Single Thread Farm Restaurant and Inn — Healdsburg CA (3/2017)


The phrase “most anticipated restaurant opening” had been echoed by many publications, both food and non-food related) for several months prior to the opening and continue today as reviews come in.  I read about Single Thread Farm about a year ago and had been tracking their progress.  When they finally started taking reservations, I signed up for the whole experience for a Thursday night (room and dinner).  Weekend stays require a two-day minimum.  And dinner and the room are prepaid before arrival (although you can choose to order beverages at dinner).

This first part will cover the dinner experience as I normally would.  Afterwards, I’ll describe the hotel stay.

I booked an 8:30 pm dinner since I would be coming up from the city earlier in the day and didn’t want to stress making an early dinner seating.  They did contact me a few days prior to my dinner to offer an earlier seating for dinner, which I declined.

I walked downstairs from my room to the 1st floor reception desk.  They checked me in and then led me up to the 3rd floor roof deck.  The weather had just gotten nice enough for them to start using the roof for the pre-dining drink and snacks.  I must have been the only 8:30 reservation, as they seated me next to the fire pit and I noticed no one else was present on the roof.

They offered a glass of champagne to me as I looked over the Apéritif menu.  I declined and said I would just do wine at dinner.  They presented me with a ceramic glass with some chilled Sauvignon verjus (unripe grape juice) to begin the experience.  Soon after, they presented a trio of small bites to enjoy by the fire.

The first of the spring peas just became available and were used with farmer’s cheese and yuzu miso for  a slightly sweet and tart bite.  Beets roasted in a hearth for 4 days were served with tofu, winter citrus and charred kumquat. And to the left was a take-off on Japanese sendai rice cracker, only these were made with potato and tapioca with a filling of black truffle and mascarpone for a nice creamy and crunchy snack.

I was then led back downstairs to my table in the very nicely appointed dining room with a view of the open kitchen.

Once seated, I began thinking about the wine.  I had looked over the extensive wine list earlier in the day.  They offer a standard wine pairing and a reserve wine pairing.  They said their pairings provide for about 3.5 large glasses of wine over the course of the dinner.  That was still more that I probably wanted to drink.  So, I considered just ordering by the glass or selecting a fairly accessible bottle of Meursault (photos of several pages from their wine list appear at the end of this write-up).  After some additional discussion with the sommelier, I opted for the bottle of Meursault (I could take it with me since I wasn’t flying anywhere – I just had to tell them when I would like to cap the bottle).

The first presentation was a centerpiece adorned with several small dishes.  All of these were served cold or at room temperature.

The presentation represented late winter in Sonoma ingredients, a couple of which were from their farm, with the rest being fairly local in origin:  young broccoli form the farm with sesame dressing, steamed crab leg meat with spicy yuzu salt, lacto-fermented carrots on top of a black sesame cream, geoduck clam with kaffir lime gel, citrus-braised kohlrabi with Meyer lemon gel, mackerel cured in salt and gyokuro tea, a baby turnip from the farm, kumamoto oysters from British Columbia that were lightly pickled and served with some fresh wasabi, crispy potato “mess” with herb emulsion, and green garlic tofu panna cotta with asparagus and dashi.  This was a nice broad assortment of flavors and textures to start.

For the full write-up, click here.


Pineapple and Pearls 2nd Visit — Washington DC (1/2017)


I had a work trip come up, so I used the opportunity to dine a second time at Pineapple and Pearls.  I knew enough in advance to be able to secure a spot.  In the seven months since my first visit, the restaurant garnered 2 Michelin starts in the debut of the guide for the Washington DC area.  The format and prices had not changed.  As a single diner, the only place I could book a seat was at the bar.  But that’s fine, as it meant beverage pairings were optional.  Half the meal is charged when you make the reservation and the balance the day of prior to arrival.

Upon entering the restaurant, they offered me one of two pre-dinner cocktails.  It was either a whisky cocktail or this, which was a blend of hot white chocolate, mescal, and chartreuse.

After being seated, I was offered the beverage menu, which listed more cocktails, wines-by-the-glass and beverage pairings options (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).  This time, I went with the non-alcoholic pairing. I was also offered the choice of still or sparkling water.

The first bite offered was the same as at the first visit – fennel bon bon with a touch of absinthe. Beet sugar formed the shell and inside was fennel yogurt, dehydrated golden raisin zest.  Underneath as a chaser was a combination of fennel, sunchoke, apple and celery juice with a splash of absinthe.

The next small bite was a beef tartare wrapped by cured sirloin into a roll.  This was topped with paddlefish roe and shitake ash.

My first beverage pairing was a winter pear and vanilla sparking cider.

The next small bite was a hoecake/johnnycake served takoyaki style (grilled pancake in the shape of a ball found commonly as street food) with Périgord black truffle and honey.

The next dish was a compressed napkin that they added hot water to for a finger towel to clean up after the finger food. It was scented with Kafir lime and ginger.

The next dish was a single long housemade chilled udon noodle with Jonah crab,  tempura, blood orange, ginger and toasted pumpkin seeds.  This was fruity and salty with a nice added crunch from the tempura for texture contrast.

For the full write-up, click here.



n/naka — Los Angeles (12/2016)


Chef Niki Nakayama and n/naka were the subject of the 3rd episode of the first season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table documentaries. They take reservations up to three months in advance according to current policy.  When I had made reservations, I thought it was a rolling 6-week advance with release on a Sunday.  In any event, I managed to secure a reservation for a Friday evening for two.  I was accompanied by a friend who lives in L.A.  The restaurant itself is located in a somewhat inconspicuous part of the city, in between Westwood and Culver City.

They offer two tasting menus:  regular and vegetarian.  We both went with the regular menu. And, unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my macro lens, so the photos are not as good as I wanted them to be.

For beverages, there was an ample selection of sake by the glass, and a nice selection of wines by the glass, appropriately with more whites than reds on the list.  I went with the Riesling.

The first presentation was mussel surrounded by mussel foam.  This was served with potato purée, a touch of shiso oil, crispy onions, crême fraiche, and white sturgeon caviar.  Finally, there was a garnish of nasturtium leaf and a viola petal.

The next presentation was quite elaborate.  There was snow crab, truffles, maitake mushroom tempura, fresh octopus curry, sea salted halibut with a little spice, and a pickled crab apple to finish up with at the end.

This course featured seared kampachi in a modern form of sashimi.  It was braised with fermented garlic oil and garnished with vegetables from the chef’s garden.  There were dots of red pepper gelée on the right and strokes of nori and beets purées.  Finally, there was a bit of ponzu to use for dipping as well.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 11th Visit — Chicago (12/2016)


After my early October visit, I had not planned to return to Chicago until sometime early next year.  However, some unused vacation time gave me the chance to add an extra three-day weekend to my schedule, so I scheduled a one-night stop in Chicago to check out the fall-to-early-winter menu.  There were a few courses that were the same or similar but with slightly different ingredients.  There were also some changes in dish sequencing for the familiar ones from the prior visit.

Since this visit was with a friend, we brought along two bottles of wine to have with dinner – a Chassagne-Montrachet for the white wine and an older Rioja for the red wine.

The first dish is one that I had on the last visit, but not as the first dish on the menu.  It was whipped foie gras at the bottom with Australian finger limes, freeze-dried mango and rice sticks to form the nest.  The garnish at the top was citrus marigold.  There were lots of texture and flavor contrasts to make this a nice opening course.

This dish featured King crab, with a thick (sliceable) butternut squash panna cotta, crispy speck, land caviar (actiually the seed from an herbal plant called Bassia Scoparia, with a taste and texture similar to quinoa).  A mixture of lettuces and herbs formed the salad.

This course included wood ear mushrooms (instead of the lobster mushrooms from last time) as the main ingredient.  A shellfish sauce made from Spanish scarlet prawns dressed the mushrooms.  A homemade XO sauce added a little spiciness to the flavors, and char roe added some saltiness and texture.  Sea vegetables finished off the composition (dulse (red algae lettuce fried), a succulent called ice bud, Okinawa sea grape). There were a lot of texture contrasts to each bite, as well as a nice savoriness.

For the full write-up, click here.

Farm Spirit 3rd Visit — Portland OR (10/2016)


I managed to find the time to make a Fall visit to Farm Spirit.  There were some physical changes to the space.  But they had also changed the format, which I did not realize.  When booking, I had noticed that the early seating was cheaper than the late seating.  I figured this was just reservation management, but I found out that the earlier seating had a smaller number of courses. When I bought the ticket for the dinner, I also pre-purchased the alcoholic pairings.

They put up some new shelving since the last visit.

We started out with some homemade rye bread and olive oil butter.

This was followed by mushroom tea, which was made by steeping dried porcini mushrooms and adding a little bit of chive.

The next dish was a kohlrabi taco, made with a kohlrabi slice and filled with walnuts spiced with cumin and allium, cultured cream made from pepita (pumpkin) seeds and some cilantro for garnish. This was a nice combination of crunchy texture and creaminess.

The next course was a herb fritter made with flour and kohlrabi shavings, with dill and fermented sunflower cream.

For the full write-up, click here


Next up was a beet salad with roasted golden beets dressed with pinot noir vinegar and hazelnut oil, and garnished with, fermented mushrooms and fried hazelnuts, smoked kestrel beet purée, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), and a yogurt made from hazelnut milk enriched with fermented mushrooms.

Teisui 2nd Visit — New York City (10/2016)


A week-long work trip provided ample opportunity to pay a second visit to Teisui.  My first visit was in early spring, so I wanted to see what they would do with the seasonal ingredients of the fall.   It was easy to secure a mid-week reservation via OpenTable.  Also, the late hour I had selected for dining  meant a quiet evening at the restaurant, as there were only a few other guests dining when I arrived.

In general, the primary ingredients for the courses were very similar to what I had in the spring.  There were some changes to the supporting ingredients, as well as a few totally different presentations.

The amuse bouche was totally different than the prior visit.  It was a fried chicken sandwich with a very light bread, served with some sweet sake on the side.  The garnishes included daikon radish, carrot and homemade mayonnaise, and Japanese pickle.  And to start off, my opening drink was a sparkling matcha beverage.

The first presentation from the menu featured a little liquid nitrogen volcano carrying a green tea aroma.  With that, there was a selection of several small appetizers:  Hokkaido uni served with junsai (a vegetable also called water shield) and a little wasabi, Hamachi sashimi with ponzu, Matsukaze paté and water octopus with sumiso (Japanese mustard, vinegar and miso).  This had a nice variety of textures.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 10th Visit — Chicago (10/2016)


A fall business trip gave me a chance for an early evening mid-week visit to 42 grams.  Since they opened up the counter seats to late seatings, I haven’t been to the early evening seating.  Since the next day would be a full workday, the relatively early dinner worked out fine.

The first dish started out with Hamachi poached in wagyu fat.  A thin sheet of daikon topped the fish, which was in turn topped with golden osetra caviar, beef tongue smoked in lapshang souchong tea, and tom kha cream (kaffir lime, lemon grass galangal).  The beef, caviar and daikon offered texture contrasts, although we were supposed to try and eat it all in one bite.

The next course had whipped foie gras at the bottom, covered by crisp rice noodles. On top, there was a star flower, finger lime pulp, and freeze-dried mango sprinkled for a final garnish.  The crispy rice noodles contrasted with the smooth foie gras, and the tartness of the finger limes worked nicely to add acidity and the mango came in with a touch of sweetness.

This course featured lobster mushrooms in a shellfish butter sauce.  This was garnished with char roe, crispy dulse (red algae) leaves, oyster blossoms, sea grapes and XO sauce.  is was a nice umami-filled dish.

For the full write-up, click here.