Celebrity chefs have already turned Napa Valley into a gourmet destination, but now Charlie Palmer will give Sonoma County a taste of star power when he opens Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg on Oct. 26.
The restaurant, inside the new upscale Hotel Healdsburg on the town's downtown plaza, has a Sonoma-only wine list and a menu that features "95 percent Sonoma products," according to Palmer, who is best known as chef-owner of the two Aureole restaurants in New York and in the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas.
"The whole restaurant is based on the Sonoma experience," said Palmer. "I can't think of another place that has all the ingredients that you'd want for a restaurant. You have great cheeses, fruit, lamb and duck, and of course the coast with fresh oysters and seafood."
To prepare for the opening, executive chef Mark Purdy moved to Sonoma County eight months ago to build relationships with local producers. "We're kind of taking the opposite approach from most restaurants," Palmer said. "Instead of coming up with a menu and then sourcing what we need, we go out and find what's out there first and figure out what we're going to cook."
Among the dishes on his opening menu are an appetizer of Hog Island oysters with Pinot Blanc and mignonette and an entrée of caramelized Petaluma Poultry chicken breast with basil, with fresh ricotta gnocchi and sautéed spinach.
The wine list is modest at the moment -- about 300 offerings -- but Palmer has big plans. "It's about creating the most comprehensive Sonoma list in existence," Palmer said. "I equate it with Tuscany. You don't go to Tuscany to drink the wines of Bordeaux or even Piedmont for that matter."
Included on the list so far are verticals of Silver Oak, Jordan and Nalle. Non-Sonoma wineries are included only if the bottling carries a Sonoma County appellation.
The restaurant, named for nearby Dry Creek Valley, seats about 75 people and also has two outdoor dining areas. The dining room is casual yet refined, with two large columns that slope up into a dramatic vaulted ceiling. The kitchen is partially visible through a wall that has alternating horizontal strips of clear and frosted glass, lending it a Venetian-blind effect.
"I'm not a big open-kitchen guy, so this is the best of both worlds," Palmer said. "People like the mystery of the kitchen, but this way you don't have the noise and the smoke."
While Dry Creek Kitchen is only part of Palmer's dining empire, which includes other Manhattan and Las Vegas restaurants, the Healdsburg restaurant holds a unique place for the chef.
"This is very personal for me," Palmer said. "I've been coming here for 14 years. I'm going to live here some day. We bought land here three or four years ago and we're going to start on a house soon. This is a very special place."
Dry Creek Kitchen
317 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tel: (707) 431-0330
Fax: (707) 431-8990
Hours: Dinner, Mon. through Thurs., 5 p.m.—10 p.m., Fri. and Sat,. 5 p.m.—10:30 p.m. Future plans are to offer lunch daily, noon—3 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $19; entrées, $15 to $25; seven-item tasting menu, $55
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