Singlethread Inn and Restaurant, Healdsburg, CA

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Understated elegance

I decided I wanted to go to Healdsburg for my birthday after a too-short day trip there a couple of months ago.  When planning our Healdsburg vacation, SMS sent me a text saying, “Hey, if you haven’t made plans, check out Singlethread.”  Well, I did.  I wondered who had hacked into my husband’s phone since the luxury level of the place is sky-high with a price tag to match but after reading about the Japanese influenced American hospitality, I was hooked.  I booked a single night room-dinner reservation for 1 April, Birthday Eve!

The entire experience was amazing.  I’ve linked to an article that goes into exhaustive detail about the restaurant and inn.  We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the suite since no one had booked it for that night.  Yay, so lucky!  The room was absolutely gorgeous and filled with incredible amenities.  The spirit behind the inn is from Japanese: omotenashi, the “spirit of selfless hospitality, anticipating needs without having to be asked” per Kyle Connaughton.  I got this quote from the article as we weren’t quite at the level of hangin’ with Kyle for the evening.

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Serenity now

Some of my favorite highlights of the room include the gorgeous, minimalist design; the subdue color palate, heavy on the gray; the in-room wine and Pliny the Elder beer, which allowed us to have a true NorCal drinking experience; the homemade ice cream; the homemade candy bar; the super-deep bath with a huge scoop of bath salts; the Aesop toiletries; and the Toto toilet!

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Rooftop mobile garden box

After lounging about the room and trying to maintain the delicate balance of snacking without ruining our appetites for dinner, we headed to the roof around 5:30.  They weren’t staffed to have all the diners start their experience up there but we were allowed since we were hotel guests.  Again, the weather was gorgeous and SMS and I wandered around the rooftop, mobile gardens.

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In the greenhouse- Don’t throw stones!

At 6, we headed down to dinner.  We had a welcome drink from Brent via the “culinary window” that allows arriving guests to see into the kitchen.  Then we were seated in this nice corner table with a wrap-around wall bench which means we both got to sit on the bench rather than one bench, one chair.

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Early Spring in Sonoma. Yes, please!

The food was, surprise, amazing!  The meal starts with an incredibly elaborate appetizer course, which I think would be called Sakizuke/Zensai in Japanese.  A beautiful multi-leveled stone platter is covered in moss and seasonal flowers.  Set upon and within the moss are several small appetizer dishes (1-3 bites) on assorted ceramic dishes.  On the menu, this is identified by the unifying theme of “Early Spring in Sonoma.”  The dishes included a cauliflower panna cota, a shot-size chawanmushi (savory egg custard), a light miso soup, rice, baby barracuda, pickled veggies, greens in miso dressing, steamed and marinated kohlrabi, a perfect scallop, unagi (eel) on greens.  It was an over-abundance of perfectly crafted, delicious distillations of culinary delights!  Keep in mind, this is just the first course and I’m fairly certain I missed a dish or two!

[In fact, the next day, our breakfast waitress mentioned that during a recent fund-raiser with several visiting Japanese chefs, the chefs commented that the first course seemed the most “American” because of the quantity of dishes.  Whether that’s a compliment or complaint, I found the first course to be fantastic!]

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I kid you not when I say that every dish was amazing.  The diner doesn’t actually get the menu until the very end so the composition and number of courses were a surprise.  I didn’t take many pictures after the first course because I just wanted to savor the sensory experience unadultured, rather than through my phone.

The yellowtail was delicious with brûlée miso.  Umami was definitely a feature of most dishes.  The Dungeness crab dish was similar to a deconstructed crab bisque, which is still a completely inadequate explanation.  It was an explosion of savory, rich crab…hmmm, I feel like my descriptions are just getting worse and worse.  I’ll work on it.  Trust me when I say it was awesome, rather than conjuring up an outtake from SpongeBob.

tenor

The king salmon was an exquisite cut of salmon with a fattiness similar to the best cut of toro.  Of course, it tasted like salmon but it was so rich!  The poached fois gras was so delicious, I didn’t even feel badly about eating it.  Ok, maybe a little bit.

I don’t remember the black cod quite as well, but keep in mind that we are several courses in combined with an excellent wine pairing.  But don’t worry, my memory isn’t completely faded because the lamb dish made quite an impression. The saddle cut had perfect marbled lamb.  I am running out of superlatives and this dish definitely deserved one!

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Pecan Ice Cream

The Sonoma grains was good, but we were running out of steam.  We ate most, but not all of it as it was rather hearty and dessert was coming!  The sherbet was a nice palate cleanser and the pecan ice cream was perfect.  The ice cream was my favorite although we did enjoy the one bite dessert finishers to finish the meal.

On the menu photo above, you’ll notice that the wine pairings are listed.  SMS had ordered the non-alcoholic pairing so he had that on his menu.  We each drank most of our individual pairing but usually shared a sip or two with each other. SMS’ pairing had some fairly experimental drinks meant to complement the dishes such as a dashi-based and whey-based drink for two of the courses.  It was very cool but both SMS and I thought the pairing would be exclusively mocktail-focused.

The whole experience was exquisite.  I felt so happy and lucky to be with SMS in such a perfect environment with an exceptional menu.  It was definitely extravagant but so incredibly memorable.  Thanks for the find, SMS!!!

Takuma Restaurant, Kyoto

Two nights before our amazing dinner, while wandering the Gion District along the banks of the Shirakawa River, SMS spotted the scene below across the water…

The restaurant looked awesome and instantly, we all knew we wanted to eat there.  We found the front entrance and tried to get in but it is reservation-only.  Saddened but not defeated, we trudged away to the lamb shop to plot our next step.  Ok, ok, that sounds much more nefarious than it was.  I had grabbed a business card at the restaurant, which was exclusively in Kanji.  I emailed it to the caretaker of our Machiya and asked him to make a reservation.  Voila!  We were in!

The restaurant was Takuna, a restaurant specializing in an amazing sushi and vegetable heavy meal presented in multiple courses.  The chef:diner ratio was about 1:1.  There were a few chefs who spoke passable English and their information greatly enhanced our experience.

The happy dining crew, before we’ve even started to feast!

The chefs took our picture before we even started our meal, which was nice since they were busy prepping!  The menus in front of us had the Kanji to an old Kyoto drinking song on it.  Although she’s not in the picture, the woman to Rip’s right was a lovely Japanese woman out celebrating with her husband.  They were first-time grandparents and they were out celebrating even though on a day-to-day basis, the woman explained, “We go like this! *makes repetitive fist bumping gestures* Always fighting!”  She was really great in describing some of the courses that were a little harder to figure out.  It also made the dining experience a little more communal in feeling.

Linda took pictures of all the courses while I took furious notes.
1. Plate of assorted bite-size treats: roasted ginan (gingko nuts), tofu, a gelatin mixed greens cube, pickled onions and the world’s most perfect potato chip
2. Amazingly delicious sashimi with Shoyu foam.  It was awesome!  Soy sauce foam, so light on the fish.  Delectable!
3. Broth-based soup with mushrooms and white fish.  It was in a larger, almost tea-pot like container and the broth was poured out into a tiny cup
4. Sawara (Spanish Mackerel) with daikon
5. Steamed vegetables
6. Tempura- lotus, pepper, fish
7. Sushi with a vinegar sauce that shredded ginger was stirred into (Demonstrated by Rip’s dining partner)
8.Tofu wrapped unagi in a miso-broth soup
9. Iribancha (smoked tea), rice, dark miso soup and pickles
10. Dessert plate: Apple slice, Persimmon slice, squash ice cream (YUM! For real), cake and kochi
[Two women next to me ordered the other set and seemed to have more sashimi, a small fish speared on a small wooden skewer and cooked whole, and a shabu-shabu course]

At the end of the meal we saw the sagi, or lonely bird sitting outside the window.  It was hard to tell if it was hungrily looking in or down at the water.  Probably in.

Reading the list above, some of the descriptions are very basic but the dishes were spectacular.  The vegetables were delicious and able to stand on their own as courses.  The fish was perfectly cooked.  The sawara was cooked on little skewers on a charcoal grill right in front of us, impeccably timed to correspond with our being ready for the next course.  Yum, yum!

There were two set courses to choose from and we chose the less expensive option.  It wasn’t inexpensive, just less expensive but we thought it was worth every penny.  Not only was the food exquisite, but the two hour production that we got to watch as we ate the results was really incredible to observe.