August 7, 2015

August 7, 2015
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Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park. Photo: Heather Irwin.

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Burger at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Halibut ceviche at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Chocolate and raspberries at Harvest Table in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Heather Irwin.

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Chefs from Meadowood’s 12 Days of Christmas in 2014. Courtesy of Meadowood.

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin. Sign up for the BiteClub Newsletter.

A veggie burger as good as In-N-Out? No one believed me when I opined that the new ~AMY’S DRIVE THRU~—a vegetarian fast-food restaurant that recently opened in Rohnert Park—had a meatless “burger” that could give In-N-Out’s Double Double a run for its money. The laughter was deafening.

Created by the owners of frozen food giant Amy’s Kitchen, the healthy fast-food concept has been in development at the company’s Santa Rosa headquarters for years. A veggie burger (two meatless patties, lettuce, pickles, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, secret sauce—all on a freshly baked bun) that can stand up to giants like McDonald’s and In-N-Out don’t just magically happen.

But by late July, the first Amy’s Drive Thru was ready for prime time, with throngs lined up for a first bite. On the menu: the flagship Amy Burger ($4.29 with cheese), of course, and a burrito ($4.69), with beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa wrapped in a whole wheat (or gluten-free) tortilla, which was a surprise favorite. Also available are vegan milk shakes ($2.99), chili fries ($2.99), broccoli mac and cheese (made in an oven, so it gets nice and crispy, $4.69-$4.89), the Super Salad (made with quinoa, hummus, tofu and other goodies, $7.99), vegan and vegetarian pizza ($5.89-$6.50), and homemade lemonade and sodas.

It’s the kind of place where your gluten-intolerant kid, vegan sister, meat-and-potatoes husband, and you, the GMO-concerned locavore, can eat in harmony. Breathe easy because all of the menu is non-GMO, 95 percent organic, and as locally sourced as possible. Every menu item can be made vegan and gluten-free. Why didn’t someone come up with this years ago?

Which leads to the (literally) million-dollar question: Where and when will they expand? Owner Andy Berliner confirmed that more Amy’s Drive Thru restaurants are in the works, but only expect one or two more in the next year or so. Since many communities in Northern California have bans on new drive-thru restaurants, Amy’s can only open where (and when) an existing fast-food locations shutters. Daily 10:30am-10pm. 58 Golf Course Drive West, Rohnert Park, 707-755-3629.

It’s hard to reconcile the fact that Charlie Palmer is the force behind the Wine Angels—acrobatic showgirls who fly around his four-story Mandalay Bay glass wine tower in Las Vegas—and the meditative culinary gardens of ~HARVEST TABLE~ in St. Helena, where the only aerial theatrics are in buzzing beehives.

But it’s also not by accident that white-coated kitchen staff can frequently be spotted walking by the dining room with precious handfuls of fresh basil or microgreens from the restaurant’s herb and lettuce garden (one of several gardens on the property that are overseen by culinary horticulturist Laura McNiff). Or that executive chef Levi Mezick and his kitchen are perfectly framed inside a portrait window overlooking the restaurant’s alfresco dining terrace. Or that the extensive wine program includes a match-your-wits game of “blind” wine selections from the sommelier that let the diner guess what’s in the glass.

As you’re seated, all of these things will be pointed out to you. After all, Palmer isn’t afraid of a little entertainment value. Housed inside Palmer’s new Harvest Inn, a picturesque Napa Valley retreat, the 110-seat restaurant feels intimate and friendly, especially when you’re sitting cross-legged on a cozy pillowed corner seat on the sheltered patio.

There’s no doubt, however, that food is the real celebrity here. Noting that St. Helena has played culinary second fiddle to nearby foodie meccas like Yountville and Healdsburg, Palmer sees the restaurant’s focus on hyperlocal ingredients and talented staff as a way to bring back some of the town’s foodie luster.

Most recently hailing from the acclaimed Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, Mezick said Palmer had only one request when it came to planning the Harvest Table menu: shrimp and grits. Raised in Virginia, Mezick’s roots are in Southern cooking, and this signature dish ($14) was a perfect fit for Palmer’s progressive American style of cuisine. Made with Anson Mills grits, shrimp, bacon, andouille sausage, cheddar cheese, and a secret blend of Mezick’s favorite herbs and spices, it’s heartbreakingly good.

Mezick’s burger ($18) is another dish that’s got to be eaten to be believed. This two-patty, brioche-bunned beast is easily one of the best hamburgers in Wine Country, which is saying a lot, since burgers are something of a religion in these parts. You’ll also want to leave room for savory starters that include pommes dauphine ($7) with goat cheese fondue, crispy pork head “tater tots” ($6), petite sashimi of whatever’s fresh (we had halibut) with a sweet-tart cactus pear emulsion ($13), the most pillowy potato gnocchi we’ve ever had, with ramp butter and charred favas ($21), and if you’re there on a lucky day, Mezick’s whole truffled chicken, one of the daily “share” plates for two or more.

Former Dry Creek Kitchen pastry chef Andrew Di Clementi has crossed the mountain, and his signature peanut butter bar is on the menu, along with a selection of housemade ice creams and sorbets.

Service, of course, is five-star—one of the hallmarks of a Palmer restaurant—and the vibe is upscale-casual Wine Country, meaning you’ll find winemakers and winery owners rubbing elbows with tourists and neighborhood customers. “We have an enormous amount of work to do here,” Palmer said, “but we have an amazing situation here, and Levi really embraces what we’re trying to do.” Lunch Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, dinner Tue-Sun 5:30pm-9:30pm, brunch Sat-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm. 1 Main St., St. Helena, 707-967-4695.

‘Tis the season to announce ~THE RESTAURANT AT MEADOWOOD’S~ annual 12 Days of Christmas extravaganza. Now in its eighth year, the St. Helena resort hosts 11 big-deal chefs from December 4th through December 19th.

The chefs collaborate with Meadowood’s chef, Christopher Kostow, who has earned the restaurant three Michelin stars. Visiting chefs include Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in NYC, Switzerland’s Nenad Mlinarevic of Focus, Copenhagen’s Christian Puglisi of Relae, Jorge Vallejo of Mexico City’s Quintonil, Joshua Skenes of SF’s Saison, Matt Wilkinson of Pope Joan in Melbourne, Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan of One restaurant in Chapel Hill, Isaac McHale of London’s Clove Club, locals Kyle Connaughton and his head farmer Katina Connaughton of the upcoming Single Thread (opening in Healdsburg this fall), Atsushi Tanaka of Restaurant A.T. in Paris, and Justin Yu of Oxheart Restaurant in Houston.

Save up your pennies, because this kind of star power doesn’t come cheap. Dinner-only tickets are $495 per guest and chef’s counter tickets (front-row seats to the kitchen action) are $750 per person. Ten percent of every ticket, plus $2,000 per chef, will be donated to Napa Valley charities. For reservations, call 855-304-8986.