The Sonoma County dining scene isn't like any place else. Chefs were doing farm to table back in the 1980s, long before it was de rigueur, and somehow over the years they've managed to keep it real. The chefs here hangout with farmers and the winemakers are connected to the land and the kitchen.
Not that it's an easy restaurant market. I've seen more than a few talented chefs throw in the towel. Tourist money doesn't flow year round, and winters can be brutal for restaurants that cater to wine travelers. Locals are frugal and have little patience with hipsters and pretension.
Yet the challenges must be worth it, because chefs keep trying. A few months ago, I reported that partners Nick Peyton and Douglas Keane planned to reopen Cyrus at a new location just outside Healdsburg in Alexander Valley. Cyrus is sorely missed, and the new project sounds exciting.
The Sonoma dining scene in general seems to be moving into high gear, particularly in Healdsburg. That once sleepy burg has become downright frou frou—I hardly recognize it anymore—but Sonoma Valley has a lot going on, too. Here's a look:
344 Center St., Healdsburg, Calif.
Telephone: (707) 473-0946
After six years as executive chef at Charlie Palmer's Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning Dry Creek Kitchen, Dustin Valette is starting his own restaurant just around the corner. Valette was born and raised in Healdsburg and the restaurant is all about family. His brother Aaron will run the front of the house while Valette's wife, Johanna, will focus on desserts and more. The building, which most recently was home to Zin restaurant, was owned in the 1940s by Valette's great-grandfather, who was a baker.
The kitchen will focus on local ingredients with a French technique, with a menu that will change weekly, Valette said. The wine list will have about 100 bottles, mostly from Northern California, and will feature small, artisan producers. "The wines on our list are made by people who are passionate about what they do and care immensely about the land," Valette said.
Thread Farms Restaurant & Inn
131 North St., Healdsburg, Calif.
Not yet open
Chef Kyle Connaughton and his wife, Katina, are opening Single Thread Farms Restaurant & Inn, which will be located just off the plaza in Healdsburg in early August. As the name implies, the project will do triple duty.
Katina will grow most of the produce on a nearby ranch as well as a rooftop garden that guests will be able to explore. The inn will include five suites and the restaurant will seat about 55. Connaughton worked with French chef Michel Bras at his restaurant in Japan, and his menu is expected to focus on the best of Sonoma's bounty with influences from Asia and beyond.
The man behind the project is Pete Seghesio, whose family sold its winery a few years back. The new building will also be home to Seghesio's Healdsburg Meat Company and a tasting room for his winery, Journeyman.
9 E. Napa St., Sonoma, Calif.
Telephone: (707) 931-6926
David Bush made St. Francis Winery in Kenwood a foodie destination during his six years as chef there. Late last year he finally opened his own restaurant, Oso Sonoma, located right across from the Sonoma Plaza. It's a narrow space with an energetic atmosphere. The menu is eclectic, combining influences at whim, with dishes such as pickled shrimp with tomato and horseradish aioli or pork riblets with Thai chile and cilantro. The wine list is a modest 70 bottles but it's a fine selection with fair prices and mostly local wines. Auteur Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2012 sells for $69 and Red Car Syrah Sonoma Coast 2010 for $62.
14301 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen, Calif.
Telephone: (707) 934-8911
Off the beaten path in Sonoma Valley's charming Glen Ellen, Aventine is an amiable new addition to the dining scene. Located in an historic grist mill along a creek, the restaurant has atmosphere to spare. Chef Adolfo Veronese's menu is Italian comfort food with pizzas from a wood-burning stove, lasagna and branzino (whole sea bass) and the like. There's a solid list of 125 wines, a mix of regional bottlings and Italian, ranging from Matanzas Creek Merlot 2010 for $40 to Ornellaia Bolgheri 2011 for $470.