Food Interview

Simple is Better at Sonoma Bistro

Christian Lanoie cooks up delicious, seasonally-focused meals without the fuss at this North Kingstown favorite

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When owners Christian and Kerrie Lanoie bought Sonoma Bistro and Wine Bar in 2012, they closed on the sale over breakfast and were open for lunch. Given this continuity, regulars might take walking through the doors for granted, but from my conversation with Christian, it’s clear that he certainly doesn’t. Steady improvements to the menu and an unwillingness to cut corners in prep have built an even larger crowd, making the restaurant a bit of a sleeper hit in North Kingstown. My conversation with Christian revealed a self-described humble cook focused at all times on his patrons. We talked tweezers, title inflation and taps.

For a place called Sonoma Bistro and Wine Bar, there’s a lot of beer!

We were actually just joking recently that we should have called it Sonoma Bistro and Beer Bar. We have 36 beers on draught, and 25 of them come from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. So when we say local, we mean it. We’re definitely a craft beer bar. Still, we have 30 wines by the glass. Drinks are a big part of the business, but one of the things that we love about this restaurant is that our bar guests are here to eat. At the bar or in the dining room, the liquor and food mix is the same.

What changes have you made since buying the restaurant?
The first thing we did was really improve the quality of the food both from the execution standpoint, in terms of what was being done in the line, and also by improving ingredients. We immediately got rid of stuff like butter blend and used real butter. By improving everything coming in the door, we improved what was getting to the table. The next phase was to take the menu and bring it into a more consistent theme, listening to the guests and finding out what they really wanted.

Tell us about your seasonal menus.
We’re a neighborhood joint, so a lot of the menu carries over because there are a bunch of items that our regulars want to see, but the presentation changes. For instance, last winter we had a pan-seared salmon with butternut squash risotto, but for the summer the salmon is served with shaved brussels sprouts hard-sautéed with lardons, served with mashed potato and topped with fresh herb butter.

What does your menu say about you as a chef, and your background?
First of all, I don’t consider myself a chef; I’m a humble cook. Years ago, executive chef was an administrative position. Nowadays, if you flip an egg, you’re an executive chef, if you’re the head egg flipper. My Canadian and Syrian heritage has never played a huge role, so once in a great while a dish will pop up, but I’m not out there to make nouveau-Syrian cuisine. I don’t think my menu reflects me so much as what our guests want. A lot of the stuff on the menu is us as owners reacting to our market and the people we know. My influence on the food has more to do with what goes on behind the scenes. I’m not about having tweezers in my kitchen to place a single micro-green, but I am about making sauces and stocks from scratch, I’m grinding whole spices when I want to season things; I use all of my ingredients, rather than throwing away scraps. These are the foundations of flavor for me. I never thought of myself as being very creative, but I can make food taste good and build great flavors. I employ my French techniques, but I keep it Italian simple.

Sonoma Bistro
7366 Post Road, North Kingstown • 295-0800