By Nancy Clark
Just off the 101 at the confluence of the Napa Valley and Sonoma Wine Country, the Russian river runs through it. It being Healdsburg, California, latitude 38°37'N and longitude 122°52'W. As a generalization, one would expect a trip to this region of the country to be filled with lines of small wine glasses, bubbly to blood red. But Healdsburg isn’t what you expect to expect. The new rule on travel to West Coast wine country is that this is where visitors are crushing on the architecture as much as the wine.
The Healdsburg Inn is where Restoration Hardware meets Dwell, so much so that the hotel kindly provides its guests a list of decorative material resources when checking in. In an alcove on the third floor near the entrance to my room sits the Mayfair steamer secretary trunk in smoke linen, right out of the Restoration Hardware catalog (as well a permanent line item on my mental wish list.) The hotel brochure describes the surroundings as “modern rustic” but the design is more compelling than any adjectives imply. It’s a mood caught in the magical reflection of the trees in the pool when night falls. It’s the comfort in the dispenser of fresh lemonade in an outsized mason jar where you can help yourself to a small paper cup of refreshment as you wait for the elevator. It’s the smooth Bocce ball-sized river rocks at the bottom of the stairwell, a design element that warrants a double take. It’s the fact that I find myself photographing the mosaic of perimeter cobblestones on the event lawn and a close up of a woven willow privacy screen shielding the courtyard from glances of passersby…rare applications of style in unexpected places.
Crops as a mainstay in Healdsburg have come full circle over the last 200 years. Spanish Franciscan monks established vineyards in the early 1800s and the first commercial vineyard, Buena Vista, was founded in 1857. Healdsburg became the epicenter of grape growers until 1919 when prohibition forced vintners to get creative. Locals turned to growing prunes—prolific, compact and not-so demanding as other varietals of fruit trees. In The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg, my manicurist Lucy, a third-generation Healdsburg resident, reminisces about her grandparents’ crops—sweet, dark plums that produced so reliably that not every landholder rushed to revert back to grapes when prohibition was lifted.
Healdsburg is a whole little world set up for eating and drinking and shopping. I’ve come here to study the art of cheese-making at Relish Culinary Adventures, as seen in O, the Oprah Magazine, Sunset, and appearing on Food Network’s Unwrapped, Relish is a wide-open classroom with ample island work stations for seasoning curds and whey, TV monitors for up-close views of stove-top technique, and outstanding educators in any given food sector like Mary Karlin, author of Artisan Cheese Making At Home & Wood-Fired Cooking, available wherever books and e-books are sold. The curriculum for 2012 is all about cheese, from fresh same-day cheeses to homemade mozzarella and burrata. I see a cheese Christmas ahead.
Within earshot of Healdsburg, the siren song of J Vineyards and Wineries’ Bubble Room calls. Founded in 1986 by second-generation vintner Judy Jordan, who is credited with being the first to pioneer food and wine pairing, a rezzy in the vineyard’s exclusive Bubble Room is not only required, but it’s the envy of all. Executive Chef Mark E. Caldwell kicks off the first course with a 2009 Chardonnay accompanied by Clam Chowder, an aromatic revelry of clams, applewood smoked bacon, potato gnocchi and clam broth. Tip back a 2010 Pinot Gris accompanied by a quinoa cake drizzled in preserved lemon aioli and mâche. Tuck in with a 2009 Pinot Noir and a pan seared California white sea bass with a medley of mushrooms and a Pinot Noir sauce. The perfect finish is in a glass of J Cuvee 20 bubbly and a Neapolitan Panna Cotta. The overarching lesson: reds and whites are no longer relegated to flank and fin. It’s inspired. And it’s a club you can join: Club J. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Occasionally travel changes everything. California has that effect, you know. Healdsburg in particular. After all, it took until Father Consag’s sail completely around the Gulf of California in 1747 for King Ferdinand of Spain to finally issue a Royal decree stating "California is not an Island!" Indeed, he hadn’t heard of Healdsburg.
√ this out:
√Entertain in Healdsburg style. Chef Alan Dennis makes an art of strudel—flaky pastry-wrapped savory strudel apps and gourmet dessert strudels, fruit to chocolate. Visit him on Facebook and order by calling 530-448-2506.
√Photography by Bob Cornelius is regularly on display in Healdsburg where galleries nearly outpace the number of vineyards. You’ll be tempted to step through the looking glass when you study one on the wall. Preview his work at BobCornelius.com.
√One of the best parts of Healdsburg is Wurst—Wurst Restaurant Brats & Beer sausage grill and beer garden. The eponymous Chicken Apple with sherry wine, thyme and sage is a culinary delicacy. Seriously. Walk on over to 22 Matheson Street and have one.
√Spoonbar! at h2hotel, sister property to Hotel Healdsburg has (not surprisingly) hit on the best menu concept this side of, well, everywhere with pricing that’s constant for each item within a category. Snacks are $6. Vegetable apps are all $10. Fish apps are $13. Pasta + Grains are $15 and Mains are $23. Insist on the Corn + green onion wrapped in pastry. You can’t go home without it.
√The acclaimed Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in the Hotel Healdsburg has served unsurpassed satisfaction since 2001. His influence stretches across America but his focus is on regional produce, artisan diary and heritage meats paired with regional award-winning wines. Save room for dessert.
√Or save room in your carry-on. Lime Stone, the boutique steps away from Charlie’s place is owned and operated by his wife Lisa Palmer, tempts with exceptional home accents from tabletop to furniture—candlesticks, serving trays, old world chandeliers and bistro chairs. Remember: there’s always FedEx.
√It shouldn’t be surprising that The Spa at Healdsburg Hotel rivals a trip to the highest-end women’s boutique. Intimates and casual wear, easy and yet luxe, textiles of a bespoke life, the perfect wrap following any of the Meyer lemon body treatments. Romance your significant other with signature spa treatments for Expectant Mothers and Fathers to Be. Tip: Book ahead of your visit.
√Come morning, flip a coin and heads you win a mix of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. (Class starts at 9 a.m. Mats, blocks and blankets provided.) Or tails you win, make a beeline for the complimentary breakfast is fireside and stars omelets to order, chocolate chip waffles, bite-size pastries, lox and bagels alongside fresh squeezed juices. Decisions, decisions.
From the 2012 Artisan Cheese Festival cooking demonstrations, these blintzes were beautiful and delicious—the golden blintze sitting on a bed of vivid green chive sauce with a sprinkle of purple chive flowers for garnish.
Bellwether Farms Ricotta Blintzes with Smoked Salmon
Tom Schmidt, Executive Chef, John Ash and Company
½ cup AP Flour
1 cup Milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Crack eggs into a stainless steel bowl. Add flour and mix with a wire whip until smooth. Add milk & salt then mix. Let stand 30 minutes.
16 ounces Bellwether Farms Ricotta
2 egg yokes
Zest 1 Meyer lemon, approx. 1 teaspoon
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
8 oz sliced Atlantic smoked salmon, brown fat removed, julienned
Chives with blossoms
With a wooden spoon, mix all together in a stainless steel bowl adding pepper and salt (if needed). Chill
Chive butter sauce
2 bunches Chives, chopped fine
1/4 lb. Butter
¼ cup Cream
½ cup White wine
2 Shallots, chopped fine
Juice 1 Meyer lemon
Salt, to taste
In a small food processor fitted with a steel blade, chop chives with softened butter until bright green, scrape into a bowl and set aside. In a non-reactive sauce pan, reduce white wine with shallots until 1 Tablespoon remains. Add cream and reduce by half. Mount in chive butter slowly being careful not to break the sauce. Adjust flavor with lemon juice and salt. Strain and keep warm.
Using a 5 to 6-inch crepe pan (non-stick) make the crepes. Allow about 3 tablespoons of batter per crepe. Have the pan well heated before beginning. Using about 2 tablespoons of the oil, brush the pan with a little of the oil before adding batter each time. Cook each crepe on one side until lightly browned, then turn and cook just a few seconds on the other side. Remove to waxed paper to cool.
Lay the crepes out on a work surface, 4 at a time. Place about ¼ cup of in the middle of each crepe. Fold up envelope-style, by first folding the bottom to cover the filling, then folding over the two sides. Allow the seam to be in the bottom of the blintz. Blintzes can be made to this point ahead of time and refrigerated
In a 10-inch skillet heat one tablespoon each of the butter and oil. Sauté the blintzes over medium heat allowing them to brown nicely on both sides. Add more butter and oil to the pan as needed. Keep warm in a 200° oven while completing the batches.
Pour a pool of sauce on the pre-warmed plates. Set blintzes in the middle of plate, garnish with snipped chives and chive blossoms. Serve warm.
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