Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen - Wine-Country-To-Table
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
In a prime location on Healdsburg Plaza, next to the Healdsburg Hotel, sits one of the most effortlessly stylish restaurants in town -- Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. Make your way through the bar with its comfy chairs, wood and stone bar fixture and hanging lights to the dimly lit environs of the restaurant. It is calming and reassuring to sit down in anticipation of the meal. And there are flowers everywhere. Enough to fool one into believing that this town center location is actually a bucolic idyll in the hills.
It helps to know some of the personalities involved here. The man with his name on the door is one of the most successful restaurateurs in the U.S. At Dry Creek Kitchen he aims to deliver “vibrant American cooking and world class bottlings with the intimate charm of a small town and true wine country hospitality.”
In the kitchen is Scott Romano who I remember from his time in Dallas as an impressive execuchef at several locations including “Charlie Palmer at the Joule”, then a downtown hotel restored at considerable expense. After no sightings for over five years I was intrigued to find out if Healdsburg was where talent goes to retire. Romano is having none of it. The menu is alive and contemporary and executed with aplomb. I started with Seared Roasted Garlic Octopus served with Romano-Palmer Tuscan fennel salumi, saffron lentils, vadouvan pepitas and fennel aioli. The octopus was one fat leg that reminded me of pulpo at Ibérica in London which pits ‘Scottie” with a native Asturian chef with a Michelin star. He’s up for it. Octopus preparation takes care and this one was al dente without being rubbery. The lentils adding a complimentary earthy note.
As a, fairly dangerous, amateur soup maker (the stock preparation stinks the house out) I had to try Scottie’s Yukon Gold Potato + Leek Velouté poured over smoked salt spring mussels, manila clams, marble potatoes and chili oil. It is a show as the waiter pours the soup over the mussels expectantly waiting in the bowl. Think of this as an expression of hot vichyssoise extolling California ingredients. It is silkily smooth inducing an almost soporific happiness on the eater.
Seared Sonoma Foie Gras is a must have, despite being un-PC but now allowed back on menus after they found prolonged exposure to California politicians was more harmful to birds than foie gras feeding techniques. Romano uses an apple soubise as the fruit element and puts a carrot cake pavé on the late...just because. It works as a texture foil to the gelatinous foie gras.
The kitchens efforts would have been measurably less successful but for the the contributions of Wine Director, Jeff Creamer who manages his list without breaking a sweat. Case in point: for the classic sweet with with foie gras combination he offered a 2013 botrytised semillon from Chalk Hill and a 2014 Merry Edwards late harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley. Two outstanding wines, reflecting two approaches to pairing. Both transcendent foils to the foie gras. With the soup he paired a 2016 Limestone Chardonnay from Alexander Valley, a single vineyard wine from Dobbins Vineyard. It has firm enough acid level to carry the cream in the soup and was a good match, as well as being a Healdsburg label that I had not tried before. With the duck and chicken entrées chosen by other diners at my table he paired the 2015 J. Bucher Pinot Noir, Bucher Vineyard, Russian River Valley. A powerful, gushing fruit pinot noir with a underlying earthy complexity. For scallops he chose a real rarity: 2013 Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Los Carneros with a label that looked like it had been handwritten to designate a sample. Thi packed more than just the fruit dimension so common to New World pinot gris. I really enjoyed it with scallops and tuna tartar.
I had to decline dessert, but it was hard with Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar, Spiced Pear Fritters and Daily Tasting of Ice Cream + Sorbet on the the list. There is also locally supplied coffee and tea for those interested.
I enjoyed Dry Creek Kitchen for its consummate professional service as much as anything. It will be a place I return to again and again.
Update: This was a media event.