In the past six months, there has been an explosion of notable culinary activity in wine country. From the farmland of Healdsburg to the quaint streets of downtown Napa, no city in the region is without its own exciting new eatery.
A New York import, Blue Note Jazz Club has opened in the old Napa Valley Opera House, and the team behind Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Restaurant at Meadowood is debuting a highly anticipated new concept, The Charter Oak, later this year in the St. Helena’s old Tra Vigne space.
With so many new restaurants, it’s hard to decide where to eat — that’s why we’ve done the dirty work for you. Here are five not-to-be-missed wine country hot spots.
SingleThread Farm Restaurant Inn
No recent restaurant opening in the area has received as much hype as SingleThread. The Healdsburg project from chef Kyle Connaughton and his farmer wife Katina Connaughton was years in the making. Extreme hospitality, meticulous detail, hyper-local ingredients, Japanese culinary techniques and the creative genius of one couple come together seamlessly at this luxe space that is unlike any other restaurant in the world.
Avroko design firm conceived the 55-seat dining room with a brown, gray and navy color palette that is both sleek and comfortable with plenty of cozy booths. Everything in the space is handcrafted, from the counter to the serving ware in the dining room.
The menu changes daily and features ingredients grown on site or harvested nearby by a select group of highly skilled artisans — think Monterey Bay abalone with slow-cooked onions, guinea hen with red kuri squash, and sorbet made from Gravenstein apples.
The inn has five rooms and diners are invited to stay the night they are eating at the restaurant.
Kenzo Tsujimoto is a Japanese business mogul and owner of one of Napa Valley’s most pristine wineries, Kenzo Estate. In November, he opened Kenzo, his first stateside eatery (he has several successful projects in Japan), with legendary sushi chef Hiroyuki Kanda overseeing the kitchen.
Tsujimoto’s wife, Natsuko, designed a simple, intimate 27-seat downtown Napa space that lets the food stand on its own. The dining room consists of elegant tables with clean-line chairs and glowing black orb chandeliers. Emphasis is placed on the details of the serving ware: each dish has its own bowl or platter imported from Japan specifically for that menu item.
Although extremely minimalist, Kenzo is not cold or boring. Kanda’s sensational cuisine does all the talking, and it’s a feast for the senses. A thick fatty slice of toro nigiri is covered with shaved truffles. Snow crab is shaped into a ball and placed in the center of a decadent dashi broth that is so scrumptious you’ll want to take a quart of it home. Everything about Kenzo is thoughtful, sophisticated and downright delicious.
For a less formal yet equally memorable experience, head to Sonoma Cider’s taproom, a new industrial brewery of sorts in Healdsburg. Of course, instead of serving beer, the father-and-son duo of David and Robert Cordtz has a large selection of locally pressed hard ciders on tap.
While they make traditional flavors like apple and pear, the limited-edition concoctions that are only available at the Taproom are incredibly fun to taste. Gingerbread cider? Banana hefeweizen? Lime habanero? These are but a few of the tasty experiments you’ll be able to sip at the Taproom.
Also on the menu is a selection of hearty salads, sandwiches and shared plates — wild yellowfin poke with tamari and wonton crackers, grilled cheese with granny Smith apples and cabbage with crispy ride noodles — that will soak up all of that addictive cider.
The County Bench
Downtown Santa Rosa’s newest restaurant is The County Bench, a kitchen and bar that serves up new American cuisine in an unpretentious environment. Nosh on addictive creamy onion dip with everything bagel chips, mussels and clams in a decadent black garlic broth, and farro risotto with roasted pumpkin.
The menu changes often as chef Ben Davies takes advantage of the area’s bounty of ingredients. He uses produce at peak ripeness to ensure that each dish offers maximum flavor.
The inviting space has an exposed high ceiling, brick wall and moss-green vintage bar chairs.
Sonoma County’s best varietals are available, as is an expanding selection of beer and potent craft libations. Note that The County Bench offers two happy hours per day, so call ahead to see if they have any special deals to enjoy.
The Restaurant at CIA Copia
Robert Mondavi’s passion project, the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts, also known as Copia, shut down in 2008. However, the Culinary Institute of America has breathed new life into the 78,632-square-foot space that includes two theaters, multiple classrooms, a demonstration kitchen, a garden, an outdoor amphitheater and an eatery. The Restaurant at CIA Copia has just opened under chef Christophe Gerard, a France native.
Classic California cuisine is served on rolling carts by the cooks who created the dishes. Guests are invited to select items off the carts and interact with the cook to learn more about the item.
Most of the menu is shareable — think options like apple persimmon pie with Calvados ice cream, chickpeas with housemade burrata, and rack of lamb with parsley and mint salad — so you’ll want to bring a hungry guest with you.
Craft cocktails and an extensive selection of local wines can also be found here.
The restaurant is large with an open kitchen, ash-colored wood flooring, warm brown banquettes and squash-colored walls.