August 2005--Dining Recommendations
Where to go: WineCountry Dining in Healdsburg
About 90 minutes north of San Francisco, Healdsburg has become a popular jumping off point for visitors to Sonoma County's Wine Country. In addition to boutiques, tasting rooms and upscale shopping, this bustling town has some of the area's most unique restaurants.
Surrounded on nearly all sides by vineyards, the small town of Healdsburg has quickly become the unofficial heart of much of Sonoma's Wine Country. With the Dry Creek Valley to the west, Russian River Valley to the South, and the Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill to the east, it's a hub for vintners, winery staff and locals who work in the industry—as well as Wine Country visitors. With so much wine flowing in the hills and valleys, it's hardly surprising that good food and excellent restaurants are easy to find in this small northern California town.
And though couture fashion boutiques, expensive cars and modern luxury hotels have replaced much of the older agricultural of life here, there are still many locals who sit and eat lunch around the plaza, stop in for a drink at the local bars and congregate at the local post office and coffee houses to chat.
Restaurants follow suit—with a number of luxurious, high-end dining experiences; mid-priced casual eateries that feature fresh, local foods and even inexpensive nosheries that are perfect for a quick bite. Here are some favorites:
Cyrus Restaurant, located in the newly built Mars Hotel near downtown, is arguably Sonoma Countyís most opulent eatery. Offering caviar by the ounce, an impressive cheese cart, stellar wine selection and five-star service, along with refined French/California dining, Cyrus is the best choice for intimate dinners and exacting palates.
Cyrus, 29 North St., Healdsburg,
Nestled amidst the vineyards just outside of town, Madrona
Manor is a Victorian Inn thatís a favorite of wedding parties and romantic couples. Though youíll find plenty of locals, as well, the restaurant at Madrona Manor is the kind of place best enjoyed while on vacation: cares slip away, elegant plates are brought forth, the food is simple, yet well-crafted, the environment plush, and best of all, after sipping and eating your way through the menu, you can simply go upstairs to a fluffy, quilted bed and revel in the experience. Madrona
Manor, 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707.433.4231.
At the other end of the design spectrum, Dry Creek Kitchen, in the similarly stark Healdsburg Hotel, is a minimal and cleanly executed space that features regional foods and cooking. From Pt. Reyesí Cowgirl Creamery to Liberty Ducks and local produce, the menu is careful to point out its local sources, so diners really understand the sense of place theyíre eating in. After some time away, Palmer has recently returned to the kitchenís helm. The menu changes frequently, so donít get too attached to a meal you had last week—chances are it will soon be replaced.
Dry Creek Kitchen, 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707.431.0330.
Lunch with the locals
Tiny, narrow and always packed, Bistro Ralph is where youíll often find local winemakers opening a bottle or two of their latest vintage with friends. The bar is a great place to see the action, nibble on tasty rolls, and wait for a plate of chicken livers or a Hangar steak with fries. Zin restaurant is another favorite local lunch spot.
Bistro Ralph, 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707.433.1380. Zin Restaurant, 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 707.473.0946.
A cross between gourmet grocery store and gourmet deli, the Oakville Grocery store has make-it-yourself provisions like cheese, bread, lunchmeat and upscale pre-made deli items including polenta and crabcakes along with some of the tastiest sandwiches in town. If youíre willing to wait 20 minutes or so, the Club Mezaluna is a crispy pizza crust filled with chicken, bacon, tomatoes and Caesar salad.
Budget a little tight? Big Johnís Market, north of town is where locals go for inexpensive sub sandwiches, soup and other gourmet goodies.
Oakville Grocery, 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.433.3200. Big John's Market , 1345 Healdsburg Ave., 707.433.7151.
The Ravenette, located just off the square next to the Raven theater, is a cozy spot for Sunday brunch. With a mostly local clientele, itís also open for dinner Thursday through Sunday. Ravenette,117 North Street 707.431.1770.
The recently-opened Plaza Farms market hosts several local wineries, Bellwether Farms cheeses and Bovolo, an Italian deli (California-style) offering gourmet pizza, salads made with locally sourced greens, beans and whole grains and house-made gelato. Plaza Farms,
106 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.433.2345.
You donít need your own chopsticks (though many locals have a set on hand) at SakeíO, one of the best sushi restaurants in the North Bay. The restaurant is tiny, and there are only a few seats at the sushi bar, so itís best to come early. Closer to the center of town, Williís Seafood is a hip restaurant with great outdoor seating, a nice by-the-glass winelist and a full bar. And for fish tacos, there's no shortage of Mexican restaurants, like El Farolito, located just behind the Gallo tasting room on Center St. Sake'O, 505 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707.433.2669. Willi's Seafood, 403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707.433.9191. El Farolito, 128 Plaza St., Healdsburg, 707.433.2807.
Something other than, er, wine?
It seems a little bit odd to smell hops and barley along the streets of Healdsburg, but on a warm day, the waft of brewing beer will guide you right to the Bear Republic Brewing Company, 345 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707.431.7258, for salads, burgers and casual dining.
In Napa Valley
Tasting at EHLER'S ESTATE WINERY, is like tasting used to always be in
the Napa Valley: friendly, conversational, and non-commercial. I almost
hate to tell people about it. Situated north of St. Helena, the 1886 stone
winery overlooks 42 acres of vineyards. There is a lovely 100-year-old
olive grove on the property that shades the bocce court, and an outstanding
elevated picnic deck.