There’s nothing quite like the realization that you are somewhere beyond daily monotony. Post anticipation and preparation for excursions new, there is a certain oxymoronic, anxious calm that manifests just below the collar. It’s like a morning dew that hasn’t quite settled into dawn. I am checked in to vacation. I sip ‘good’ wine, the complimentary bottle on the foyer table of my Hotel Healdsburg suite of bliss. I look into my glass pirouetting a fishbowl vision of my surroundings. I call the concierge. She answers. As with many before, I request dinners and excursions during my stay at the hotel. She obliges, and i am thrilled. I….am in Sonoma.
At the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I chose Sonoma over Napa when planning my first wine country excursion. More locals, less tourists, and the added benefit of a short forty-five minute commute from San Francisco afforded much deserved relaxation.
No stranger to high dining, I am not ashamed to say I prefer to experience true excellence alone. I do enjoy true foodie comradery, but nothing compares to the quiet and private indulgence in one’s own senses. Hence, Chef’s table for one. I observed the meticulously starched linens, the precisely measured chair to table to silver ratio, all perfectly set to appease me, the most observant diner. While tending a series of aerating wine carafes just beyond my table, the Master Sommelier personally served and checked in between wine service for each course. Each bottle decanted released another sweet and sensuous aroma into the dining air. The kitchen and the wait staff were spot on with coordinated timing and confirming every dish was prepared to satisfaction.
Most notable to my experience was a personal greeting from Chef as I melted into bliss between fourth and fifth courses, and the staff surprising me with his handshake and salutation before I retired to Hotel Healdsburg for the evening. Responding to how I enjoyed the meal I responded with fervor, “It was a fabulous crescendo from start to finish.” Both Sommelier and Chef eyes widened and dilated at my response. Then came the grin. It was the grin of satisfaction; the digestion of that rare personalized and exalted confirmation that what they did here was indeed superb, and superbly appreciated.
Chef Charlie Palmer’s menu elaborated below, however one must excuse the photo edit quality. As an avid foodie explorer, I respect a restaurant dining ambiance, and Dry Creek Kitchen keeps the evening lighting a comfortable low with candlelight accouterments. I decided to preserve the intimate environment by keeping the flash off, and over-exposing the resulting photographs.
Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen Chef’s Tasting Menu
First Course – Flashed seared hamachi with avocado mousseline, pickled rhubarb, parslane, kaffir lime oil
Sommelier Selection: Iron Horse Aureole Cuvee Sparkling Wine Green Valley 2005
Second Course – Cauliflower soup with spicy shrimp, curried crème fraîche, chopped pistachios, spicy shrimp, curried creme fraiche, chopped pistachios
Sommelier Selection: Nova Family Winery, Gewurztraminer, Russian River Valley, 2009
Third course – Fresh rigatoni pasta with arugula ‘pesto’, toasted walnut, ricotta salata, house cured lardo
Fourth Course – Brioche crusted halibut with english pea mousseline, ham hock, pickled red onion
Sommelier Selection: Leo Steen Chenin Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Saini Farms, 2009
Fifth Course – Pan seared filet of beef with smoked fingerling potatoes, bone marrow, wild mushrooms, black garlic vinaigrette
Sommelier Selection: Mauritson ‘Loam’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, Positas, 2007
Sixth Course – Chocolate caramel cheesecake with gold leaf and nutty mocha ice cream