Pork belly and fried egg taco at BottleRock Napa. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
Chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
The Candy Bar, with a roasted milk chocolate tower at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
Fish and chips at Heritage Public House in Santa Rosa. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
Kanpachi with grapefruit and jalapeño at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
Deconstructed breakfast radishes with butter and rye crumbs, and pickled carrots and artichokes with saffron at Chalkboard. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
The Bun Slinger Truck in Sonoma County serving up steam buns and kimchee fries. Photo Heather Irwin/BiteClubEats.com.
Over the next few months, the inevitable comparisons between Cyrus and the space’s new iteration, ~CHALKBOARD~, will appear in endless food blogs, Yelp reviews, and “critical reviews” of the new Les Mars/Bill Foley restaurant. As devotees of the much-lamented Michelin-starred restaurant, we can’t help ourselves.
Ignore the blather and simply head north. Change is good, and here it’s also visually and culinarily stunning.
Sure, the ghost of Cyrus hangs heavy, as do the devotions of its diners. Chef Doug Keane’s kitchen sanctuary has been thrown open in a striking visual leveling of kitchen and dining room. A wide communal table commands the center of the space. White tablecloths have been banished. The caviar cart was literally kicked to the curb (snatched up by a former employee, we hear).
But this ain’t Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly’s first rodeo. The small plates menu is exceptional. A mix of high- and lowbrow dishes, it includes a “snack” of warm, housemade soft pretzels with Mornay sauce, stone-ground mustard, and tomato chutney ($6). Buttermilk biscuits with maple-glazed pork belly, pickled onions, and chipotle mayo ($8) are finally given the proper execution I’ve sought for so long. Kampachi crudo with grapefruit, avocado purée, and slices of jalapeño ($12) are small summer jewels. A tiny shot of chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab ($3) is like sipping spring. I nearly got misty over a deconstructed dish of fresh radishes with butter and rye crumbs and pickled carrots.
Dishes get more substantial as you move down the menu. Roasted baby carrots with caraway yogurt and sesame seed brittle ($6); a hearty pasta with duck confit and mascarpone ($12); and seared scallops with risotto cake, uni sauce, and grapefruit was so good we ordered it twice ($16)—and then fought over the second order.
Meatier fare includes a delicate buttermilk fried quail with fava beans, nasturtium, and fennel salad ($15), and the entrée of the evening, crispy pork belly with triangles of fried grits, a poached egg, melted leeks, and sweet pepper purée ($12). Baskets of produce procured from restaurant owner Bill Foley’s Chalk Hill Farms makes each dish all the better.
Pastry chef Bill Woodward showers each of his desserts with sweet surprises: a donut semifreddo (frozen creaminess) with white coffee foam and mocha-glazed donut holes ($8); a towering multilayer brownie with caramel and ganache flanked by milk chocolate that’s been cooked sous vide ($8). Hold out for the warm vanilla bean cake with strawberries and crème fraîche sherbet baked to order ($8).
The bar still serves up creative libations along with regional beers. The wine list features (not surprisingly) many of Foley’s bottles along with other local superstars as well as some well-crafted white and red flights (all less than $20).
Le roi est morte, vive le roi. 29 North St. at Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030.
If you’ve got a hankering to pinch some soft, pillowy buns, BiteClub’s got the hookup. Mobile foodist Jeff Tyler (from the North Bay’s Chicago-Style Hot Dogs and Palooza Catering) has launched The Bun Slinger, a bright yellow truck serving up pork belly, steak, chicken, and tofu wrapped in Chinese steamed buns. Taking a cue from popular SF trucks like Chairman Bao, Tyler does a tasty fusion of grilled meats, spicy aioli, and veggies on the handheld sammies along with kimchi or togarishi (a sort of sweet, salty, spicy rub) fries. For $12, you get three buns and a side of fries. Look for the Bun Slinger at O’Reilly Media in Sebastopol on Thursdays and at the Sonic.net headquarters in Roseland on Wednesdays. You can find his exact schedule and routes online.
Raise a glass to the final days of American Craft Beer Week by heading to one of Sonoma County’s newest gastropubs: ~BELLY LEFT COAST KITCHEN & TAPROOM~ (523 Fourth St. at Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa) or ~HERITAGE PUBLIC HOUSE~ (1901 Mendocino Ave. at Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-540-0395). The food’s been getting better and better with each visit to Belly (one of the original chefs has been replaced) with happy-belly dishes like pulled pork sliders, crispy pork belly, Two Hog Mac and cheese (with twice the chorizo) along with crab cakes and a killer buffalo chicken pizza with Humboldt Fog blue cheese. The kitchen’s open until 1:30am and oh, did we mention the beers? My craft brew loving friends gave big props to the craft brew list.
We’re also loving the brotastic rumpus room vibe of Heritage Public House, which recently opened in the former Video Droid (1901 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa). The renovated space (with a pool table and plenty of big screens) features a California microbrew lineup of 24 taps (rotating weekly) and more than 30 bottled selections. Chef Andrew Oldfield is ramping up the menu to include lots of gastropub faves including burgers, fish and chips, lettuce wraps, and fried chicken sandwiches. Oldfield is promising some fun additions from the smoker soon.
Finally, the insanely popular ~BEERCRAFT~ now offers public beer tastings each Thursday from 6 to 8pm. Recently featured: 101 North Brewing’s Stigmata Red Rye Ale and Heroine IPA, and Auburn Alehouse. 5704 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park.
Missed BottleRock last week? Check out the pics of what you didn’t eat here.