A Natural Restaurant Full of Flavor

Growing their own food in a biodynamic setting, the restaurants of Sondra Bernstein are reminders of what food and service free from manipulation can add to your dining experience.

| Fall 2012

  • The restaurants’ fruit and vegetables have always been sourced locally.
    Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com
  • The farm has given the culinary staff a better appreciation for the ingredients they use, their availability, and how seasonality dictates the dishes they create.
    Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com
  • Sondra Bernstein, proprietor of the girl & the fig, with executive chef John Toulze, describes her restaurants’ fare as “approachable, simple food with a lot of flavor. Food that is not very manipulated and that will give you a sense of place.”
    Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com
  • Imagery Garden employs biodynamic practices such as the use of nitrogen and oyster shell lime to boost the soil’s water solubility, promote healthy root growth, and create an optimal calcium and pH balance.
    Photo by Susan Audrey
  • Several varieties of heirloom radishes are grown — a regular on the menus — including Icicle, Daikon, and Black Spanish, a good keeper with a black skin and tender white flesh.
    Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com

At the girl & the fig restaurants in Northern California’s wine country, the French passion for gathering around a table and enjoying good wine as part of the resonance of the meal provides a memorable experience. It is also quite fitting, as the sprawling vineyard-dotted hills, small one-family farms, local cheese makers and lavender growers of the region long ago earned the area its billing as a sister city of Provence.

The girl — proprietor and CEO of the girl & the fig and Estate restaurants in Sonoma and the fig café & winebar in Glen Ellen — Sondra Bernstein, describes her restaurants’ fare as “approachable, simple food with a lot of flavor. Food that is not very manipulated and that will give you a sense of place.”

Ironically, this description can also be applied to Bernstein herself, whose friendly, easy-going personality earns her easy friends — patrons leave feeling they have befriended her, a staff member shares. Yet, beneath her unassuming demeanor is a powerhouse constantly generating new projects.

Since leaving nearby Viansa Winery in the mid-90s — she worked in restaurant management in Los Angeles and Philadelphia prior — Bernstein has not only opened three restaurants, but has written two books, the girl & the fig Cookbook and Plats Du Jour: the girl & the fig’s Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country; opened a catering business; started producing her own wine; established a line of gourmet foods; opened a space called Sweet D, where she and others hold events and gatherings; created a new line of pickling spices; and has struck a deal with the well-known Benziger wine family to share a plot of land and maintain a small farm called Imagery Garden at the family’s Imagery Estate Winery off Sonoma Highway near the tiny town of Glen Ellen.

The Farm Project

Of all the projects that keep her life and those of her staff awhirl, learning to farm has been one of the most surprising.

“I now understand the physical aspect of farming,” says Bernstein, “not just the price part.”



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