Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wining and Dining in Sonoma Valley

Fish tacos at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar HealdsburgMy recent trip to California took me to Sonoma Valley, birthplace of the Californian wine industry. The long drive through the scenic countryside was a welcome change from the towering buildings and backed up city traffic. Rows upon rows of vine training trellises dotted the undulating valley as I drove down to my hotel in Healdsburg. Luckily, the sun was shining brightly, a complete change from the day before when downtown San Francisco was dull, damp and very chilly.

Healdsburg Hotel Sonoma County
Healdsburg Hotel Sonoma County
Healdsburg Hotel Sonoma CountyMy hotel turned out to be a classy affair. The Healdsburg Hotel, owned by celebrity chef Charlie Pace, was just the kind of place I would enjoy spending a vacation. This place is also within walking distance of most of this town's restaurants and bars which is very convenient. The lounge in the lobby is another highlight where you can cosy up with a book (or in my case the new iPad) in front of a roaring fire at night.

On the first evening, we went out to Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar which I highly recommend. We were served dozens of tapas-style small plates in three courses. The food is excellent and the atmosphere very warm and friendly. Great place to spend a few hours wining and dining with friends and colleagues.

Oysters at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar HealdsburgWe started with the freshly shucked oysters with a vinegar and hot pepper sauce dip that was fantastic! The first course consisted of an artisan cheese plate with pecan crostini, charred rare Ahi with truffled soy, and an endive and arugula salad with honey vinaigrette. I still remember the excellent pungent goat cheese and the Ahi.

Artisan cheese at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar Healdsburg
Arugula Salad at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar HealdsburgThe second course included French fries (!) with goat cheese ranch dip, roasted asparagus with miso butter and warm maine lobster roll. The lobster roll was very tasty but also very filling.

Gourmet fries at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar HealdsburgThe third and final course was flash fried calamari with orange chili gremolata, grilled hanger steak with aji panca and chimuchiri sauce followed by grilled fish tacos and a plate of sauteed spinach with lemon marmalade. Whew!

Fish tacos at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar HealdsburgAmong all that food, the hanger steak was certainly the most memorable. Served kabab-style, the meat was succulent and very tasty. We ended with a couple of desserts: the warm bread pudding was clearly the winner.

Bread Pudding at Willi's Raw Bar Healdsburg
Dessert at Willi's Raw Bar HealdsburgOn the next evening, we had a sommelier give us a little lesson in wine blending that was fun. We tried creating our own and giving it a name before trouping down to our hotel's very own restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, that came highly recommended.

Wine blending at Sonoma CountyWe began with with a long shaved cucumber artfully encircling a salad of local Sonoma greens, banyuls-shallot vinaigrette and brioche croutons.

Dry Creek Kitchen Healdsburg
Gourmet salad at Dry Creek Kitchen HealdsburgUp next was the Duo of American Duroc pork: a pan-roasted loin with a slow cooked belly served with black trumpet mushrooms, pickled cherries, sauce charcuterie and winter truffle bearnaise. This dish had won the chef an award only this month, and the dish lived up to its reputation.

Duet of Pork at Dry Creek Kitchen HealdsburgOther choices for the entree were the peppercorn crusted New York strip loin, the olive oil poached Alaskan halibut and the Yukon Gold potato gnocchi, all of which looked appetizing too.

I chose chocolate fondant for dessert. The fondont was served with chocolate ice-cream and cocoa streusel.

Chocolate Fondant at Dry Creek Kitchen HealdsburgThe Hotel Healdsburg is a wonderful getaway with its elegant ambiance and prime location. You can wine and dine to your heart's content and walk back to the hotel instead of appointing a designated driver. There are ample choices for the foodie in and around this town, including Michelin-starred restaurants such as Cyrus and Madrona Manor. Right next to the hotel, there is also a fantastic burger joint if you crave comfort food after a while.


Lakshmi said...

the weather was awesome when we were in sfo..unfortunately we didnt have time to try out even one good restaurant..lived practically on fruits and yogurt

Shantanu said...

@Lakshmi: It is rare when you have pleasant and sunny weather in SFO!