Think Sonoma Wine Country dining, and many people think of Healdsburg, known for its many excellent restaurants.
Part of the reason so many top chefs love the area is because of the many famous wineries there – travelers come from all over to visit properties like Seghesio Family Vineyards, Quivira Vineyards, and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery.
Before or after wine tasting, a great meal awaits.
Restaurateurs Kyle and Katina Connaughton finessed every last detail of the combination restaurant and luxury inn. They planted their own five-acre SingleThread Farm property between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch nearby, and established a 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden above the restaurant, both dedicated to growing boutique ingredients for the food and cocktail menus. The concept is kaiseki — elaborate multicourse meals crafted as art — and donabe — rustic clay pot cooking. Menus change daily, but might mean delicacies like black cod Fukkura-san (donabe style) with root vegetables, cabbage, charred onion, and walnut-nori pesto; plus wild salmon donabe-smoked over cherry-blossom-wood with fermented rice, salmon roe, and wild ginger.
Former Dry Creek Kitchen talent Dustin Valette is rocking the food world, bringing in crowds for his contemporary Cal-global cooking and a sexy, reclaimed-wood-trimmed, open kitchen ambience. Reservations are recommended to score a table laden with seasonally (and often weekly) changing dishes like slow cooked celeriac soup with toasted pistachios, yellow beet tartare, and goat cheese meringue, or crispy skin local sable fish with MIX garden bok choy, roasted ginger dashi, toasted soba noodles, and spicy kimchee purée. Be sure to start with hand crafted charcuterie from the custom-made curing case, and if you’re feeling adventurous, tuck into the “Trust Me” menu where Valette sends out a multi-course feast of his daily picks.
If you’re craving Barcelona tapas like boquerones, creamy chicken croquettes, and local sardines in black olive ink, this fashionable dining room and bar from chef Mark Stark will do you right. Set in a chic cottage, the boisterous spot offers specialties like fried pig ears, a ham-and-cheese bar, and signature gin and tonics such as the Levante of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, orange, saffron and cardamom.
Chef Shane McAnelly showcases California ingredients, mainly in small plates of crudos and pastas of the day listed on a chalkboard. The format means dishes are sent to the tables in whatever order the cooks get them ready, but it results in fun of sharing, and surprise, as we sometimes forget what we ordered but are so delighted when it arrives. The look is sleek and bright, with big windows and an open kitchen, while the food is wide ranging and often complex, from buttermilk fried quail decorated with fava beans, nasturtium greens, fennel, and cubeb pepper vinaigrette, to beef tartare in a hefty, molded round moistened with quail egg, Calabrian chile, celery hearts, parsley, and smoked salt to be spooned on crostini.
Yucatan-born chef Mateo Granados puts spice in his Mexican-French cooking, served in the modern Mexican décor dining room or on the patio. Sonoma-grown ingredients form the backbone of seasonal specialties such as empanadas stuffed with Laguna Farm chard, Preston homemade chorizo, and queso fresco Salazar; tostadas piled in ground beef Yucatán picadillo with Preston olives, avocado, and White Crane Springs Ranch greens; or blue corn pancakes with mixed fruit, local honey, and butter. Fancier fare impresses, too, like sumptuous house made chorizo stuffed caramelized chicken breast with a bounty of spring vegetables, olive oil mashed potatoes, and rosemary sauce.
Chef Rob Lippincott is a Louisiana transplant, so he knows a thing or two about honest, New Orleans cooking. But he also respects Wine County taste buds, and local ingredients. The best of both worlds come together in this small, yellow 1860s cottage that’s so packed each day that crowds spill out to the front porch and onto a street-front patio. Puffy light beignets are a must, rolled out by hand before being quick fried and smothered in powdered sugar, it’s a bit of a heaven. Also excellent: a rich, Sonoma County-style spin on eggs Benedict, bringing buttery poached eggs, generous amounts of sweet lump blue crab meat, silky house-made hollandaise, and a scattering of shallots.
Photo by Sierra Downey.
Costa Rica. Santa Lucia. Espresso No. 9, Mrs. Garland's Blend, The Organic Optimist Blend. At this chic hometown hero destination, the coffees are globally sourced, uniquely named and distinctively flavored, even when they’re wimpy decaf (like the robust Opening Night Decaf Blend). The stuff is so good, Flying Goat was chosen as 2013 winner in the Good Food Awards coffee category, out of 200 entries from the best roasters around the country. Too, it was designated as a Gold Seal winner, a special distinction for winners that go beyond the Good Food Awards sustainability guidelines. And now there are two Flying Goat cafés in Healdsburg, right up the street from each other (at 324 and 419 Center St.). Guests can nibble on homemade scones, chocolate cake, fruit breads, and specialties like cinnamon muffin donuts.
If a bakery has been open since 1923, as this one has, it has to be doing something right. Just one example of that something is pie, made with wholesome fresh ingredients including pure butter, farm fresh eggs, real vanilla, and unbleached flour. Classic fruit pies are deep-dish 8-inch flaky buttery crust models with seasonal fruits like pumpkin. Or go wild, and indulge with a signature creamy Bavarian custard pie, encased in buttery pâte sucré and topped with a generous amount of fresh seasonal fruit. Besides pastries, the chic café offers quiche, omelets, and a very good salad of mixed greens, Willie Bird smoked duck breast, sliced almonds, chèvre, crostini, and balsamic vinaigrette. The cranberry turkey sandwich is a year-round favorite, too, on nine-grain toast with brie, baby greens, and avocado mayonnaise.
Focusing on the flavors of Oaxaca, chef-owner Octavio Diaz impresses with homemade sauces, moles, and salsas, for refined dishes like Mole Negro de Oaxaca. The pretty dish brings Mary's chicken draped in rich mole made from a rainbow of dried chiles, herbs, spices, almonds, and chocolate. The patio is a favorite for casual dining, savoring hearty dishes like molcajete, a giant, volcanic stone bowl brimming with sautéed prawns, steak, grilled chicken, grilled peppers, chipotle chiles, onions, and ranchero sauce.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet