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Partake by K-J Turns Wine Tasting into a Magnificent Meal

Partake in Healdsburg

To make his signature red-wine French fries, Partake by K-J chef Justin Wangler seasons the hand-cut spuds with salt and sugar, then slow-poaches them in Cabernet Sauvignon. Then he fries them, and lets them rest.

When the remained of the meal is ready, he re-fries the potatoes to order, and for the finishing touch, he serves them with a cup of homemade Cabernet Sauvignon ketchup. The result is surprisingly not “winey,” just imbued with a bit of robust fruit that adds pizzazz to a favorite snack.

Wine is a constant theme at Partake in Healdsburg, and not surprisingly, since it’s owned by Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate. It’s in the two kinds of bread fresh-baked from Whole Vine Chardonnay and Syrah grape skin and seed flours, paired with olive oil, Chardonnay grape seed oil and Meyer lemon-infused oil. It’s in Syrah grape skin buns that come with porchetta and salsa verde ($10).

And it’s in the glasses, served at the tasting bar, a la carte, or the best way, included along with each small plate. The porchetta and buns, for example, come with a taste of Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah.

The idea is a novel one, for a space that might be a wine tasting room, but is really a restaurant. “Flights and bites” are served, and it’s easy to enjoy a full meal in the farmhouse-chic dining room of hardwood floors, rustic wood tables and leather chairs. All along the way, educated servers explain each wine, and why it works so nicely with each dish.

For an a la carte snack, diners select a wine category, such as Sauvignon Blanc, with one to three choices in each, and each matched with a small plate. But it’s easier, and more wallet friendly, to go for a set tasting, either a three-course cheese ($25), five-course "from the garden" menu ($35) or a chef's menu ($45), all paired with wines.

After several visits, I’ve decided that the chef’s tasting is my favorite, simply because of the depth and range it offers. We begin with two briny oysters dressed in white verjus and pickled cucumber dots served atop a bed of peppercorn-studded rock salt, paired with Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (food and wine pairing is $5 a la carte).

Next is a lovely, silky yellow tomato panna cotta partnered with meaty local clams and sprinkled in fines herbes, paired with Highland Estates Camelot Highlands Chardonnay (not offered a la carte).

Then, it's on to crunchy, sweet glazed tempura Maitake mushrooms overflowing a wood basket, alongside Grand Reserve Merlot ($8 a la carte). These are mushrooms that have lured me in as I’ve walked down Healdsburg Avenue many times now, intent on other errands, but unable to resist stopping in for a marvelous munch.

Next is a slab of smoked lamb loin rounded out with rich, al dente heirloom beans, crisp autumn vegetables and a colorful dollop of beet-pomegranate relish, paired with Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s not an ordinary tasting plate, but more of a full size entrée, and a remarkable bargain (not available a la carte).

For dessert, pastry chef Robert “Buttercup” Nieto sends out a complex creation of coconut mousse artfully displayed on a long plate with accents of Kaffir lime gel, orange blossom vacherin, passionfruit ganache, almond nougatine and salted caramel. To sip alongside is a Grand Reserve Late Harvest Chardonnay (not available a la carte).

Adding extra spark to the whole experience, most dishes use produce from the winery's Santa Rosa garden, which was recently taken over and expanded by former French Laundry head gardener Tucker Taylor. In many plates, the vegetables take center stage, showcasing the best of the season and bright, clean flavors.

And in an extra classy touch, we’re never asked to buy a bottle or case of wine. Instead, we’re invited to relax, and when we’re ready to go on our way, we’re presented with a small sachet of Chardonnay peanut brittle.

It’s a classy, delicious twist on tasting.

Details: Partake by K-J, 241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Lunch and dinner 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Find more info about Wineries & Wine, Food & Restaurants, and Lodging in Sonoma County.

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