SoupNoodles | Sep 10, 200604:54 AM     5

First of all, hello. Or hello again. This is the first time I've posted since the new, nice-looking software came into place. My name is Bryan Loofbourrow, and I've posted on the board, but not for a while, and met many of you, especially if you're focused on Chinese food, my primary area of food passion. I used to post under my real name, but the new software offers a transition opportunity, and so when I was asked for a username, I actually had one to turn to (it's the name of my Chinese cooking blog), so I went for it. So I guess I'm SoupNoodles here from now on.

Anyway. My point here is to lavish some praise on a Healdsburg restaurant that maybe hasn't gotten as much attention as it should: Zin in Healdsburg.

Well, at least for my taste. The challenge is to convey just why I think it's special, even though there are many places in the area that are more famous, harder to get into, etc. The only way I can see to do that is to describe what my wife and I ate there tonight.

We both ordered a salad, called "Tomato, tomato, tomato." Now surely here's a good test of a local chef. The heirloom tomatoes are in full flush; any California-cuisine oriented chef worth his salt has to exhibit them somehow. So what's Zin's take on this great local ingredient?

Well, it comes in three parts on one plate: (1) Two thick, meaty seasoned slices of tomato, one deep red, one yellow. (2) A well-seasoned salad of frisee and pear-shaped tiny tomatoes and nicely-caramelized bacon bits. (3) Fried green tomato, in a corn coating. I'd never tasted fried green tomato before; it reminded me of tomatillo, but less watery. All three parts were a triumph. One starter dish and I already feel I've had a serious food experience.

For the main course, I had duck breast. I requested it rare, and by gosh, it was genuinely rare, just as the French would do it: don't fear the purple, celebrate it. There was a blackberry-brandy-based sauce, served entirely as a surround on the plate, so you could choose just how much to have with any given bite of duck. Great stuff. It was accompanied by seasoned grits, which Liza loved, me being regrettably out of the running due to my diet.

Liza's main course was the Saturday special of prime rib, again beautifully rare with a nicely caramelized outside. The last prime rib I had was a few years ago at a large place in Seattle, and that was basically just salted, so I was very pleased at the more comprehensive and ambitious seasoning of this version, not that I can tell you what it was. Accompanying the prime rib was a triumph of presentation and complementarity: Two nearly identical looking vertical columns, one of which turned out to be a baked potato stuffed with its own innards and bacon and some other stuff, and the other was a sort of brioche-like tower, an obvious witty echo of Yorkshire pudding.

With all of this, I drank one of the few non-local wines on the list, which I suppose makes me a sort of Philistine, but it was really really good: a 2003 (I'm pretty sure) Oyster Bay Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. Remarkably deeply colored and deeply flavored for a pinot, it was full-fruited, had plenty of low and high notes, and great acidity while being miles from shrill, a truly terrific wine for $33 off a restaurant list, and a very good match for the duck.

Regrettably, the lack of a cheese course and my own stupid diet left me watching Liza consume her dessert, but I didn't mind, because it was so intellectually interesting. It was chocolate pie. That conjures up bad images for me, because chocolate pie is one of those things that sounds good, but generally falls way short of what you think it ought to be. Not this time, and get this: topping the chocolate pie was a thick coat of marshmallow that had been lightly charred, like a campfire marshmallow, then surrounded with graham cracker crumbs. Yes, it was a haute cuisine version of s'mores, and Liza says it's one of her favorite desserts ever.

So I claim that Zin is a bit underrated. Or at least, I claim that it's my favorite place in Healdsburg and I plan to return, repeatedly, as long as it stays this good. Check it out.

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