. At nine on a recent Sunday night, people were still arriving in droves. It’s this kind of ardour that’s kept Christopher a much talked about chef for more than 20 years.

A localite, Christopher launched his career at the Culinary Academy in Columbia then went on to hone his skills in Napa and Sonoma. From there, it seemed inevitable that he would wind up in that ultimate foodie mecca, the heaven that all good chefs dream of going to. New Orleans. Of course.

“I loved the place,” Chris says today. “No question about it, I definitely elevated my game in New Orleans; but as time passed, the pull to come home and open my own restaurant was just too great.”

Charles and I started our most recent dining adventure at Christopher’s by sharing a clam and mussel appetizer. ($12) It was, as they say, to die for. Littleneck clams & PEI mussels in white wine and butter with tomato, onion, garlic, assorted herb and lemon.

For an entree, Charles harkened back to Christopher’s old Italiano days with crab ravioli ($17). It, too, came in a fantastic sauce. The rock crab was sautéed with shallots , garlic, parmesan cheese, fresh herbs in a homemade sherry cream sauce. The few bites he allowed me were truly delicious.

Up until now we had drunk glasses of Italian pinot grigio; cool, crisp, and perfect.

For my entrée I opted for the Butcher’s cut which turned out that evening to be boneless short ribs ($18) The ribs had been slow cooked in a rich sauce of onions, garlic, mushrooms and a medley of vegetables. The sauce was divine, the ribs could have been a tad more tender. The accompanying glass of Hovey’s barberra was perfect. Christopher told us that 90% of his wines come from local vineyards which, he believes, are top notch.

We topped off the evening by sharing a very generous slice of tiramasu ($6). It was a diet buster if there ever was one. See ya at the gym!

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VITALS: Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano, 160 South Washington St., Sonora. Phone: 533-2600. Open seven days a week for dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 and breakfast/lunch from 8 a.m. to l p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. No cocktail bar but a wide variety of wine and beer available. Credit cards accepted. Reservations strongly advised.

PICTURES: Servers Breanne Marlo, left, and Desi Quezada are assets to Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano in Sonora.

Christopher Segarini checks the dinner orders at his restaurant, Christopher’s in Sonora.

The kitchen at Christopher’s in Sonora is home to owner Christopher Segarini.

Sonora’s Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano seems always to be busy.