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Sonoma Grille

A lot more than retsina
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 17, 2010

Sonoma Grille has a lot going for it. Convenient location, good looks, good food — judging from our sample below — and, as you’d assume from the name, a wide selection of wines.

SONOMA GRILLE | 401.295.0800 |  | 7366 Post Rd, North Kingstown | Mon-Sat, 11:30 AM-10 PM; Sun, 4-9 PM | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access

We went early in the middle of the week, but it wasn’t as busy as it should have been by the time we left, considering how impressed we were by what we’d had. Sigh. These days, even people who can afford to eat out tend to stay home and settle for a frozen pizza.

The place is attractive, with the earth tones of the stone-work façade outside echoed inside. Wine bottles are displayed prominently, and there are also wooden panels from cases of wine, emblazoned “Château Pavie” and “Charlemagne Grand Cru” and the like, gathered and displayed above booths like billboards. If you don’t hanker for a sip of the grape here, you’re either a teetotaler or own a brewery. (Dogfish Head and Blue Moon are among the drafts on tap.)

They offer more than 80 wines. The emphasis is on California, of course. Those from Sonoma County are listed separately from wines from Napa and Mendocino and other North Coast vintners, which are listed under North American, making a tongue-in-cheek distinction. Nearly two dozen are available by the glass. We had a nice Concannon pinot noir and, out of tourist nostalgia, retsina, which is on the list because owner John Vanikiotis, a 40-year veteran of the business, is Greek. He used to run Jason’s, by the Showcase Cinemas on Quaker Lane in Warwick, from which he brought chef Jason Mollo, who heads this kitchen.

Speaking of wine, a bottle of Vista Point or, much more appealingly, Canyon Road, is part of a Monday-through-Thursday $35 twofer special, with choices from a half-dozen entrées.

The list of starters begins with four Greek possibilities. I got the idea that carnivores were going to be well treated here, because the meze platter ($14.99) didn’t get into stuffed grape leaves and spanikopita but rather consisted of lamb chops, gyro meat, and fixins to go with them in pita bread. Other appetizers were mainly seafood, from PEI mussels to sesame-encrusted ahi tuna.

But somehow we were in an Aegean mood, so we got going with a Greek pizza ($9.50), among five of those choices, and a Greek salad ($8.50). The salad was unusual, and unusually appreciated, for several reasons. Foremost was the quality of the ingredients, especially the excellent olive oil and particularly flavorful Kalamata olives. Then there were the non-Greek additions: radicchio, and lots of fat capers. And I loved the dressing, which cheated but won by being a little sweet.

Excuse me for going on like that, but my eyebrows always pop up when I come across something we’re accustomed to being good that is brought up to excellent. The same could be said of the pizza. There was that full-flavored olive oil again and those wonderful olives, plus roasted red peppers, feta, scallions instead of onions, and a touch of oregano. Marvelous.

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