Healdsburg's Dry Creek Kitchen

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drycreekkitchen.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

All too frequently, restaurants run by out-of-town celebrity chefs reflect their out of town origins more than their actual location.  Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen bucks that trend in every respect, and more than lives up to its name.   

Chef de cuisine and Healdsburg native Dustin Vallette manages the kitchen, crafting elegant menus from Sonoma County's finest seasonal ingredients to complement the region's distinctive wines.  Sommelier Drew Munro has created an all-Sonoma County wine list of over 600 different bottles, including the largest selection of dessert wines of any Sonoma restaurant, but the restaurant charges no corkage for Sonoma County wines brought in to the restaurant.   Dry Creek Kitchen's active participation in numerous special events throughout the year further celebrates the local winemakers, and food artisans of the area.

The restaurant is situated on the main square in downtown Healdsburg, immediately next to the swank Healdsburg Hotel.  I met General Manager Dan Prentice last year during an unrelated visit to the hotel last year, and after a fascinating discussion of the restaurant's numerous dining and wine programs, he invited me back to experience them first-hand. 

dck5.jpgSimply describing the dishes and wines would not do the dinner justice.  One of the Dry Creek Kitchen's most compelling characteristics is its sense of place--the ambiance, the welcome, and the synergy between the restaurant and its location.  Every mouthful tasted distinctively of Sonoma, from the first sip of the elderflower-infused J Vineyards sparkling aperitif, to the house-made charcuterie board, to the broiled Miyagi oysters with caramelized onion biscuits, to the mind-blowing scallop and fennel pot-en-croûte with caviar, to the coriander-crusted duck breast with fig compote, and all the way to the layered peanut butter and multi-chocolate mousse dessert that Palmer adopted as his signature for all his other restaurants.  The wine pairings with each dish exemplified the symbiotic relationship of wine and cuisine, and highlighted wines I had never tried before as well as some established Sonoma rock stars.

Although we went a la carte, there are also several excellent prix-fixe menus available.  The Sonoma Neighbor Menu available Monday through Thursday evenings offers guests a delicious three-course dinner of seasonal creations for only $36 per person, or $51 with wine pairings.  The restaurant donates two dollars of each Neighbor check to the Healdsburg Education Fund.   The six-course Chef's Tasting menu ($74 per person/$143 with five wine pairings) allows diners to experience the full range of the menu, from delicate seafood through earthy vegetables, pastas, and hearty meats.  The Wine Trail Menu, available at lunch on Saturdays and Sundays, features four courses for $49, or $75 with wine pairings for the three savory courses.

dck6.jpgDessert does not get left out of the pairing action, however.  The restaurant lets guests enhance their dessert with a suggested wine pairing for only $9 more, rather than the more typical $12-16 per glass.  And, unlike other fine dining establishments, guests are welcome to visit the dining room just for dessert once the dinner rush has subsided.  Don't overlook the plates of mignardises and chocolate parting gifts, because the peanut butter and jelly chocolate truffle must be tasted to be believed.

This year's winter promotions at the Dry Creek Kitchen make the decision to visit even easier than usual.  From November through March, Thursday nights feature 20 different bottles of wine discounted to $20 each--yes, $20 per bottle--and two wines available by the glass for $5 each.  Intimate monthly Winemaker Dinners at the restaurant beginning in December afford guests the opportunity to meet the people who create the world class wines of the region, and share a four-course meal created specifically for the featured wines.  Check the restaurant website for details on all upcoming events.

Winter is actually the best time to visit Dry Creek Kitchen, when the crowds of fair weather tourists are gone and the locals have the run of their town once again.  With only 10,000 permanent residents, Healdsburg regains its unique personality in the off-season, and allows visitors braving the colder weather to share in the warmth of a small-town welcome.  Tell Dan I sent you, and please give him my best.

Dry Creek Kitchen, 317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA  (707) 431-0330

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