Y and I stopped in Healdsburg for one night at the end of Dec. to break up the drive to my parents' house in Humboldt Co. I had never been to Healdsburg before and wanted to check out some of the recurring chow tips for this area, as well as do a little wine tasting.
We rolled into town around 2pm and headed straight for the plaza to lunch at Bovolo. Since they have counter service only, I wasn't sure what the ambience would be like, but it was very cozy and comfy--a warm haven from the rain. We ordered the pizza of the day w/ rapini, roasted garlic, and a choice of olive oil or red sauce (we opted for oil). I also wanted to try their housemade salumi in some form and, craving a salad, went for the salumist's salad w/ white beans and red wine vinaigrette. Adding on a can of Limonata, the bill came to around $24.
The food came out quickly and it was all very simple and delicious. The ingredients were clearly high quality and allowed to sparkle w/ minimal manipulation. The pizza crust was nicely blistered in spots and crispy on the bottom while the toppings were perfectly balanced w/ the sweet roasted garlic countering the sharpness of the rapini. The salad was fresh, crunchy, and perfectly dressed but not quite what I expected. I don't recall seeing the lettuce mentioned on the print menu (even though it's clearly on their online version), so was surprised when there was so much chopped romaine. With roasted peppers, cheese crumbles, and IIRC black olives, this was their version of a chopped salad. The salumi was chopped finely and kind of got lost in the mix. Next time I'd order one of the antipasti plates to get a better take on their salumi.
I checked in w/ my stomach to see if I had room for dessert since they also make their own gelato and sauntered back over to the counter. I sampled some unique flavors like peppermint and ginger but opted for the classic chocolate made w/ Scharffenberger. It was a little pricey at around $4 for a small cup, but the flavor was very pure and the essence of good chocolate. My only quibble was that it was held at a colder temp. than I like, although the winter weather may have skewed my perception. I was so tempted to return for their 3-course prix fixe supper for $27 since braised pork shank was on the menu, but we didn't want to put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.
We vowed to return to the plaza in the morning to check out the shops, as we wanted to squeeze in some wine tasting before rooms closed around 4pm. We headed a little south to the Russian River Valley area and ended up tasting at Porter Creek and Gary Farrell. I generally liked Porter Creek's wines and the tasting was really mellow at no charge; we ended up purchasing a bottle of their viognier. Gary Farrell's wines were not to my taste. For $10, we upgraded to their premium line but I found the wines to be one-note and harsh tasting. We drove to Joseph Swan and Acorn, but JS is only open during weekends and Acorn is by appt. only. Even in the gray drizzle of winter, the drive along the narrow country roads was charming.
We then checked into our hotel. Both fending off colds and the chills, we blasted the heat and napped for a bit. Dinner was a difficult choice, but I wanted to check out Ravenous just off the square on Center St. We walked in around 8:45pm and, although the place was hopping, we were seated at a two-top immediately. Located in a converted older home, it has a youthful, festive, and doesn't-take-itself-too-seriously vibe. The eclectic, comfort food w/ a twist menu read well and made my mouth water. Seeing the huge portions around us, we opted to share an appetizer and main.
The smoked salmon appetizer w/ corn cakes (essentially hush puppies), creme fraiche, fish roe, carrot ribbons, and greens was a delightful confetti of flavors and textures. The Niman Ranch sliced pot roast simmered w/ red wine and served w/ mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables was all-comforting and well-executed. We shared a glass of local Fritz pinot noir which I thought was just ok. Our server talked us into dessert even though I was pleasantly full, so we ordered the banana cream tartlette w/ chocolate and caramel. Although it was piled high w/ whipped cream and sounds like it could be sickeningly sweet, I could taste all of the different elements and didn't find it too rich or sweet. The sugared huckleberries added a nice burst of tartness and holiday garnish.
Overall, I really liked the whole package at Ravenous. The food is playful, creative, and takes risks by combining a bunch of varied elements that surprisingly come together--not an easy task. Alice Waters-style food (which I often enjoy) can get so predictable sometimes that it's refreshing to see something different and well-executed in the "New American" vein. The portions are unbelievably large for the price. A good value at around $55 pre-tip. I would def. return to sample more of the menu and the burger that I've heard about. Service was a little rough around the edges but sufficient.
The next morning we slept in and hit the plaza around 11am. Selby was having a free wine tasting paired w/ little bites, and we happened to be their first customers of the day! I'm not opposed to wine and a few amuse bouches for breakfast. The clerk's fiance works at Cyrus and helped to design the pairings. Nothing fancy but it was nice to know that some thought went into this. The tasting was fun and other parties started to stream in. Overall, I thought the wines were pleasant and serviceable, and we ended up purchasing one but I can't recall which one off the top of my head and am too lazy to go look. The sales clerks were really bubbly and sweet. We walked around the plaza a bit, and the kitchen store near Bovolo had some cool and useful gadgets that weren't too pricey. We may have to try Barn Diva and Willi's next time since we already planned to stop in Ukiah at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for a late lunch.
Wine tasting focused on the Dry Creek Valley area and we stopped at: Seghesio, Ridge Lytton Springs, Mauritson, Quivira, and David Coffaro. We had coupons from our hotel for Seghesio and Quivira, but I didn't care for their line of wines. Note to self for the future: don't waste your time w/ wine tasting coupons. We learned that Ridge Lytton Springs is the same winery as the one based in the Santa Cruz mountains w/ tasting room in Cupertino. I generally enjoyed all of the wines, and we purchased the chardonnay which was unique and may not be available in SC. Mauritson was not bad but nothing jumped out at me.
A big thank you to Melanie for a prior post recommending David Coffaro. This was by far the most memorable tasting of our mini-tour. The place was deserted when we got there but the clerk entered after we waited a few minutes. With the barrels right there in their dark, warehouse-like room, we sampled a bunch of bottled reds and liked them all, really. Robust and fruity but very balanced and not overpowering. We also requested a sample of the petite sirah from the barrel and discussed the "futures" option. We ended up buying bottles of their zinfandel and haunting "Escuro" blend. Priced around $25, their wines are a great value.
Well, leave it to me to stretch a short visit into a long report, so thanks for reading and for all the archived tips on this area. Sorry, no photos this time. I'll post about our two lunches (one on the way up, one on the way down) at the Buddhist community's vegetarian restaurant, Jyun Kang, on the CA board when I get a chance. This little side trip was a great way to wrap up 2007 and ring in the new year!
Porter Creek Vineyards
8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
106 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
420 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448
David Coffaro Vineyard & Winery
7485 Dry Creek Rd, Geyserville, CA
215 Center St, Healdsburg, CA
Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs
650 Lytton Springs Rd, Healdsburg, CA