Great food abounds in California, but Healdsburg features a trio of exceptional establishments serving scrumptious gourmet treats. Whether you choose to leave your dinner in the capable hands of Chef Valette by ordering his “Trust Me” tasting menu at his namesake restaurant, treat yourself to delectable dishes in a neighborly atmosphere at Baci Café & Wine Bar or enjoy exciting yet familiar small plates at Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, you cannot go wrong.
1. Valette — A Dream Come True
Valette opened in 2015. After almost 20 years of dreaming, brothers Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini created a restaurant where the products from nearby artisans, local farmers and regional winemakers take the spotlight.
Prior to 2015, Chef Dustin Valette worked as the executive chef at Dry Creek Kitchen for six years. During that time, John Jordan, CEO of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, frequently dined at the restaurant and would enter saying, “Send me food and send me drink!” Chef Valette began creating dishes designed specifically for John.
The “Trust Me” Menu
When Chef Valette and his brother Aaron opened Valette they determined that each guest should have the option to savor courses designed with their personal tastes in mind. Chef Valette’s “Trust Me” tasting menu is based on individual guest preferences, ingredients available in the kitchen and the weather. On cold drab days he creates hearty, comforting braised foods, and on sunny days, he focuses on lighter fare with bright colors. Chef Valette developed several signature dishes that regulars now expect, and the restaurant boasts an expertly selected wine list.
Gourmet Dining at Valette
Asian flavors abound with the Hawaiian Ahi Poke at Valette. Raw ahi tossed in a soy kombu emulsion sits atop a wakame (seaweed) salad with crispy fried avocados. Thinly sliced watermelon radishes adorn the plate. The stunning dish delivers delicious flavors and a diverse array of textures.
The foie gras, a signature dish, comes seared to perfection creating a crunchy outside and a smooth buttery center. Topped with pickled green peaches and toasted hazelnuts, it reaches the table with drops of hibiscus puree and toasted buttermilk brioche on a dramatic black slate. This decadent dish entertains different seasonal accompaniments throughout the year.
Chef Valette uses familiar yet innovative flavors in his Butter Roasted Alaskan Halibut. The fish comes with a smoked paprika aioli topped with a molecular gastronomic creation of olive oil snow. This light, dry, flaky mixture melts like snow when touched. Crisp tempura zucchini chips and baby vegetables embellish the plate.
2. Baci Café & Wine Bar — Neighborhood Gourmet Dining
Chef Shari Sarabi and Lisbeth Holmefjord take pride in the neighborhood feel they have created at Baci Café & Wine Bar. When speaking with Shari he laughed and said, “In the beginning, each night we saved two or three tables for the locals; now we save two or three tables for visitors.”
Lisbeth revealed one secret to their success with the locals, “We strive to recognize our customers by name, and we keep ‘cheat sheets’ on their favorite tables and dietary restrictions.” The Baci owners go over and above to make both locals and visitors feel welcome, and they support the community by purchasing local produce throughout the year.
Chef Sarabi began cooking as a child and interned at restaurants in Milano, Italy and along the French Riviera. He opened his first restaurant in San Francisco at the young age of 18. He serves traditional “farm to fork” Italian cuisine with a few modern twists, and the restaurant hosts an extensive wine selection.
Gourmet Italian Food
During the month of September, the café features Insalata di Pesca: sweet sliced peaches from Dry Creek Farms nestled with burrata, a delicious fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The fruit and cheese arrive drizzled with basil-infused olive oil, balsamic reduction, pistachios, mint chiffonade and balsamic pearls made from agar and balsamic vinegar. These pearls have the same texture as caviar and pop when eaten.
The Costata di Manzo Brasato is decadent and hearty. The slow-braised beef short ribs fall apart with a fork, and the cheesy polenta is smooth and creamy. The red wine demi-glace cuts through the richness, and an assortment of vegetables finishes the plate.
The Torta di Mele is a mixture of apples, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, all blanketed in a flaky shortbread crust. The warm torta arrives with a dollop of vanilla gelato and drizzles of caramel sauce.
3. Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar — Exciting Yet Familiar Cuisine
Chef Mark Stark and his wife Terri own several restaurants in the area. Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar features small plates capturing flavors from South America, the East Coast and the local Wine Country. Mark says, “These days dining out is not just about the food, it’s an experience. Dining out is entertainment.”
To maintain customer loyalty the Starks and management make every effort to keep everything fresh and appealing. They create a space that is warm and inviting, work with staff to produce an air of hospitality, and serve cuisine that is both familiar and exciting. Chef Stark fashions plates designed for sharing and stocks local wines that highlight his food.
Gourmet Small Plates
A familiar dish known and loved around the world is Flash-Fried Calamari. Chef Stark quickly fries the calamari and before tossing the tender morsels into a sweet and spicy orange chili gremolata, giving this appetizer a delicious kick.
The Hanger Steak with Aji Panca and Chimichuri Sauce is a bit spicy and very herbaceous. Skewered chunks of steak are perfectly cooked, served over quinoa adding an earthy element to the dish. Diners that relish a little heat need to order Dean’s Salt & Pepper Baby Back Riblets. The riblets are bathed in an Asian-style sauce made with Chinese five-spice, caramelized onions and several delicious, but spicy peppers.
For a sweet treat, the Caramelized Banana & Chocolate Brownie Sundae is a winner at Willi’s. The banana is expertly brûléed and stacked neatly beside a decadent chocolate brownie, topped with peanut butter mousse. A drizzle of caramel decorates the plate, and candied peanuts join the mix to add a little crunch.