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COX: Chalkboard Bistro opens in Healdsburg
Rustic new restaurant with wholesome California cooking opens in Healdsburg

  • Three beef sliders at the Chalkboard Restaurant in Healdsburg include a bit of blue cheese, short rib marmalade, and bacon aioli to top them off. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

Chalkboard, a new small-plates restaurant in Healdsburg, occupies the space that was Cyrus.

Where Cyrus was lush and very deluxe, Chalkboard is rustic. No tablecloths. Hard wooden chairs. Hollowed-out stones planted with succulent echeverias on the tables. The floors are bare wood.

But many of the built-in features of Cyrus remain, to the benefit of the new regime headed by Chef Shane McAnelly, who has master chef Doug Keane's personally-designed kitchen to work in. Cyrus's comfy full bar at the restaurant's entrance is almost the same, and the dining room's vaulted ceilings still make a bold architectural statement.

Chalkboard Restaurant

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What's really different is the food. Keane's creations were haute cuisine, earning two Michelin stars and Best Chef Pacific from the James Beard Foundation. McAnelly's fare is wholesome California cooking with Sonoma County flair. Menus are seasonal, with vegetable, meat, and fish crudos, soups and salads, house-made pastas, and plenty of red and white wine flights. Among the 16 whites and 27 reds offered by the bottle, the 2011 “Dutton Ranch” chardonnay from Dutton Goldfield at $56 and the 2009 “Donna Chiara” aglianico from Colli di Lapio, Campania, at $52 stand out.

Many of the garden vegetables are sourced from the restaurant's three-acre organic potager at Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards, and what a treat that is for the cooks and the customers. Nothing beats the flavor of food just picked from the garden. But it's what you do with it that counts, and McAnelly has some good moves in his repertoire. For Pea Soup ($3 **) for instance, he makes a soup base with onions, bay leaf, and mint and stirs in a puree of fresh garden peas. Now he puts a big pinch of Dungeness crabmeat in a shot glass and fills it with the chilled soup. It's refreshing, although a bit too salty.

From the Chalk Hill garden comes Fava Bean and Baby Artichoke Salad ($9 **). The favas are boiled in their pods, then husked out of their grey jackets so they're tender and a bright, rich green. The baby artichokes could have used some kind of flash cooking or marinating, as their slices were chewy and tough to eat. The beans and chokes were mixed with little arugula, which is just hitting its stride right now. The leaves are still small, tender, and not nearly as aggressively peppery as they'll be later in the summer. The salad is dressed with a lemon citronette — basically a vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of vinegar so it's more wine-friendly — and topped with a snow of grated pecorino romano cheese.

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