July 4, 2017

Single Thread’s stunning yet peaceful dining room. Photo: Garrett Rowland.


Kyle and Katina Connaughton. Photo: Jason Jaacks.


The opening hassun course. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


Smoked sabayon mousse (inside an eggshell from their Ameraucana chickens). Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The breathtaking foie gras mousse course in November. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


Black cod, king trumpets, leeks, and brassicas, initially presented in a tagine-style donabe (fukkura-san). Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The AvroKO-designed dining room at Single Thread. Photo: Garrett Rowland.


Sonoma grains course (with tempura mustard blossoms). Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The wagashi course: includes these little trompe-l’œil eggs and walnuts made with chocolate (with different fillings). Photo: © tablehopper.com.


A room in the Single Thread inn upstairs. Photo: Garrett Rowland.


It’s always sangria time on the sunny back patio at Bravas Bar de Tapas. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The can’t-miss day boat scallops en croûte at Valette. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


Sonoma Cider has a front patio where you can hang out on warm evenings. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The lengthy bar at Duke’s Spirited Cocktails. Photo: Nat and Cody Gantz.


Brunch at SHED includes this beauty of a smoked trout dish. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The pool behind Hotel Healdsburg. Photo via HH’s Facebook page.


The updated and soothing natural modern rooms at the Hotel Healdsburg. Photo via HH’s Facebook page.


A spacious and comfortable living room in one of the four Two Thirty-Five Luxury Suites. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


One of the bedrooms at Two Thirty-Five Luxury Suites. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


A salad and glass of rosé on the back patio at Diavola in Geyserville is how to do summer like a boss. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Poor Healdsburg. It’s just so damn charming, with its many quality restaurants and wineries and bars and cute shops, that the out-of-towners keep comin’ (like moths to a flame), and the locals get no peace. Things keep getting nicer, and more expensive, and the laid-back country charm is getting overrun and squeezed out a bit. Fie upon you, city slickers! (And I’m not helping matters by writing this piece.)

Of course, the biggest buzz to hit Healdsburg of late has been the arrival of ~SINGLE THREAD~, most definitely my favorite dining experience of 2016, and my March meal there this year is still bright in my mind. It’s not only destination-worthy, it’s also one of those meals that’s worth saving for, truly. There are a lot of expensive tasting menus with amped-up luxury and hyped omakase going on in the SF dining scene and beyond, but this is a completely different level of luxury, one that is rooted in craft and rarity and nature.

Kyle and Katina Connaughton have created something so personal here (the two of them have been together since they were 15), and it all reflects their deep experience with and love for Japan (including Kyle’s seminal time working at Michel Bras Toya Japon in Hokkaido), and cooking, and nature, and ingredients, and craft. You can see what an extreme labor of love and thought Single Thread is—every square inch—and the more questions you ask, the deeper you go.

The award-winning design by AvroKO is so intentional, from the edges and width of the walnut tables to comfortably accommodate glassware to the brass finishes, the layout, the finely tuned lighting, the custom everything. The space feels simple and soothing yet dense with detail, like the Fibonacci series-inspired pattern on the kitchen doors that close at the end of service (and on the carpet). Those woven screens throughout the dining room? They represent different months, and the patterns are actually inspired by the DNA sequence of plants, like tomatoes (for August). Geek out at nature’s amazing math to your heart’s content.

It’s a very textural experience, you notice how everything feels in your hand, from the cutlery to the napkins to the table, from the nubby texture of ceramic to the lightest wooden spoon. It’s also very peaceful—the volume of the restaurant is quite modulated. (Although one clunker for me has been the music—I was always paying too much attention to it, which didn’t seem right.)

Guests are initially invited to the rooftop to decompress from their drive from San Francisco (which is rarely pleasant) or wherever they’re coming in from, and any dietary restrictions or aversions are discussed over a welcome beverage and bite. Now that our warm weather has arrived and their rooftop garden is growing in, you may not want to leave.

When you walk down to your table, you’ll discover it’s covered with the most exquisite place setting, the hassun course, a landscape of moss and branches with tiers tucked with bowls and plates and cups, each filled with small servings and bites, with some that you eat with your hands. It’s like you just sat down on a mushroom and started an Alice in Wonderland forest meal. Citrus-braised kohlrabi with Meyer lemon gel. Lightly pickled Kusshi oysters with freshly grated wasabi hiding under a layer of Passmore Ranch caviar and the tiniest blossoms. Roasted onion with melted potato topped with Dungeness crab. Carrots (lightly fermented) over a black sesame cream. Salt-braised celery root with a bergamot remoulade. It goes on.

Working closely with whatever Katina and crew are growing in their nearby five-acre sustainable farm, the kitchen has access to the freshest ingredients, which they want to present at the height of their flavor and expression. (Although they also know there is also something so exciting about being served the very first peas of the season on a cold night in March.) The menu is meant to shift not only with the seasons, but also the microshifts within the seasons, week by week, day by day. Each meal is designed to be a celebration of the moment—fleeting as it may be. A stunning foie gras mousse course—a series of nested circles, including an orb of persimmon and hickory nut, in a bed of glistening colorful leaves—was also a nod to the full moon outside.

Some restaurants have a full-time forager, but here, they have two full-time florists dedicated to assembling all the beautiful presentations of leaves, mosses, flowers, and other treasures that will find their way to your table throughout the evening. In a way, I don’t want to talk about it too much—there’s so much delight and wonder that unfolds with each course. (To add to the storytelling, your menu isn’t presented until the end of the meal, so you get to enjoy a surprise each time your servers approach your table.)

The experience definitely has an affinity to Japanese kaiseki—I was calling it Wine Country/NorCal kaiseki—with a purity of flavor, and dedication to the beauty of nature and craft. Japanese ingredients like umeboshi, ponzu, and shiso seamlessly intermingle with the bounty of Northern California. Flavors are never too strong, nor too subdued. They are balanced, with touches of pickled or fermented acidity counteracting any richness. They are not showy, but so gorgeous.

I found one of my meals here to be downright emotional—it really touched me, all this care for the guest. (Kyle and Katina’s hospitality has been inspired by ryokans in Japan, and the desire to to anticipate your every need.) Every detail is so carefully considered: the special water cups made from titanium have a chamber inside to trap the condensation, so they don’t sweat on the table, but also stay cold (or hot). The collection of rare donabe pots that some of your courses will be presented tableside in. The thoughtful expression of nature. The Zalto glassware that feels like it could fly away from your hand. The wine service from wine director Evan Hufford is so select and spot-on (which spans California selections to rare sakes), the tea service, the wondrous desserts from Matthew Siciliano that again make you feel like you became a sprite in the forest as you eat robin’s-egg blue shells made of chocolate with lemon verbena ganache inside. It’s a Midsummer, or Midwinter, or Mid-September’s, Night Dream.

The 11-course meal is $295, which includes service and tax. Wine pairings are additional ($200, or $385 for reserve pairings). You buy advance tickets on Tock, which are available up to two months in advance and are released on the first of each month.

And if you’re flush enough to stay on the premises, there is an inn upstairs with five peaceful and of course well-appointed rooms, with the same painstaking level of care and detail as the restaurant, from the in-room beers to the sound system that let’s you run your own music. (Inn guests also have an advantage in securing dinner reservations.) The property used to be a post office and is leased from the Seghesio family (as is the farm land).

I know not everyone in Healdsburg is thrilled with the arrival of this premium luxury property, complete with Tesla chargers, but what Kyle and Katina have created is not soulless luxury—it’s quite the opposite. It’s extremely rooted, but also rare, and artisan, and that all costs money. So I say only you can decide what you can afford, but if you’re looking for a memorable meal that will make you think, “Wow, they really love Northern California and here’s why,” you should book dinner here. And they just started lunch service on the weekend (but the price is the same), so there’s another option, and you don’t have to worry about the cost of staying overnight in Healdsburg that way. I feel like we are so lucky to have this restaurant nearby, don’t miss it.

One more thing to note: Single Thread is hosting a special event on Sunday August 13th: a screening of Eric Wolfinger’s full-length documentary, Dashi Journey, at SHED, plus a dinner at Single Thread with guest chef Shinobu Namae from Tokyo (L’Effervescence). Tickets.

Okay, so let’s talk about some other reasons to head to Healdsburg this summer:

—The patio at ~BRAVAS BAR DE TAPAS~ is such a fun place to be, with weekend paella in the summer, and the lengthy tapas menu just keeps getting better. You want their cava sangria, salmorejo (a smooth Andalusian-style gazpacho), plates of pan tomate and jamón Ibérico, and the cider-braised chorizo and Cloche Farm shishito peppers, which will all get you into summertime mode (many ingredients come from their farm). Even if you just come by for cocktails or sherry and a couple of tapas, it’s just right.

—The charcuterie and day boat scallops en croûte at ~VALETTE~. The rest of the menu is full of seasonal and elegant dishes that highlight local produce and artisans (the brothers who own and run the restaurant have deep roots in the area and know everyone), plus you’ll get to explore a list full of boutique wines. But again, don’t miss chef Dustin Valette’s abundant housemade salumi platter; the scallops are also a showstopper.

—More salumi: did you know ~IDLEWILD~—known for their Piemontese varietals, like dolcetto and arneis and nebbiolo—have opened a salumi and wine bar just off the plaza? Sì!

—Cool off with some inventive and seasonal ice cream at ~NOBLE FOLK~, like Japanese almond matcha or toasted sesame and maple. And there’s pie. And incredibly nice people who run it who love to feature the bounty of their community.

—Take a break from all the wine drinking at ~SONOMA CIDER~, a father-and-son business that makes organic ciders, with many limited runs and experiments on draft (23 taps!), and don’t miss their apple brandy. There’s also music on Fridays, entertainment, a small but mighty kitchen, a patio, and a fun local scene. Open for lunch, happy hour, and dinner.

—You can also take a break from California wine at ~BERGAMOT ALLEY~, where you’ll find Champagnes, chenin blanc from the Loire, and Sicilian reds, and they make some wicked grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s one of the few places open late (until 1am Tue-Sat), and the kitchen is open until midnight (Tue-Sun). Don’t miss their annual Seven % Solution event, focused on celebrating and perpetuating varietal diversity in California—this year it’s on Saturday July 22nd, tickets here.

—Have a nightcap at ~DUKE’S SPIRITED COCKTAILS~ right on the plaza (in the former John & Zeke’s). You’ll be easily distracted by the impressive selection of spirits, and the drinks are fun, seasonal (garden-fresh!), and well made (the partners are Steven Maduro, Laura Sanfilippo, Tara Heffernon, and Cappy Sorentino from Spoonbar, so they know what’s up). Try their carbonated drinks on tap—I was partial to Ms. Bojangles, made with Four Roses bourbon, house root beer, Fernet Branca, bitters, and phosphate. There are plenty of tables for your group, and the bar is looooong—pull on up.

—Stop by for breakfast or brunch at ~SHED CAFÉ~. Perry Hoffman took over as culinary director and is offering a fantastic breakfast, like a rustic lemon ricotta pancake, and my dream dish of smoked trout and sunchokes with crème fraîche, pickled onions, chervil, preserved lemon, capers, poppy seeds, and toasted bread. Even the polenta and eggs were beautifully presented with fresh greens on top from their farm. They also have courses, classes, guest chefs, and more; keep up with the calendar when you subscribe to SHED’s newsletter.

—If you would rather have someone take you around to multiple places (with no wait!), one option is a food tour with ~SAVOR HEALDSBURG~. They offer a variety of options, from farms to restaurants to tasting rooms and wineries, and will introduce you to the makers, give you some interesting backstories, and of course make sure you taste the best each place has to offer.

—Looking for a different place to have lunch? ~LAMBERT BRIDGE WINERY~ has an ongoing series of guest chef weekend lunches each month, like one coming up July 14th-16th with Mateo of Mateo’s Cocina Latina, paired with small-lot wines in the winery’s private cellar (and hosted by a Lambert Bridge wine educator). Seatings at 11am and 3pm; the chef’s table experience lasts approximately two hours. Each seating open to 10 guests. Tickets are $95 for Lambert Bridge members and $125 for nonmembers. Check the site for upcoming chefs and other special events, like the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner on Saturday August 5th. Reserve via email here.

—Enjoy an alfresco dinner with ~SEGHESIO~, which is hosting a chef’s dinner atop Rattlesnake Hill at Seghesio Home Ranch on Saturday July 8th, 5pm-9pm. Tickets: $175

Accommodations can be tough to score in Healdsburg. The ~HOTEL HEALDSBURG~ is always a coveted reservation, with their updated natural modern-meets-shabby chic rooms in soothing colors, spa, and sixty-foot pool in the back (and it’s the site of Dry Creek Kitchen restaurant, which has a new chef).

And then there’s their sister hotel, the eco-chic ~H2HOTEL~, with Spoonbar conveniently downstairs. Both hotels offer some great packages and deals, especially in the off-season, so subscribe to their newsletters for updates.

—If you’re traveling with a group, like a few couples, or in my case, a couple with a baby, look into the spacious suite-style accommodations at ~TWO THIRTY-FIVE LUXURY SUITES~. There are four suites, each with three bedrooms and bathrooms. While the style was a bit suburban for my taste, we enjoyed having a shared living room, dining room, and kitchen so we could hang out together. And the beds were dreamy (the sheets were supersoft), the location off the plaza can’t be beat, there’s easy parking, and their hospitality was homey and warm. It would be perfect for a girls’ getaway, and they also offer some great deals in the winter.

One more thing:
—Now, I know this is in nearby Geyserville, but for me, a summertime meal on the back patio of ~DIAVOLA~ is something I live for. Dino Bugica’s top-notch salumi, fire-kissed pizzas, perfect salads, badass tripe, seasonal dishes like soft-shell crab, and pastas, and…oh, good luck, you’re just going to have to show up hungry.

And there’s also Bugica’s Geyserville Gun Club a few doors up, where you can wait for your table with a *craft cocktail *(for just $10!), and even grab a bite.

Additional resources:
Kudos to ~JORDAN WINERY~ for this excellent online resource they just launched—Wine Country Table—full of tips about local restaurants, bars, wineries, experiences, and more. It’s a wealth of info. (And ask about the new release of the Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble, which you can only purchase from the winery—feel free to bring a bottle back for me, heh.)

I also have some past Healdsburg tips here, scroll down and take a look!

January 25, 2013

Crispy chicken legs at Pizzando. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The mega serving of moussaka at Taverna Sofia. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


The calamari at Bravas Bar de Tapas. Photo by Heather Irwin for BiteClub Eats.


Seating in the dimly lit Campo Fina. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


Funghi pizza at Campo Fina. Photo by Heather Irwin for BiteClub Eats.


Gumbo at The Parish Café. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


My comfy bed at h2hotel. Photo: © tablehopper.com.


Sweet suite at h2hotel. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Healdsburg has always been my favorite Wine Country weekend destination—the food is so notably good; there are some nice options for accommodations; quality yet attitude-free wineries abound; and I usually pay at least a couple of visits to Flying Goat Coffee for espresso. Healdsburg can be a little bit of a schlep, but I think it’s totally worth it. So when I was invited with some fellow media types to come up for a night of tablehopping to check out the latest restaurants, I was like, uh, where do I sign?

Our first destination was ~PIZZANDO~, the offshoot from the Hotel Healdsburg and Spoonbar at the h2hotel (which is just across Matheson Street). It overlooks the plaza and has a contemporary-meets-rustic look, with just 18 seats. Chef Louis Maldonado is overseeing both kitchens, and you can order some bottled cocktails on the menu by Cappy Sorentino at Spoonbar (he’s a Scott Beattie protégé). While the primary focus is on pizzas, there are also some appetizers, a couple of pastas, and about four main dishes, all featuring Maldonado’s creative touch. The dish that I would drive back to Healdsburg for (seriously) was the crispy chicken legs ($16), which are brined and then cooked like Korean fried chicken, with just enough spice (from Aleppo pepper). So juicy, and mega flavor. Bwok, majorly.

Pizzas have an elastic crust and come out of the wood-fired Mugnaini oven with some definite char and leopard spotting (Liza Shaw—previously A16—consulted on the pizzas). The burrata, arugula, and roasted lemon marmalade pizza ($16) was a favorite, until I tasted the special that night: finally someone did a porchetta pizza (it came with pickled and sautéed red onions, fresh arugula, garlic, imported mozzarella di bufala, and vinaigrette). Brilliant. Bonus: you can order any of these items for takeout (I would totally eat those chicken legs in bed in my hotel room, I am so not kidding).

You ready to hear about some of the best damn moussaka I’ve had in awhile? Dear lord, the moussaka at ~TAVERNA SOFIA~ was off the charts. We were served a family-style portion in a big clay bowl (see if you can get some friends together and pre-order this for a family-style meal—the individual size is $14). It sported a browned and beauteous topping of Kefalograviera cheese, with layers of eggplant (it’s grilled, so it’s not oily!) and ground beef in a superb béchamel. Just wow. Chef Sofia Petridis-Lim uses her grandma’s recipes, and the rustic Greek menu includes a gyro at lunch (the restaurant has a fantastic rotisserie for it). It’s a casual spot, and the outdoor patio is the place to be (the tiny dining room is very plain); perk up with a traditional Greek coffee made in a copper pot with your baklava.

Mark and Terri Stark (of Willi’s Wine Bar, Stark’s Steakhouse, and others) have opened a really fun addition to the Healdsburg scene in the former Ravenous space: ~BRAVAS BAR DE TAPAS~. The Barcelona-inspired menu is packed with tapas ($4-16, but mostly falling in the $7-8 range), from crisp patatas bravas ($6) to skewers of chorizo and shishito peppers ($7)—you’ll find plenty to pair with your wine, sherry, or cocktail (there’s a section dedicated to gin and tonics). There are tender calamari with salsa verde ($10), as well as more decadent choices, like Dungeness crab fideua ($10)—just spoon some of the excessive aioli off—and the Sebastopol maitake mushrooms ($10) cooked on the plancha with “goat cheese fluff.”

The space is stylish, with a bar and a couple of different dining rooms in the front and some cool art. Wait until the weather gets nice—the back patio is going to be the place to hang out with some sliced-to-order Fermin jamón Ibérico (for now, the covered deck with heaters is doing a great job). There’s a separate bar in the back too—just look for the clever “Jamon In” sign.

The owners of local favorite Scopa (Dawnelise and Ari Rosen) have opened another hip hangout, ~CAMPO FINA~. It has a welcoming and almost sultry vibe, with brick walls, cordovan banquettes and chairs, dim lighting, and Paolo Conte playing over the sound system (there’s also a bocce court and back patio). The rustic menu features standouts like Larry Pacini’s ciabatta bread ($3.50) and hard-boiled eggs with salsa verde ($5.50); an escarole salad ($9.50) with pecorino, white anchovy, and pine nuts was excellent. The pizzas from the wood-fired oven are so fantastico, with a nicely crisp crust. The pizza rapini ($15.50) was particularly memorable, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, rapini, black olives, the kick of Calabrian chile, and caciocavallo cheese. People also go nuts for the honey-roasted carrots ($7.50) with coriander and panko. This place has such creative aperitivi (all $8) by Erika Frey (previously at Cyrus), like the Piper’s Pick (chile-infused vermouth, Moretti beer, red pepper purée, lemon juice, and pickling foam) and the Shakerato Superiori (marsala, Allagash black stout, cherry pistachio syrup, Angostura bitters, and espresso).

A sunny yellow building in a nearby strip mall is where you’ll find ~THE PARISH CAFE~, pulling in a line of locals for its po’boys at lunchtime. Owner Rob Lippincott is from Louisiana, and you’ll feel a strong sense of hospitality here. I was sorry to just miss the breakfast cutoff, because a friend swears by the sublime shrimp and grits ($12) that are served until 11:30am. We veered for the chicken and andouille gumbo ($6/$9) instead (be sure to shake some hot sauce on it), and a fried shrimp po’boy ($11/$15), which had plump and tasty shrimp, but the bread was too crunchy for my liking, and I had to pull out the slices of out-of-season tomato. You can come by all day for café au lait and beignets ($5)—try to snag a spot on the front porch.


Looking for a spiffy place to stay? Even if money is tight, try to at least hunt down a deal here, because the ~H2HOTEL~ is such a pleasure to stay in. I was ready to move into my suite (it always feels good to step away from the clutter of our own homes). Eco-chic is the name of the game (the hotel was built to LEED Gold green building certification), and it has a very NorCal sensibility, with weekend yoga classes. You can even tool around for three hours on a PUBLIC bike for free.

My favorite feature was my suite’s Japanese deep soaking tub made with Heath tiles—I was getting over a cold, and that thing was pure heaven. The room was minimalist but still artsy-funky, and I left the hotel feeling relaxed and calm. My only quibble was there weren’t slippers provided in the room—the striped bamboo floors weren’t fun to walk on barefoot (brrrr). I’d come back in a heartbeat during the summer to take advantage of the solar-heated pool. Downstairs, you can dine or grab a cocktail at Spoonbar—and breakfast is provided.

June 17, 2008

And now we continue with part two of my ~HEALDSBURG~ recap. Last week was about where to eat and this week covers where to stay, and drink good wine. Cheers to that.


I was in hotel heaven at the ~HOTEL HEALDSBURG~--it's modern and chic but still cozy, and there are all kinds of outdoor spaces for lingering, like the back patio, pool, and atrium areas, so it's ideal for the warmer weather you get up there. There's also a downstairs lounge area with comfy couches around a fireplace, and bingo: the hotel is located right on the Plaza. The rooms have clean contemporary styling, in soothing tones of green and sand, with heavy Venetian blinds, and fab feather beds. Enjoyed the super spacious bathrooms, which include deep soaking tubs and walk-in showers. Breakfast downstairs was quite the spread, with all kinds of egg dishes, lox and bagel fixins, and strong coffee.

Would be an ideal getaway space--it was tranquil, soothing, and there's even a spa (I didn't have a treatment, so can't vouch for that part). They do some internet specials and packages (like a girls getaway), so hop online and see.

Hotel Healdsburg
Rates $260-$820

You want to really do it up? Got a big special occasion you want to celebrate right? I can't think of a dreamier place to stay than the ~LES MARS HOTEL~. It's like being in Europe, with such exquisite and personal hospitality, but it never feels stuffy or uncomfortable. You can almost pretend you're staying at your very wealthy friend's manse (a girl can dream, can't she?) It's no mistake this is a Relais & Chateaux property, and how convenient, Cyrus is just downstairs. If you have the ducats, this is the place to go for an overnighter, or weekend. I'm talking four-poster beds, a cloud of down pillows and comforters, and the Italian Versai linens that will make you hate anything you sleep on at home. Bathrooms are outfitted in marble, and Bulgari products. Luxe, baby.

I was obsessed with the authentic antiques throughout, especially the floral chandeliers and sconces, and wait until you see the woodwork in the room where breakfast is hosted--stunning craftsmanship. Our three-course breakfast consisted of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, pumpkin pecan pancakes with chicken apple sausage, and a petite herb and cheese omelette. You're set to go wine tasting all day after a breakfast like that. The wine and cheese reception in the lobby is no slouch either, mamma mia. The entire experience here is thoughtful, memorable, and pure quality.

Les Mars Hotel
Rates $475-$1050

There is also the B&B option, which can be personal, charming, and quite a bit more budget friendly. One place I tried was the ~IRISH ROSE INN~, on Dry Creek Road, a wee bit out of town and nestled closer to the peace and calm of the vineyards. It has two rooms and a cottage, which also looks darling. I stayed in "Michael's Room" in the main house, with a super-comfy king size bed (great mattress) and my room was delightfully devoid of any dolls or bric-a-brac. I dug my sunny and private bathroom, and the view of the vineyard out back. Chris the innkeeper was super friendly, and made an awesome breakfast soufflé with bacon, plus fresh fruit and bagels.

Irish Rose Inn
Rates $160-$200

Now, the ~CAMELLIA INN~ is what veers more into the classic B&B girlie styling, but wow, what a building! It's an 1869 Italianate Victorian inn that is walking distance from the Plaza. Most of the rooms would freak guys out with all the floral wallpaper, lacy canopies, and pink. And some of the furnishings felt a little tired. But it's also the home of a super-budget secret: a simple double room for $119-$129 (there's just a little lace on the curtains, that's all!). The bathroom is a quick step across the hall, but it's private and has an awesome tub. Personally, I'd rather stay in a cool historic building like this than some modern chain hotel any day, especially for that price. You can see pics of all the rooms in the virtual tour on the site.

Breakfast was a simple spread of scrambled eggs, plus ham, and a homemade pear tart. Nice folks running the place. And there's a pool out back. I also had a good run along Matheson, a wide winding road with no winos driving on it.

Camellia Inn
Rates $119-$249

At this point you can head back to your hotel, relax, walk around the Plaza, and get ready for dinner.

Dry Creek:

Here are some ideas of wineries to visit for a full day--add or subtract based on what kind of a day you want, leisurely or turbo:

After breakfast, head out on Dry Creek Road and visit ~DRY CREEK VINEYARD~ (I'm a big fan of their dry chenin blanc, and fully loaded heritage zinfandel--see what they have in the handy 375ml bottle size, perfect for the single boy or girl!) Open daily 10:30am-4:30pm. There is a $5 per person fee for tasting their signature wines, and $10 per person fee for tasting their single-vineyard wines--be sure visit their site for a two-for-one coupon.

Then keep on trucking and head over to ~UNTI VINEYARDS~ for your appointment. This small producer is one of my very faves in the area--Mick Unti and his dad George do a wonderful job with Italian varietals (I heart their barbera) and try their Segromigno blend. This is a can't-miss experience, and make some room in your trunk. Thank me later.

You've been spitting, right? Right. Just a tiny bit further down the road on the right is ~PAPAPIETRO PERRY~, home of some oh-so-drinkable pinots, and zins, too. (Their first release was in 1998.) This place was the pinot oasis, there are nine total plus one zin; the tasting room is tucked in with some other wineries, so don't worry, you're in the right place. The tasting fee is $5, hours are 11am-4:30pm daily. Have fun chatting with Barney, who is in the tasting room Thu-Sat.

Okay you little wine warrior, at this point you could cruise up to Canyon Road, hang a right, and then cruise a bit south on 128 for a heavenly lunch at Santi in Geyserville. (See my other issue for details on this delicious restaurant.)

Or perhaps you packed a picnic? In that case I'd keep on cruising north and go to ~PRESTON~ to eat on the picnic tables on their charming grounds, complete with happy cats lounging in the sun. This family-owned winery has been around since 1973, is certified organic, and totally rocked me with their barbera, and the L. Preston Rhone-style blend. The cinsault is nice to have slightly chilled (ideal for picnics), and on Sundays they have Guadagni Red, a jug wine that is a new blend each year; it's $32 for a three-liter jug (ruh roh) and only available at the winery on Sundays. They also have olive oil (buono!) and cured olives. The tasting room is open 11am-4:30pm daily. $5 tasting fee, refundable with wine purchase.

Just a bit more up the road from Preston is ~BELLA~--and it totally lives up to its name: the well-maintained grounds are breathtaking. Head into the cave to taste some luscious single vineyard zins (there are three vineyards total), two syrahs, a cab-zin blend, and a late-picked zinfandel. $5 tasting fee. The tasting room is open 11am-4:30 daily.

Back down West Dry Creek Road are two gems: first there is ~QUIVIRA~, where you can learn all about biodynamic winemaking, and taste their award-winning zinfandels and sauvignon blancs. Tasting fee $5 (waived with purchase). Open daily 11am-5pm.

If you cruise down Wine Creek Road, and if you were a good planner and made an appointment, there's ~MICHEL-SCHLUMBERGER~. What a find--wait until you try their cabs. (Can you say "reserve"?) They offer a wine tasting and a 30-minute tour of the estate to guests at 11am or 2pm daily, or a vertical tasting of library wines, an artisan cheese and wine pairing Fri-Sun, and a "Green" tour and hillside tasting in the morning Thu-Sat--all by appointment only, prices vary. This is a great place to "go deeper" and check things out if you have the time. Read more here.

Heading east on Alexander Valley Road, a visit to ~JORDAN WINERY~ is pure pleasure. You have to call ahead and reserve one of their two tours, either the Jordan Winery Tour, for a tour of the winery and grounds along with tastings of their current release chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and estate-grown extra virgin olive oil. You will also sample an older vintage cabernet selected from the library, and get "little tastes" to pair with the wines. Classy. Mon-Sat 11am-12pm, $30 per guest. There's also the Jordan Winery Library Tasting, with tastings paired with artisanal cheeses. Call for available times on Mon-Sat, and daily May-Oct, $20 per guest.

Head south on 128 and visit ~ALEXANDER VALLEY VINEYARDS~ for a good history lesson (the estate was once the original homestead of Cyrus Alexander--and if you don't know who that is, then perhaps you should take a tour here). My family has enjoyed their Sin Zin for years, and the CYRUS Bordeaux blend is another one to take note of. Tasting room hours are 10am-5pm. Tours are available by appointment.

~HANNA WINERY~ is family-owned and operated, with a pleasingly pretense-free tasting room in their Mediterranean-style building. There are a bunch of wines to try, including their wonderful sav blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and I love the Noir, a rich Bordeaux blend. Open daily 10am-4pm, click here for a coupon.

At the end of the day, head back up north the 128 for sunset at ~STRYKER SONOMA~ (in the winter it happens by 5pm or so). The architecture is quite cool, and there are lots of award-winning wines to taste here. The tasting room is open 10:30am-5pm daily.


There are tons of little shops all around the square, from clothing to cookware, but one spot that really caught my eye is ~ARTISTS & FARMERS~, right next door to Barndiva. Cool objets, with a Euro and artistic sensibility. Well-selected music, too. 237 Center St. at Mill, 707-431-7404.

Every Tuesday from June 3rd-October 28th is the ~HEALDSBURG FARMERS' MARKET~ from 4pm-6:30pm on Plaza and Center Streets, on the Plaza. Live music concerts are held from 6pm-8pm.

There's also a ~SATURDAY MARKET~ May 3rd-November 29th from 9am-noon, on North and Vine Streets, one block west of the Plaza. Every second Saturday, there are "Shopping with the Chef" and cooking demonstrations courtesy of Relish Culinary Adventures.

Speaking of ~RELISH CULINARY ADVENTURES~, they host cooking classes, plus events, tours, and even things like mushroom foraging excursions--simply sign up for their mailing list on their site to plan your culinary adventure ahead of time. They also just finished their new Culinary Center, complete with an outdoor kitchen.

For you cycling types, the folks at Weekend Sherpa have this itinerary about ~WHERE TO RIDE YOUR BIKE IN DRY CREEK VALLEY~, and mentions some of the wineries I listed above. Just be careful!

I was also told about ~VINE ROVER TOURS~, a car service that can cart you around so you don't have to worry about driving.

Healdsburg hosts a bunch of annual events, from the Wild Steelhead Festival in February, to the Pigs and Pinot event at the Hotel Healdsburg in March, and the Healdsburg Jazz Festival at the end of May. You can see what's happening on the Chamber of Commerce site.

If you want some more ideas or info, my pal John Vlahides over at ~71MILES.COM~ did a super round-up of where to go, eat, stay, and play in Healdsburg--check it out here.

June 10, 2008


I fell in love with ~HEALDSBURG~ my first time there--give me a town square, some killer wineries, delish restaurants, a mellow small town atmosphere, stunning scenery, and, well, where's my ring? The area is a glorious triangulation of the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley--seriously dreamy. Springtime is the time to go before it gets really hot and busy with vacationing tourists (the fields were bursting with mustard and so many trees were blossoming in March), although I also really enjoyed the peace and calm of being there on one trip during grey November, too. Just make sure you have reservations for any of the restaurants you want to visit at least a few weeks in advance if possible--things get booked up. Please note the hours below can change, so call first! And lots of places are closed on Tuesday, FYI.

I know some folks are lamenting the "yuppification" or "Napa-fication" of Healdsburg, but I still think there's a balanced range of things to do there, from taquerias and local beer to a high-end posh experience (yes, Cyrus, I am talking about you). Either way, the wines in the area are fantastic, with low to nonexistent tasting room fees, nice winery folks everywhere, and thankfully I haven't seen any tour buses on the back roads of Dry Creek.

I actually visited Healdsburg for this jetsetter piece five times over the past couple years, so we're going to have to do this in two parts--it's a beast. The next installment will be about the wineries to visit, where to stay, and various activities.

For this installment, let's start with everyone's favorite:

~ Where to Eat ~

Mmmm, burgers. One of the most delicious, juicy, messy, and zin-worthy monsters I've ever had the pure pleasure of scarfing down was over lunch at ~RAVENOUS CAFÉ~. It also came with a monster pickle, and spicy seasoned potato spears--not my favorite kind of fries, but no matter. (My mom loved her Mediterranean plate). Big portions, heartfelt comfy food that isn't perfect but definitely enjoyable, with everything listed on a handwritten menu. It's located in a sweet house a few blocks off the plaza that has been converted into an intimate restaurant with a color scheme like a 50/50 bar (orange sherbet and vanilla). Thoughtful details like flowers in old perfume bottles, mismatched chairs, and even the carafe of water came with a slice of blood orange and lime. Fun and funky locals' scene at the tiny bar. There's a patio too--great in the summer with its little bar back there. Me: totally charmed.

Ravenous Café
420 Center St.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Wed-Sun 11:30-2:30pm
Wed-Sun at 5pm
Closed Mon-Tue

~ZIN RESTAURANT & WINE BAR~ has a cool industrial look (concrete floors, sealed cork tables, exposed beams) for wine country, and you can tell by the name what the food is geared for. ZIN is famous for its beer-battered green beans that come with mango salsa, fresh salads, and they do a nice pork chop. Definitely "big eater" portions. The food didn't totally bowl me over (some dishes we tried had little missteps here and there, from seasoning to preparation), but the ingredients were super-fresh (many from the restaurant's organic garden), and the people who work there are darned nice. Would be a fun place to come by for some vino and a casual bite, or a full meal after a day of wine tasting. Would make folks looking for a simple, low-key meal happy--others might be left wanting a little more precision.

ZIN Restaurant & Wine Bar
344 Center St.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Out for a good time? ~WILLI'S SEAFOOD & RAW BAR~ definitely has a party vibe, with a busy bar, and fills up with groups of folks out for a drink and some bites off the long list of appetizing small plates that are meant to be shared. (This would be a perfect spot for ladies doing a wine country/gal pal weekend.) Some highlights on the menu include baked oysters, barely-fried calamari with a kicky gremolata, a spicy clam and garlic flatbread with bacon and green onions, plus there are some meaty dishes too, like lamb skewers, and the salt and pepper baby back riblets. The food can be a little messy and big on flavor, which actually makes it perfect drinking food. Don't pass up the buttery lobster roll. The dog-friendly outdoor patio is great for lunch (get the spinach salad) or even better, on a balmy night.

Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar
403 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: North St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Sun-Thu 11:30am-9:30pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm
Closed Tue

Of course, no trip to Healdsburg is complete without a visit to the crown jewel, ~CYRUS~. I had my longest meal ever here (hello, five hours) and I savored every glorious minute of it. From the caviar and Champagne cart (swoon) to the choose-your-own-adventure tasting menu of Douglas Keane's elegant and engaging cuisine, this refined restaurant deserves every accolade it has earned. A definite "must do" for any gourmand who lives in the Bay Area, or someone visiting wine country and wants an experience that is enchanting, but without the least bit of pretension. The dining room had a comfortable buzz to it, not a hallowed hush. (But hey, dress nicely, okay?) A cocktail (or two) in the bar under the direction of famed barman Scott Beattie is also an ideal way to start the evening, or wind it down. Bring the plastic: $$$$.

(in the Hotel Les Mars)
29 North St.
Cross: Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Dinner nightly 5:30pm-9:30pm

I was so sorry to hear Plaza Farms didn't work out (it was a perfect way to pick up DaVero olive oil and rose wine and yummy Bellwether cheese all at once), but fortunately things at ~BOVOLO~ remain intact. This magical combo of a salumeria, pizzeria, and gelateria rocks my world. Hard. Owners Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Zazu in Santa Rosa are complete Slow Foodies (bovolo means snail in Italian), and do probably some of the best bacon I've ever eaten (mmmm, black pig bacon!). The place is super casual, with 24 seats inside, and 20 seats outside on the cute little enclosed patio.

Start with some COO-COO frites (fried dough with mozzarella and salumi), but order the off-the-menu version with bacon inside instead. Heh. (See how I love you?) Pizzas are great--be sure to throw a farm-fresh egg on top (they actually do a breakfast pizza too). This would be THE place to order their variation of pasta carbonara (that bacon, you know), and another can't-miss dish for lunch is the pork cheek sandwich with roasted peppers and salsa verde--sooooooo good. You can also get a black pig bacon, egg, and Bellwether Carmody cheese sandwich, for breakfast or lunch. Heck, I could practically eat all my Healdsburg meals here. Dessert too.

106 Matheson St.
Cross: Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Fri-Tue 9am-9pm
Thu 9am-6pm
Mon, Tue, Thu 9am-6pm
Fri-Sun 9am-9pm

Hmmm, am I getting hard to please? Maybe it was just an off night, but I wasn't very smitten with my experience at Charlie Palmer's ~DRY CREEK KITCHEN~. A few highlights: the complimentary gougères to start, the wine pairings were good, and most dishes exhibited pleasing flavor combos (like the pickled cucumbers with the tartare), but overall I thought for the price ($74; $119 with wine pairings), things needed to be a bit tighter. During the six-course tasting menu, there were too many dishes that were under-seasoned, ingredients reappeared (rapini was featured in two dishes), and service was not dialed enough to match the modern finer-dining ambiance. But, I hear they are working on these things...

One deal that is hard to beat is the three-course Sonoma Neighbor Menu available Mon-Thu for $34, $49 with wines. At that price, I'd have less to quibble with. This summer, there is also a family-style BBQ three-course meal served alfresco around the grill in Hotel Healdsburg's awesome courtyard and screened porch. It's every Wednesday night from May-September, $32 per guest.

Dry Creek Kitchen
317 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: Plaza St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Fri-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm
Sun-Thu 5:30pm-9:30pm
Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm

I'm downright leery of places loaded with pig paraphernalia and peach walls, kind of like a scary B&B-meets-restaurant aesthetic, but I've been told that ~HEALDSBURG CHARCUTERIE & CAFÉ~ has recently toned down the peach and pigs. It was a chilly wintery night when I ate here, and the escargot with whipped butter blended with garlic and pastis hit the spot. The Sonoma salad with Brie, bacon, grapes, and almonds was also scrumptious. Mains were not so stellar--a bit forgettable/kind of 1980s in style (e.g. fusilli pasta with chicken and sun dried tomatoes is on the menu). I wouldn't make this a dinner destination if it was my sole night in Healdsburg, but sometimes a cozy café atmosphere is just what you need. It's also one of the few places open daily.

Healdsburg Charcuterie & Café
335 Healdsburg Ave.
Cross: Plaza St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448


Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm
Sat-Sun 12pm-3:30pm
Sun-Thu 5pm-9pm
(until 9:30 Fri-Sat)

I can't think of a better way to start the day than with a sublime cappuccino from the fine folks at ~FLYING GOAT COFFEE~ from their gleaming and red La Marzocco machine. Equally brilliant for a macchiato or one of their iced drinks in the afternoon when you hit a 4pm lull. Open daily 7am-6pm. 324 Center St. at Matheson, 707-433-3599.

You can head next door to the ~DOWNTOWN BAKERY & CREAMERY~ for their famed sticky buns, croissants, scones, and pure evil donut muffins (yes, you read that right). They also do a breakfast pizza, and cute little bread puddings. Maybe grab some treats and then sit in the plaza? 308 Center St. at Matheson, 707-431-2719.

The ~OAKVILLE GROCERY~ gets paaaaaacked with tourists getting their bougie gourmet picnic supplies and sandwiches for the day (yo, whip out that iPhone and order that sammy in advance!), or with folks who want to enjoy a pizza or one of their mezzalunas (try the one with the Greek salad inside!) on the patio overlooking the plaza. The real meal deal is on Tuesday nights in the summer: there's this cat named Gerard Nebesky who does a lovely paella outside--a serving is $12.95, and while munching away, you get to enjoy music on the plaza. Open 9am-7pm daily. 124 Matheson St. at Center, 707-433-3200.

If you're on your way to Alexander Valley, be sure to stop at ~JIMTOWN STORE~ for lunch (they also serve breakfast). It's totally "old tyme country store," with tasty sandwiches, like the famed Brie and olive, there's a grilled cheese sandwich of the week, a totally yummy turkey with chipotle, and oh yeah, their "hold the phone" chocolate pudding--as in "hold the phone, I gotta eat this right now." In warmer months, the back patio, complete with a canopy of vines, is totally where it's at. The shop itself has some cute Americana items, and you'll also want to have a little cooler in your car so you can bring home some of their fresh condiments, like the chopped olive, and my favorite, the artichoke, olive, and caper spread. Open Mon-Fri 7am-5pm, Sat-Sun 7:30am-5pm. 6706 Hwy. 128/Alexander Valley Road at Sausal Lane, 707-433-1212.

Time for a drink? Sadly Healdsburg shuts down pretty darned early, but you can kick it at the saloon-like ~JOHN AND ZEKE'S BAR & GRILL~--play pool with a mix of locals and tourists, drink some beer, have a shot. 111 Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-3735.

Folks complain about the ups and downs of the "experimental" food here (I can't vouch, it's just what I've heard) but ~BARNDIVA~ can be quite the spot if a cocktail is what you're craving. A bit "posh country," with soaring ceilings at this modern barn, plus a spacious outdoor patio, and funky art. And an impressive bar setup. 231 Center St. at Mill, 707-431-0100.

Get hopped up on the massive array of sweets, from oldies to new treats at ~POWELL'S SWEET SHOPPE~, 322 Center St. at Plaza, 707-431-2784.

Some restaurants and bars I didn't get a chance to personally visit:

is a classic and a longstanding local favorite for a Frenchie bistro lunch or dinner, right on the plaza. Think steak frites, chicken paillard. Full bar too. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner Mon-Thu 5:30pm-9pm (until 9:30 Fri-Sat). 109 Plaza St. at Center, 707-433-1380.

~MANZANITA RESTAURANT~ has had some changes over the years--not sure where things stand now, but if I ever make it there, I'll update this report! Heard their pizzas from the wood-fired oven are good. Lunch Tue-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm and dinner 5:30pm-9:30pm. 336 Healdsburg Ave. at North, 707-433-8111.

Craving sushi? Wine country isn't the first place I think of for fresh sushi, but some folks I know recommend ~SAKE 'O~. (It's a bit north of the plaza.) 505 Healdsburg Ave. at Piper, 707-433-2669.

Did you hurt yourself the day or night before? ~EL FAROLITO~ (or "the fart," as the locals refer to it) will save you with its huevos con chorizo for breakfast. Also loved for its chips and salsa. Yup, you're now ready for a margarita. 128 Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-2807.

There's also ~EL SOMBRERO~, (or as the locals say, "the hat"), just across from the Oakville Grocery--one friend digs their fish and shrimp cocktail in a tomato and avocado sauce, served up in an old fashioned-looking ice cream glass. Hmmm, the fart, or the hat, which to choose? I am sure there are strong arguments for either. 245 Center St. at Matheson, 707-433-3818.

Well, since we're discussing Mexican joints, ~TAQUERIA GUADALAJARA~ is the preferred local fave, according to a chap I met at John & Zeke's one night. He said the taco grande and veggie nachos are the bomb. Carnitas too. It's just a bit south of the plaza… 125 Healdsburg Ave. at Exchange, 707-433-1052.

Hot out? Well, a friend of mine went crazy for ~SNOWBUNNY YOGURT~, made with Straus Family Creamery yogurt (get the original tart flavor) and you can get local fruit on top, too. Plus they use eco-friendly/compostable cups and spoons. 312 Center St. at Matheson, 707-431-7669.

Maybe you need a break from all that wine. Head on over to ~BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING COMPANY~, the local brewpub (AKA "the Bear" or "B&B"), for some Racer 5, Hop Rod Rye, or Red Rocket for happy hour (Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm), and on Thursdays, they do BBQ oysters. The garlic fries and Black & Blue burger are also local classics. Outdoor patio, bonus. Summer hours: Sun-Thu 11am-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm; winter hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm. 345 Healdsburg Ave. at Plaza, 707-433-2337.

New places I gotta check out:

~SCOPA~ is a new rustic Italian café that has been thrilling folks left and right. Been hearing grrrrrreat reports. 109A Plaza St. at Healdsburg, 707-433-5282.

Cyrus owners Douglas Keane and Nick Peyton have taken over the ~HEALDSBURG BAR & GRILL~. Think burgers, fries, spacious patio, killer produce, good wines, done. 245 Healdsburg Ave. at Matheson, 707-433-3333.

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