E ditor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do .
My mom is picking at something beige on her plate. She holds a forkful aloft, inspecting it, then offers it to me for analysis. "Might be toast," she muses. I take a bite, feeling the dry graininess on my tongue, the starchy crust and the blandness that tastes only of butter. It's poorly done polenta. She gives me a chunk of the gray meat that sits atop. It's overcooked fish—mahi mahi, we suppose, as our waitress had recited it as the catch of the day ($17)—that hunkers in a puddle of white wine sauce under a fistful of dry parsley flakes.
Now it's my turn. "Bacon grease for sure," I vote, pushing my plate of meatloaf ($16) in her direction. "Maple syrup, maybe. Microwaved hamburger." She identifies ketchup, and nibbles at a scoop of stiff mashed potatoes alongside. We both agree that the side dish is spinach, rather than the promised Brussels sprouts. She sighs. I cough. We both put down our forks. This little game we've been playing at Sky Lounge Steakhouse & Raw Bar isn't fun anymore.
When we first sat down at the restaurant on a recent Saturday night, we'd been amused. There's a retro charm to the place, tucked as it is inside the Sonoma County Airport, overlooking the tarmac with its walk-up plane ladders and looking like a throwback to the '50s.
But this Sky Lounge wasn't at all what we had expected. It opened in August to a fair bit of publicity. It's newsworthy because the North Bay's only commercial airport reopened last spring after a long hiatus. As such, Sky Lounge is a gateway to wine and food country, an important first and/or last impression for visitors. Appropriately, it promises "top grade" beef and seafood from local farmers and fishermen, in a "first class restaurant with a creative menu emphasizing freshness and quality."
A centerpiece, deliciously showcased in marketing materials, is the raw/sushi bar. It sounds like a nifty proposition even for folks not trapped waiting for a plane: Hog Island oysters in truffle-ponzu mignonette, kona kampachi spiked with spicy mayo and jalapeño wafer or a soft shell crab BLT.
Yet tonight, there's no sushi or raw display at the tiny wheeled-in sushi stand off the kitchen. There's apparently no real food either; our waitress tells us the chef is off. So instead, our dinner is just coffee-shop clam chowder ($6) that's been so beat-up by reheating that there's yellowish skin across the top, a caesar ($11) drowned in mayonnaise and a few marinated anchovies and Asian lettuce cups ($9) buried under flabby pork clumps.
Outside, it's so densely foggy that the PA system alerts us an incoming flight is being diverted to Oakland, and its passengers will be bused back here. A pack of people settle in at the bar to wait, arming themselves with cocktails. Don't they know that the first rule of going to the airport is to check and make sure the plane is on schedule? The second rule, apparently, is to find out if the chef has arrived.
Sky Lounge Steakhouse & Raw Bar, 2200 Airport Blvd. (in Sonoma County Airport), Santa Rosa. Open for breakfast and lunch daily; dinner, Wednesday&–Sunday. 707.542.9400.