Single Thread

Dinner – Saturday, January 28, 2017

Much ink has already been spilled on the Connaughtons, their journey, and the opening of their ambitious farm-restaurant-inn. It’s unnecessary for me to add further background at this point, other than to mention that they recruited Aaron Koseba (late of Aubergine) as chef de cuisine – he is one of the nicest persons you’ll ever meet (as it turns out, so was everyone we interacted with this evening). We had been anticipating this meal for many months, and it did not disappoint.

“Mid-Winter in Sonoma County” – Part 1
It was a chilly evening in Healdsburg when we arrived, and we were quickly handed mugs of homemade Gravenstein apple cider in the foyer. We lingered a moment over these libations, watching the kitchen crew quietly go about their work. The table was already set when we moved into the dining – a cornucopia of cold bites awaited, a Californian hassun course featuring local vegetables and marine life. My favourite was a cup of soft tofu topped with charred leek and Buddha’s hand (bottom left). Two other highlights – simple ribbons of celery root, and a creamy crab salad with Meyer lemon.

“Mid-Winter in Sonoma County” – Part 2
While finishing the bites above, a second round arrived – this time, all hot. There was a bowl of local mushrooms cooked in miso butter, and a precious blue-shelled Ameraucana egg  filled with an egg sabayon and chanterelles. However, my favourite of the trio was an aerated malted potato with black cod vinaigrette and caramelized onions – sweet and umami, and as light as a cloud.

Barrel-aged ponzu, cara cara orange, braised tatsoi, Saikyo miso

The fish was cut thick to emphasize it’s firm texture – fantastic. The interplay of the sweet, flash-frozen cara cara vesicles with the miso and tangy ponzu was terrific.

Roasted sunchokes
Mangalitsa pork jowl, pine nut brittle, preserved lemon, watercress

Potato-tapioca senbei, truffle mascarpone

Steelhead trout “ibushi-gin”
Shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, myoga

The fish was smoked with cherry wood in an ibushi-gin donabe, conferring a pronounced (yet balanced) aroma. It was topped with a julienne of radish and myoga – a refreshing crunch. Deceptively simple, yet the refinement (that vinaigrette…!) vaulted this to my favourite course of the night.

Cured foie gras, hearth-roasted Chiogga beets
Compressed pear, chicory and rosemary crumble, rooibos tea gelée

Monterey Bay abalone
Slow-cooked onions, sauce of its liver

Black cod and maitake “Fukkura-san”
Leeks, brassicas, sansho, chamomile dashi

A second course of fish cooked in a donabe, this time the tagine-like Fukkura-san. Perfectly prepared – the execution was straight out of a textbook.

Guinea hen roulade
Blood orange, black trumpet mushrooms, mustard greens

Miyazaki A5 wagyu over eucalyptus bark
Snow peas, black truffle, crosnes, chestnut purée, burnt onion

Sonoma grains
Tempura mustard blossom, herbs from the vine rows

Where a kaiseki meal would feature rice, here we received a representation of local grains – purple barley and farro. The kitchen tied this nicely to the previous course by pouring a beef jus tableside.

Bay laurel granité
Juniper tapioca, confit of oro blanco and ruby red grapefruit

Kabocha and cardamom sorbet
Pear and sage compote, toasted pumpkin seeds

This was a comforting dessert – I loved the earthy sweetness of the pumpkin, harmoniously blending with cardamom and sage. The pear compote added a note of acidity. Eating this made it feel like the holidays all over again.

Hearth-roasted sweet potato
Miso, chicory ice cream, hazelnut, cocoa husks, fried sage

The previous course was good, but this one was amazing – the sweet potato was glazed with miso and slowly roasted over embers. Together with the complementary flavours from the chicory and hazelnut (and another appearance of sage), the saltiness blew my mind. One of the best desserts we’ve eaten in some time.

Brown butter and Meyer lemon “eggs”
Kefir lime custard, white sesame, pear

Chestnut, orange blossom
Ponderosa lemon, cocoa butter, shaved almond

At our request, the kitchen furnished us with some onigiri to go – the rice was mixed with fermented pumpkin, bonito and ginger. I couldn’t think of a better send-off!

Many articles I read mentioned the restaurant’s commitment to omotenashi, the Japanese art of selfless hospitality – this was evident throughout the evening. Service was nearly flawless – that magical blend of efficient professionalism, conviviality and warmth that is remarkably hard to find in this country. What nobody seems to mention is kaizen, the spirit of continuous improvement – this too, I feel, is embodied at Single Thread. With less than two months under their belt, the team is still tweaking and fine-tuning, but I imagine each day they get better. We were impressed at the level they’re already operating at. Three stars is not out of reach in Healdsburg.

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