The wine country of Northern California, which includes the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, offers visitors an extraordinary concentration of stellar restaurants helmed by world-class chefs. Here you will find a distinctive wine-country cuisine that features Northern California’s extraordinary bounty – Pacific Coast fish and seafood, organic fruits and vegetables from the Central Valley, naturally raised meats from small producers and artisanal raw-milk cheese. Of course, the dishes are complemented by the wines of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, which represent some of the world’s best expressions of many grape varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Many of these extraordinary restaurants have been around for many years – in some cases, for decades. Some of our favorite established restaurants include The Restaurant at Meadowood and The French Laundry, both Michelin 3-star restaurants, and the more casual Ad Hoc, Archetype, Cook and Redd.
In 2017, a number of new restaurants opened in Napa and Sonoma that have become instant hits. In this Spotlight, we review three of these excellent new restaurants -- Single Thread, The Charter Oak and Acacia House.
Single Thread, located in the town of Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley, is an extraordinary farm-to-table restaurant. Every detail of the dining experience has been studied and thoughtfully curated by owner/chef/farmer Kyle and Katina Connaughton -- the gracious teaser offered in the reception nook as you arrive, the beautiful dining room, the extraordinary custom earthenware produced by Japanese artisans, the creative and delicious dishes in the 11-course tasting menu and the exceptional wine and non-alcoholic beverage pairings.
This 52-seat fine dining restaurant and 5-room inn are the creations of Kyle and Katina Connaughton. Kyle is an exceptionally talented chef, with experience at high-end restaurants in Los Angeles as well as Michel Bras’ Toya in Japan and as head of research and development at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in the United Kingdom. Katie is responsible for managing the couple’s 5-acre farm in a nearby vineyard along Russian River and the rooftop garden that grows microgreens, herbs and fruit trees.
The restaurant offers three 11- course menus – vegetarian, seafood and meat – which are inspired, in part, by Kyle’s experience in Kyoto and the traditional multicourse Japanese dinner known as kaiseki. The restaurant has an open kitchen with a blazing hearth in the center and a wall of earthenware donabe clay pots custom-made for the restaurant by famous Japanese artisans. The dining room is beautiful and has a zen-like feel with rich dark woods, hand-crafted tiles adorning a wall and subtle lighting.
Many fine dining restaurants offer guests a couple of amuse bouche shortly after being seated. Single Thread has rethought and reinvented this practice – instead of presenting the amuse bouche after the guests are seated, the table is pre-set with a centerpiece of moss, twigs and flowers covered with earthenware bowls containing nine to 10 small amuse bouche. Each of these small bites are extraordinarily creative, complex and, ultimately, delicious. For the next three hours, you will be served eleven more courses by gracious and professional servers. Some highlights from a recent visit included Homemade Tofu with Heirloom Tomatoes, Saikyo Miso and Olive Oil; Bodega Bay Wild King Salmon “Ibushi-Gin”; Poached Foie Gras with a tea of last year’s tomatoes; and Black Cod “Fukkura-San” cooked in one of the kitchen’s donabe clay pots.
The restaurant’s beverage program is exceptional. While the wine list is deep and offers many old and rare wines, we love the “reserve” wine paring that included many of these rare wines (in some cases, wines where the restaurant had only a single bottle or two). A recent pairing included a 2009 Araujo “Eisele Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanchard, a 2014 Chapoutier Hermitage Blanchard and a 2006 Latour “Corton-Charlemagne” Grand Cru. At many restaurants, the non-alcoholic pairing is simply an accommodation to non-drinkers and often an after-thought; at Single Thread, it appears that as much thought and time goes into the non-alcoholic pairing as the food itself. Some recent pairings included compressed tomato with tarragon oil; Amazake with Liquid Shio Koji and a 1987 cave-aged oolong poured over savory fig concentrate. For a couple, we highly recommend splitting the reserve wine pairing and the non-alcohol pairing in order to sample both of these extraordinary offerings.
Since its opening, Single Thread has frequently been cited as one of the best new restaurants in America and for good reason. Every single aspect of the dining experience has been carefully studied, dissected and reimagined by Kyle to create a dining experience that approaches perfection. Single Thread // 131 North St., Healdsburg // website
The Charter Oak
In the beginning of June, Christopher Kostow, the extremely talented chef of the 3-Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood, and partner Nathaniel Dorn opened The Charter Oak, a 72-seat casual restaurant located in St. Helena at the former landmarked Tra Vigne space. The beautiful space features exposed brick walls, soaring ceilings, wood floors and thick wooden tables, as well as an open kitchen with giant wood-burning hearth, where all of the main courses are prepared, gracing everything with wood and smoke flavors. The restaurant also has a number of well-spaced tables on its large brick patio shaded by eight Mulberry trees. On cooler Napa evenings, instead of heat lamps, the restaurant brings out tall vertical fire boxes filled with roaring fires of well-seasoned wood.
Kostow designed the meals to be eaten family style with platters of food meant to be shared. There is also a multi-course “family meal” of off-menu specials. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced with much of the produce coming from Meadowood’s stellar garden. Some of the standout dishes from a recent visit included Hearth Roasted Figs with Local Honey; Charred Avocado with Rhubarb and Ember Oil; Beef Rib grilled over Cabernet Wine Barrels; and Slow Cooked Eggplant with Pea Shoots. There is also a dessert cart filled with tempting desserts…particularly delicious is the Buffalo Milk Ice Cream with Local Honey and Olive Oil. The wine list prominently features wines of the Napa Valley and, to support Napa Valley viticulture, guests are permitted to bring up to two Napa wines without a corkage fee. The Charter Oak // 1050 Charter Oak Avenue, St. Helena // Website
Acacia House, located in the newly opened Las Alcobas Hotel in St. Helena, occupies the first floor of a white Georgian mansion built in 1907. The 50-seat restaurant features a warm grey color scheme and textured wood and offers an expansive wraparound porch for outdoor dining. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, together with a mid-afternoon and late-night menu. Chef Chris Cosentino’s concept is to design dishes that are influenced by bold rustic cooking.
Some of the highlights from our recent lunch included a Grilled Cheese Sandwich made with Taleggio, Honey and a Duck Egg; Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon, Horseradish and Watercress of Multigrain Bread and a “PBLT” (a sandwich of crispy pork belly, lettuce and tomato jam on sourdough bread). The cocktails are inventive (we especially loved the Las Alcobas margarita with a salt foam on top) and the wine list highlights local producers. Acacia House // 1915 Main Street, St. Helena // Website