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Savvy Traveler: Hot Barn in Healdsburg

Barn Diva Takes Off

by Courtney Cochran

Musing over an impeccably prepared Thai Boxer cocktail in the lounge at Healdsburg’'s Cyrus Restaurant, I couldn't help but notice a skinny jean-clad hipster type sitting alone at the end of the bar. Were I back in San Francisco, the presence of a mega-stylish patron would be mundane, but the fact that we were deep in wine country made his presence there remarkable, even improbable-seeming.

To make matters even more interesting, he was clutching a sleek, futuristic-looking device that made my Blackberry look like a clumsy, oversized calculator circa 1950. "What's that?" I nodded towards the shimmering object, unable to contain my curiosity. "Oh, that's just my phone," he replied coolly, as if to imply that every other guy in rural Sonoma County was carrying around a year 2050-caliber cell phone.

"Eat the View"

This hipster, it turned out, was no other than Lukka Feldman, general manager of Barndiva, the wonderfully stylish dining spot located just a stone's throw from Cyrus. Coincidence? Hardly – since it opened in 2005 Barndiva has quickly gained praise for both its food and its impossibly stylish décor. Like its general manager, the spot is most definitely something of a wine country anomaly.

The towering burgundy barn that houses Barndiva was designed and built in downtown Healdsburg by Jil and Geoffrey Hales, worldly patrons who've lived in Los Angeles and London as well as nearby Philo, California. Their passion for design is apparent in details like the restaurant's custom chandeliers, glass fountain and impeccable gardens. In a playful nod to their flare for decoration, the Hales encourage visitors to "eat the view" as well as the award-winning cuisine.

A Taste to Return To

Speaking of which, there's happily much of the latter to take in. "Gout du revenez-y," French for "the taste you return to," is the way Barndiva’s owners describe their unique take on food. The saying springs from their belief that a meal should embrace both tradition and innovation, in doing so reminding diners of fond experiences they've had in the past while they're enjoying new ones in the present.

The ingredients at Barndiva – sourced almost entirely from so-called sustainable farmers and producers (for a definition of sustainability, check out an earlier article I wrote on sustainable clothing) – are what inspired the restaurant's name. Since many of the spot's boutique purveyors reside on small farms – with the barn is the undisputed symbol of the small farm – the Hales earn points for incorporating décor into the message of a meal, as well.

If forced to choose a catch-all descriptor for the food at Barndiva, I'd have to go with "American Country-French." As example, French staples like Steak Frites are offered alongside American-inspired items like a BBQ Short rib Sandwich featured on the lunch menu. Prices are suitably comfortable – dinner entrées cost on average $20 – and up the spot's appeal that much more. Indeed, named one of the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants of 2005, Barndiva has a lot to offer besides just cool surroundings.

Barndiva Bonus

Taking a cue from the restaurant's delicious interiors, the Hales recently opened a jewelry/home décor/textiles boutique called Artists and Farmers in the old opera building next door to Barndiva. Particularly of interest to wine enthusiasts should be the shop's well-edited collection of antique wine wares including wine scales, pitchers, and other odds and ends.

Every item in the store – many of which hail from exotic spots like Morocco and Transylvania – has a special story that evokes its place of origin, a criterion the owners triumph as the hallmark of a great purchase. Just don't expect to find any circa 2050 cell phones inside. After all, artists and Farmers – like Barndiva – is all about making impressions in the now.

Visitors are welcome at Barndiva for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday, with brunch and lunch served as well on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Barndiva, 231 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA (707) 431-0100 barndiva.com
Artists & Farmers, 237 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA (707) 431-7404 artistsandfarmers.com