In years past, there have been issues from time to time at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg. Reception by the host or hostess was sometimes curt. There was a kind of cult of personality around owner Charlie Palmer — his name and image, and names of his 11 other restaurants around the country, were plastered over the menus and business paraphernalia.
All of that is gone now. Our reception couldn't have been friendlier or more polite and courteous. If I didn't know who owned the place, I wouldn't have been able to guess. Palmer has quietly taken a step into the background and now it's the beautiful restaurant, the high-class food, and the perfect service that stand out.
The first thing you notice is the luxurious space, with vaulted ceilings and lovely lighting. Floor-to-ceiling windows and wide open doors to an outside patio that faces Healdsburg Avenue and the town square let in air and indirect sunlight in the daytime.
All the accoutrements of the place — the furniture, the tableware, even the chargers decorated with varieties of wine grape leaves — are elegant. And speaking of wine grapes, the wine list contains more than 500 wines, all of them from Sonoma County. Sommelier Courtney Humiston says there's no corkage on the first two bottles of wine you bring in, as long as they are Sonoma County wines. It's $20 if you bring a bottle from anywhere else.
Ordering from the wine list isn't inexpensive, but the list is loaded with treasures like the 2011 Dutton-Goldfield "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay for $58, the perfumed 2011 Hirsch "San Andreas Fault" Pinot Noir for $120, and the 2009 Iron Horse "Aureole Cuvee" for $80.
These are highlights; there are less expensive bottles. Or bring your own Sonoma County favorite.
The chef, Dustin Valette, is local — from Geyserville — and he cooks world-class. A House-Made Charcuterie Platter ($16 ***) included bresaola, rabbit terrine, salami, olives, grilled ciabatta, and three kinds of mustards. It made for a fun tasting as dinner started. Then came a silky and mild-flavored Cumin and Roasted Carrot Veloute ($13 ***) accompanied by baby shrimp given a teaspoon of cr?e fraiche and a crunchy brioche crumble.
Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi ($17 ****) melt in the mouth, their flavor enhanced by lardons of smoked mangalitsa pig-belly fat, and set around with tiles of roasted red and yellow beets and a swipe of berry puree.
Our waiter said he'd never seen the kitchen turn out a more perfect dome of Scallops en Croute ($19 ****). The crusty puff pastry rose high above a small saucepan and contained two deep sea scallops in a sauce of scallop juice, caramelized onions, and butter dotted with minced black truffle.
The wait staff, from water bearers to the head waiter, were even better than professional. By that I mean they were engaging and a bit amusing at times (but just a bit), at once giving perfect service, yet giving it unobtrusively. Bravo for the staff.
A Warm Asparagus Salad ($11 ***-1/2) was the most inexpensive item on the menu, very simple, and a delight of local red and green butter lettuces, whipped fresh goat cheese, raw walnuts, and four fat spears of spring-fresh asparagus cooked al dente. The fatter the spear, the more tender, and these were no exception.