THIS, my friends, is the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2016.
SingleThread is a farm, restaurant, and inn. It's modeled after the concept of the Japanese ryokan, where guests stay overnight and enjoy an exquisite kaiseki meal at the inn. The farm supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, honey, eggs, and olive oil
Husband and wife duo Kyle and Katina Connaughton are the masterminds behind this new place. Kyle Connaughton trained as a chef for years in Los Angeles before moving his family to Hokkaido, Japan for three years. There, he honed his craft in Japanese cuisine while Katina studied sustainable farming practices. The family then moved to England where Chef Connaughton headed up the experimental kitchen at Heston Blumenthal's world famous restaurant The Fat Duck.
In 2012, Kyle and Katina finally decided to move to California's wine country in order to work on opening up their dream restaurant and inn. Chef Connaughton opened up Pilot R&D, a culinary research and development center similar to the experimental kitchen he ran in England. He used it to design and develop dishes for his future restaurant.
In December 2016, the doors of SingleThread, the culmination of a lifetime of preparation, finally opened.
We were thrilled when we were able to grab a reservation in March, merely three months after the restaurant opened.
SingleThread is located in Healdsburg, a quaint, small town located about an hour and a half drive north of San Francisco. It's a lovely place to spend an afternoon, and we spent an hour exploring the little shops in the walkable neighborhood before heading over to the restaurant.
Upon arrival, a woman named Jade greeted us and escorted us up the elevator to the restaurant’s stunning roof deck. As we strolled amongst planters filled with perfect rows of neatly grown Swiss chard, bok choy, and many other vegetables, a man handed us each a small clay cup.
It was an aperitif of red wine and citrus - a lovely way to start the evening. We also received some hot towels, or oshibori, for cleaning our hands.
"You're lucky you're able to enjoy this brand new roof deck," a server told us. Heavy rains had persisted for the past several weeks, precluding guests from going up to the patio.
There were endless spots to hang out, whether it be by the huge fire pit (where a large group of Asian ladies had decided to congregate), on a cushioned seat under one of the many heat lamps, or along the wall with phenomenal views of Healdsburg.
We chose one of the more secluded cushioned spots under a heat lamp, where we soon started to enjoy some initial bites.
Breathtaking. The plate was the epitome of Japanese kaiseki, where everything has its proper place, creating harmony.
We nibbled on snow peas filled with yuzu cream, yuzu kosho, and topped with flowers. We crunched on fried, crunchy “nests” topped with edamame cream.
On the other side of plate on top of a gorgeous piece of bark, we ate delicate leaf-shaped cookie sandwiches filled with black truffle marscapone.
We took full advantage of the patio, taking in the views from the surrounding areas while nibbling on our snacks and sipping on our cocktail. Finally, after about 10-15 minutes, Jade came and offered to escort us down to the first floor.
"Aww, we don't get to eat up here?" I asked, half jokingly.
"You'll understand why as soon as you see the dining setup . . ."
This is what greeted us when we arrived at our table.
It was stunning and beautiful. Every single element had been laid down in a specific place with care. The entire "centerpiece" was the essence of harmony and balance. It reminded me of the art of everything that makes Japanese kaiseki so elegant and zen.
It was almost overwhelming. Which bite to enjoy first? There were so many individual dishes - each one a perfect, balanced composition.
From left to right, top to bottom: first row: Japanese fish called "macabai", baby radish with broccoli and cauliflower, yuba with umebushi; second row: green garlic custard with asparagus, fermented carrots with black bean paste, another type of Japanese fish; third row: cooked kohlrabi (reminds me of daikon), oyster with umeboshi on top, raw shrimp with Meyer lemon (almost tastes like grapefruit).
Additional small courses began to appear, such as this lovely blue egg filled with smoke sabayon and topped with caviar (sooo good).
Warm artichoke hearts with persimmon.
After we finished the initial bites, additional courses started to show up. First came Wild Yellowtail served in barrel aged ponzu sauce with cara cara orange, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), and Saikyo miso. I found the fish to have a surprisingly stronger "fishy" flavor than what I was expecting. The orange definitely helped balance out the strong fish flavors.
First Season Pea was a mizuna snap pea purée served with Dungeonness crab and salsify on top.
I absolutely loved this next dish, Mt. Lassen Trout "Ibushi-Gin" with shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, and myoga (baby ginger). The trout was smoked over cherry wood and served with myoga (baby ginger) in a donabi (Japanese clay pot). Radish and trout roe completed the dish on top. The aged soy sauce on the bottom was deeply rich and flavorful. We were both delighted and blown away by the complexity of flavors in this simply phenomenal dish.
This next dish was similarly impressive. Cured Foie Gras and Peach Blossom consisted of Sonoma foie gras topped with a gelee of momoshu (a peach wine made with last year's green peaches), a peach seeded sable, pickled peach blossoms, olive oil jam, and almond cream.
The overall bite was a fantastic explosion of flavors. I loved how the saltiness of the cookie, the richness of the foie gras, and the fruitiness of the peach jam came together.
We absolutely loved this next course, Black Cod, also made using the Japanese clay pot called a donabe. This course consisted of donabe-cooked black cod, chanterelles, leeks, and brassicas from their farm served together with a vibrant green broth of young lettuces and Gyokoro tea.
The fish was incredibly tender, and I felt like I could really taste the very real flavors from the farm.
For the final meat course, the server brought out a box of artisan hand-crafted knives from Bloodroot Knives. We could each choose one to use with our next course.
We used those beautiful knives to enjoy a classic roulade made with Guinea Hen and served with tatsoi, morel mushrooms, cara cara orange, guinea hen heart, gobo, and a flavorful jus. The chicken was super tender, and the flavors were very nice.
The last savory course, Sonoma Grains, consisted of farro and barley served with tempura mustard blossoms and herbs from the vine rows.
For our palate cleanser, we had a refreshing rhubarb and tonka bean granite topped with shiso. We also enjoyed a hearth-roasted sweet potato served with miso glaze, toasted chicory ice cream, cocoa husk, hazenut, sage, and chocolate dust (not pictured).
I absolutely loved my tea, white silver tips tea from Rare Cellar Tea.
We sampled several mignardises from a two-tiered bamboo dessert tray, including an "egg" filled with goma "crispies"(Japanese short grain rice) and cara cara orange.
This sweet and savory bite consists of a medjool date with walnut miso inside.
On the bottom layer of the dessert tray sat a custard made with oroblanco (citrus similar to a grapefruit) and citrus mint topped with frozen "rice-like" granules.
Initial Thoughts - SingleThread Farm Restaurant Inn
A meal like this takes a tremendous amount of creativity, coordination, and a stellar staff to pull it off. We were extremely impressed with everything, especially considering that the restaurant has not been open for that long. The staff was super friendly, and the food was exquisite. Our favorite dishes included the smoked trout, the foie gras, and the donabe black cod. I fell in love with the Japanese influence that was very present throughout the entire meal. In short, I highly recommend coming here. I am excited to see how the menu develops over the seasons as the ingredients from the farm continue to change.
P.S. As a funny bonus, a photographer from the SF Chronicle happened to be at the restaurant photographing for an upcoming review. Bryan and I ended up on the big photo that shows up at the beginning of the article. If you look very closely, you can see us dining on the left side of the photo.
Reservations open 3 months in advance and can be made via the Tock system, which requires guests to purchase "tickets" for the meal. An 11-course dinner costs around $293 per guest, inclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are not refundable, but you can sell/transfer them to another party. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays). The Inn is open seven days a week. Room reservations at the inn include a minimum of one dinner at the restaurant. In other words, you can't stay at the inn without dining at the restaurant.
131 North St., Healdsburg, Calif.
Telephone: (707) 723-4646