Posted on

An Exclusive Chef’s Dinner at Sonoma of Worcester

Veteran food writer, Barbara Houle praises Executive Chef Bill Brady. Sarah Connell, right. Outside of the interior entrance of Sonoma at the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester, MA.

On November 2nd, Executive Chef Bill Brady hosted the first exclusive chef’s dinner in Sonoma’s new home at The Beechwood Hotel. The guest list included members of the local media who took to the distinct space right away, slurping down oysters and sipping on champagne like old friends.

There was a great deal of reminiscing about Worcester’s restaurant renaissance throughout the night and I did my best to learn from those who have watched the city’s transformation carefully for decades. Telegram & Gazette correspondent, Barbara M. Houle and International Hotel Management and Development President, Sayed M. Saleh, exchanged one extraordinary culinary story after another. (I was pleased, for instance, to learn that the late American chef, Julia Child, served Goldfish Crackers at all of her house parties.) I sat alongside Jim Eber of Mass Foodies, pressing him for details about what it was like to work closely with Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. The evening was a freshman food writer’s dream.

For Chef Brady, there may have been a marked shift in adapting from a “five-day dinner house” to a “six o’clock in the morning to midnight, seven days a week, yearlong operation,” but one would never know it by the look of things. Sonoma’s servers are as attentive as ever, but now they operate beneath the regal sheen of The Beechwood’s stained glass dome.

Brady began washing dishes in a Leominster restaurant at age 13 and never left the kitchen. Formally educated at Johnson & Wales, he completed stints in New York City and Florida before returning home to Central Massachusetts where he settled down with his wife and children. His humble simplification that he’s, “been a part of the Central Mass fabric for quite some time now,” is an understatement, to say the least. Not only has Brady maintained one of the most successful area restaurants over the last two decades, he has also served as an effective culinary educator at both Monty Tech and Worcester Technical High School. Brady credits his ability to balance simultaneous careers to his incredible staff, but I imagine his work ethic had something to do with it as well.

Sonoma remarkably retained all of its staff in the transition, as well as that of the previous tenant, Ceres Bistro. Beechwood Co-owners Dr. Charles and Janet Birbara, detected a unique synergy with Sonoma from the beginning. During an opening toast last night, Dr. Birbara recalled his strong instinct that Brady would be the only chef capable of elevating the one-of-a-kind boutique space to an entirely new plane. If last night’s four-course affair was any indication, Birbara may very well be correct.

Sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and escargot from Sonoma in Worcester, MA.
Sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and escargot from Sonoma in Worcester, MA.

We dined like kings on sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and escargot, mushroom and goat cheese strudel, and char-grilled Korean short rib. When our server poured off glasses of the 2012 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve, a bewitching aroma took to the air with the resonance of a summer strawberry patch.

Sonoma will not only draw its regulars from Princeton to the city, it will also leave a lasting impression on guests of the elite hotel and the proud citizens of its new Worcester neighborhood. Just, don’t ask Brady to pick his favorite dish on the new menu, because he’ll tell you that’s like asking him to choose his favorite child. You will simply have to try everything for yourself.

Posted on

A Look Inside Sonoma’s New Home in Worcester

Sonoma, formerly of Princeton, is now located at 363 Pleasant Street in Worcester.

Sonoma’s official grand opening in Worcester is slated for next week, but Mass Foodies stopped by a few days early for an admirable preview.

Sonoma, formerly of Princeton – now of the Beechwood Hotel – managed to retain all of its staff as well as that of the previous tenant, Ceres Bistro. The space itself looks largely unchanged, preserving a sense of social inspiration by virtue of highly captivating aesthetics. The bar is still aglow. The stained glass rotunda still serves as a dining room centerpiece. The sunsets are still just as striking on the patio as they’ve ever been. But, the menu looks a little bit different. Given the precision and expertise of Chef and Owner Bill Brady, we’re certain that 363 Plantation Street is about to see a whole new side of Sonoma.

Sonoma has built a reputation on its wine selection; during our visit, we asked our veteran server for some guidance. I wanted something “big, deep, and red,” and found what I was searching for in the Provenance, Rutherford Cabernet ($18). My date asked for a tannic wine to “grip the tongue” and arrived at the 2014/2016 Elsa Bianchi Malbec ($9).

Grilled Breast of Duckling and Boneless Korean Short Rib of Beef at Sonoma in Worcester.

Appetizer options included a very diverse selection, ranging from the Mediterranean Meze Platter ($14) to the Peppercorn Crusted Loin of Ostrich ($18). There was a distinct Asian influence that accounted for dishes like Kung Pao Cauliflower ($9) and Ahi Tuna Sashimi ($14). We began accordingly with Chicken and Foie Gras Dim Sum Dumplings ($14) served in a Sauternes Shiitake broth with Sriracha ponzu. The combination of decadent Foie Gras and rich, floral Sauternes played on a classic pairing. We found our four dumplings expertly steamed and indulgently bathed in a nourishing broth.

The Beechwood’s signature stained glass rotunda serves as a dining room centerpiece for new tenant, Sonoma.

Entrees ranged in price from an $18 pasta dish to a $44 Prime Rack of Colorado Lamb Persillade. I opted for the Grilled Breast of Duckling ($30) and my date ordered the Boneless Korean Short Rib of Beef ($32). My duck was cooked to succulent perfection and served with a maple demi-glace, sweet potato puree, and spinach. The short rib was browned and juicy with a charred exterior rendering bite after pleasing bite. It was accompanied by sake-braised bok choy, jasmine rice, and miso aioli. We finished our meal with a coconut shell packed full of refreshing sorbet ($5).

Sonoma will, without a doubt, draw regulars from Princeton, welcome hotel guests to Worcester, and attract a traditional city crowd for special-occasion-dining opportunities. We feel confident that this is only the first in a long line of memorable visits by Mass Foodies.