The smaller details can make such a big difference in a restaurant. At Kitchen 335 in Healdsburg, owner Octavio Diaz keeps the décor simple, focusing on the tiny open kitchen backed by ceiling-high shelves of liquor.
Yet the bare cream walls come alive, thanks to two beautiful murals by local artist Dave Dexter. Depicting children playing with chocolate-eyed calves, a donkey and other cheerful livestock, the art is nearly huggable, done in 1950s childrens’ storybook style.
The theme, it turns out, is natural, because Diaz highlights local produce. Since opening in August, the restaurant had sourced from What’s Up Farms, which teams with Santa Rosa schools to teach students about farming. But sadly, What’s Up burned in the October Tubbs fire, so now, the kitchen works with F.E.E.D of Sebastopol for its small-farm boutique ingredients.
At Kitchen 335, the entrées are familiar, consistently offering king salmon, chicken breast, rib-eye, pork and duck confit. But newly appointed chefs Patrick Martin and Mike Matson keep things energized, thanks to thoughtful details on each plate. They regularly tweak the meats’ preparation, and change the side dishes with often vibrant accents.
That means on one autumn visit, I dug into tender braised pork shank jazzed with pomegranate glaze and gremolata, white beans, arugula and pesto ($29), while on another dinner last week, I savored a hefty pork chop porterhouse slicked in black molé with crispy potatoes, pickled onion, arugula and a tart-sweet touch of blueberries ($29).
Factor in the genuinely friendly service and blessedly reasonable noise level, and we’ve got a terrific new destination in this Wine Country town. I’m not alone in thinking this, either – I often see big name winemakers dining at my neighboring tables.
Diaz is already well known for his good work in these parts. He also owns Agave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar and Casa De Molé grocery store and taqueria, both in Healdsburg, El Farolito in Windsor, and Agave Uptown in Oakland. Too, he was part owner of the Asian-fusion restaurant Persimmon that formerly resided in the 335 space.
For all his eateries, Diaz likes to work in influences from his Oaxacan heritage. I particularly love his signature molé negro de Oaxaca that adorns the pork chop in a silky mix of chiles, oregano, chocolate, almonds, raisins, cinnamon, and what Diaz calls his “mom’s secrets.” It’s the kind of stuff I could eat by the spoonful, and it works marvelously with duck confit, too, adding deep complexity to an autumn recipe that pairs it with polenta cake, broccolini and whole, sweet baby carrots ($30).
If the tempura tiger prawns ($15) are on the menu, get them. They were great on the fall lineup, as five big, meaty shrimp encased in crunchy batter on a bed of dino kale, avocado, citrus segments, citrus dressing and romaine that was gently grilled so it didn’t have the harsh char that some cooked lettuces do. The current appetizers boast another winner, however: a Napoleon of baby beets layered with avocado, citrus, cucumber, crunchy pistachio, Parmesan crisp and kale ($16). The varying textures, acid and silky fat are exceptional.
This is also one of the few local places I know of that’s still serving chicken livers, and they’re fine, in their retro charm. Sautéed with smoked bacon, mushrooms, Marsala wine and fresh herbs over polenta cake ($13), they avoid the gaminess that can hinder this dish.
What: M.F. K. Inspired Cassoulet Dinner by Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 1
Where: The General’s Daughter, 400 West Spain St., Sonoma
Cost: $35, includes artisan cheese selection, cassoulet, salad, bread and brownies. Guests are welcome to bring a bottle of wine for sharing.
To reserve: theepicureanconnection.com