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Healdsburg Dining: Ins and Outs


highflyingbird
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Here is a little starter for a thread on Healdsburg. There is a lot happening there.

Dry Creek Kitchen, Charlie Palmer's place, is hit and miss. I've had some mediocre food there, and the last time, superb food and service. A couple times, though, I've walked out (before even sitting down) after having awful FOH service.

Once we walked in, no one at the front, and waited a couple minutes (this was lunch and it was not that busy). Eventually a busboy came over, who was befuddled, didn't know what to do, spilled a bunch of pencils, and kind of mumbled away. The whole time I could see who I thought was the hostess chatting away to a table in the back, never once eyeballing the front door to see what might be going on. It was kind of incredible. We walked out after another couple of minutes.

I've also had attitude (and so have others I know) when trying to make a reservation over the phone. They seem to be above it all and you are treated like you're lucky to get in. It feels very poorly managed. Especially for what they charge, and the cache of "Palmer".

I swore if off, and then recently had clients in town, and a couple of my other ideas were not available that particular night, so I took them there (and I knew if it was bad, at least I wasn't paying for the trouble), and we had a great time. Everything went smoothly, the food was really good, and so was dessert. The wines we had were reasonably priced and very, very good. (It was odd that on a Saturday night, the sommelier had already left by 8 pm.) And it wasn't too rich, either.

Barndiva is my current favorite there. It's a half block south of the square on Center St, just down from the Rosenblum tasting room. It's a beautiful space, a year old, with a fantastic back patio that is very large, with tables scattered throughout, a glass fountain, pretty landscaping...it is so removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown. It's just great.

The food is a mix of different types, typically Californian. The tempura shrimp, anything on a skewer, salads, and the chicken are great. We've had most of the menu and no duds.

The large charcuterie platter is enough for four to six people and is so fun to share. They have a clever and creative cocktail list, a nice wine list, and good glassware. The only bump here is the manager Lucca can be a little snarky with customers. If only he would learn a little humility, and true graciousness, the place would be better off. I sent some friends in there, and he was really condescending and rude to them and their kids. He's a little full of himself. Other than that, A+.

Zin has slipped, and I don't go there anymore.

Willi's Seafood is good, if a little rich, and sometimes really busy. They have a great Arctic Char with an almond crust that is divine. Since it's small plates, the food comes out in no order, or pacing. Which can make for a disjointed experience. It's not a relaxing environment.

Cyrus is trying very hard, and is worth a trip. As close to French Laundry as we have in Sonoma County, and for a lot less. I've been there twice and found the food pretty good, but nothing that makes me want to rush back right away. The service is great, wine list extensive, the caviar table is nice (and unusual - give them credit for that), and the cheese cart is done well. (We miss Josef, who was at Cyrus at the beginning and used to be at the Farmhouse before that. His cheese cart work was a marvel. Anyone know where he is now?)

The experience there starts with the hostess walking you into the dining room, and picking up a white 30's style phone to tell the kitchen you have arrived. They should drop that contrived gimmick. It's kind of ridiculous. These guys also own Market in St. Helena which I like a lot.

Oakville Grocery is great for a sandwich to go, or to eat on their patio across from the square. If you're in a rush, it's a great choice.

There is a new coop right on the square called Plaza Farms, with different stalls tasting and selling food and wines, with a restaurant in the back called Bovolo, run by the Zazu people. We had lunch their and it was not that great. A really good pizza, but flavorless tomato salad (how in summer?), salty soup...seems like no one's keeping a close eye on things. Maybe we'll try it after they've been there a little longer.

Manzanita has ok food in a nice quiet room. Only been there once, though. Nothing too exciting here, though.

A really great place, that still a lot of people don't know about, is J Winery. They do food pairings with their wine tastings that are out of this world. They make sparkling wine and mostly pinot, sometimes a zin, they have a great pinot gris, too. They do a few different tastings: one at the main bar, which I think is $12, and gets you about 5 wines w/ pairings like shrimp and avocado in a filo cup, fava puree on toast, roast pork with fig tapenade. They also have a special room, The Bubble Lounge that is a sit down event (for at least an hour - though I've been there for three hours before). It is FAB! Their staff rocks and are so fun. They clearly love their work. Look out for Janay, she's a bundle of good energy.

You can check out the menu for all of these options here: http://jwine.com/recipes/

If I go there and have the tasting at the main bar, and then go into the Bubble Room (make a reservation - and they only open that Fri-Sun, I think), I don't need anything else. FYI: If you're a wine club memner there, the main bar tastings are free, and discounted in the Bubble Room. As locals, this is a great deal for us.

Anyone been to Bistro Ralph lately?

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My recent Dry Creek Experience:

Wolfert and I ate at Dry Creek Kitchen a week or two ago (for my reviewing job). We had the tasting menu which comprised the following:

Amuse of Celery puree with Lemon Chantilly and Caviar; served in a small, tall thin shot glass sans spoon, forcing you to "shoot" the entire amount. Lemon and celery? Whatever

Organic Tomato and Watermelon Salad Tahitian lime oil, 'gazpacho', tomato sorbet. Pretty service of two squares of watermelon (one red and one yellow) atop which sat a peeled cherry tomato (one red, one yellow). Then there was this foam. Couldn't tell what it was a foam of. The 'gazpacho' was okay - a scoop of tomato sorbet with a cold tomato soup poured tableside.

Asparagus four-minute egg, asparagus injection, grapefruit confit, pistachio oil. The four minute egg was fried so it gave it an encased gritty texture that took away from the loveliness of the inside of the egg. The grapefruit confit was the fabulous part and was paired well with an amazing Y3 Sauvignon Blanc.

Dayboat Scallop caramelized with cocoa, hazelnut 'tomato paste', artichoke. The 'tomato paste' was the big iffy on this one. It actually tasted like tomato paste and overpowered the scallop. The artichokes were fried slivers (I'm assuming from the heart) and while they tasted good, did nothing to add to the dish.

Sonoma Foie Gras poached Dry Creek Peach, spiced broiche froth, young basil. Probably the best dish of the evening. The baby basil leaves added a nice, minty depth to the dish.

Alaskan Halibut, local squid and crisp vermicelli, tomato-coconut broth. This was the downfall of the evening. The halibut was hardly fresh, the vermicelli were hard, pointless pointy things and the broth a complete disaster. There was no unifying flavor and after one bite and dissecting the dish, neither of us finish the course.

I won't go into desserts as they weren't too bad but at this point, we were so disappointed in the overall service that we just wanted to leave. They make a point of changing out silverware with each course but on two occasions, the silverware was taken away, the next course arrived, and we had to ask to have silverware replaced. The timing of the courses with the wines was atrocious. For the foie gras course, the wine pairing was a late harvest sauvignon blanc that was quite nice, except that the wine arrived after we had both finished eating. On the scallop course, the wine arrived a few minutes after the scallop, but the busboy(?) had no idea what the wine was! It was only in the middle of the next course could I ask our server what the previous wine had been and he couldn't remember.

One last thing; almost every course throughout the evening either included asparagus as part of the dish or as a garnish. It was a tomato and asparagus evening and asparagus is not even in season! Tasteless.

BTW, I haven't written a formal review with the possibility that there may be some changes...

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The timing of the courses with the wines was atrocious. For the foie gras course, the wine pairing was a late harvest sauvignon blanc that was quite nice, except that the wine arrived after we had both finished eating. On the scallop course, the wine arrived a few minutes after the scallop, but the busboy(?) had no idea what the wine was! It was only in the middle of the next course could I ask our server what the previous wine had been and he couldn't remember.

One last thing; almost every course throughout the evening either included asparagus as part of the dish or as a garnish. It was a tomato and asparagus evening and asparagus is not even in season! Tasteless.

BTW, I haven't written a formal review with the possibility that there may be some changes...

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It's weird there, especially since Palmer supposedly now lives here. Doesn't he get feedback from anyone? For the money, Cyrus is a better option.

Actually, rumor has it that he is spending more time in Las Vegas -- when queried about his attendance in Healdsburg, they said he had only been there two or three times in the past several months.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi,

Next week we will be heading to Healdsburg in the Sonoma valley for some cycling, wine and excellent food. We have booked a reservation at Manzanita for one of our nights, we would like to try some good, traditional mexican food and one other good quality restaurant that is not too fancy (we don't want to go to Cyrus or Dry Creek Kitchen). Does anyone have any suggestions? We will have a car, as well as our bikes, so it doesn't have to be in Healdsburg (but we would like to stay within half an hour of there) Looking forward to your suggestions.

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Definitely the Generals Daughter in Sonoma for dinner. There's a taco truck in geyserville right off 101 on 128 east - can't miss that for a snack. I love NY pie in Santa Rosa has the best NY style pizza I've had on the west coast - stop there for lunch if you're near by, it's on 4th and Brookwood.

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Not sure how far this is from Healdsburg but we had two excellent dinners here last year:

http://www.glenelleninn.com/home.htm

It was so good the first time that we went back 2 days later. Really high quality food for the prices and the restaurant is not pretentious at all. There seemed to be a lot of locals there and you can sit outside on the patio if you wish. I can't wait to go back on our next trip to Sonoma!

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In Healdsburg, I'm a big Barn Diva fan; something about their shepherds pie... They are also next door to Selby Wine which is a must-try. You did well by booking Manzanita -- that's another fav in the city. Also consider a lunch stop at Bavolo, inside the co-op market. The pork cheek sandwich is amazing.

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Willie's Wine Bar

cant miss it

In Healdsburg it's Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar. Some of the most tender calamari

I've ever eaten. :biggrin:

Everything on the menu is tapas style so you can try a number of different items in one visit.

David in Sonoma Wine Country

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just returned from Sonoma and Mendocino. Back to reality *sigh*.

Breakfast at the bakery on the square in Healdsburg both mornings, fantastic sticky buns and scrambled eggs. Lunch at Jimtown store very good, although I felt that the Hobbs sandwich was a little out of balance - proscuitto, fig and Pt. Reyes bleu, which was too strong for the combo. Dinner at Barn Diva - cold atmosphere, really tough steak, excellent frites.

Dinner one night at The Farmhouse - they kindly allowed us to share our courses and the sommelier let us have half glasses of 3 different wines for our courses. Foie two ways, Rabbit three ways and the killer cheese plate. Very nice, indeed.

Other than these, lunch at Genova deli in Napa - excellent, excellent stuff. Slanted Door in SF - Caramelized Pranwns to die for.

Mendo has become heinously expensive, with all entrees starting at $22 and soaring.... had good onion soup and bright, tasty salad in the lounge of the Hotel and a good steak at the Cafe. Otherwise, had the excellent Austrian Seed bread from Cafe Beaujolais brickery (always a fav), and groceries from the Harvest Market in Ft. Bragg - was I missing something? Everyone says it's such a great place... maybe for the coast it is, but it wasn't the foodie heaven I've been lead to believe it would be.

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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