Boonville Hotel chef returns to his roots with simple, seasonal menu
The welcome at the Boonville Hotel restaurant was an unusual one, as a deep bass voice crooned, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman…”
And as I peeked into the open kitchen, I saw that voice belonged to a cook, deep into his work prepping for tonight’s dinner.
Executive chef Perry Hoffman came around the corner then, and grinned. “We’re a little goofy here,” he said.
Dressed in a navy button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans, a workman bib apron and a baseball cap, he looked like he might be running a blacksmith shop instead of what is an enticing new destination 50 miles northwest of Healdsburg. His presence is a surprise: with a population of just over 1,000, Boonville is better known for its winding, mountain-side roads, sprawling wineries, vast open space and rustic character than Michelin Star chefs.
Yet for Hoffman, who earned his first Michelin Star at 25 as executive chef at étoile, Domaine Chandon’s now-closed Yountville restaurant, this is a homecoming. Born and raised in Napa, he felt destined to be in a fine dining kitchen even as a toddler, as his grandparents, Don and Sally Schmitt, owned and operated The French Laundry until Thomas Keller purchased it in 1994. But his grandparents also owned The Apple Farm, a 40-acre biodynamic orchard in Philo, just 9 miles northwest of the Boonville Hotel.
That hotel was (and still is) owned by his uncle, Johnny Schmitt, and Hoffman had worked at its restaurant starting at 18 years old, right after graduating from Napa High School. Johnny was the chef for the first 20 years after he bought the hotel in 1988, and Sally Schmitt taught cooking classes at the farm for a decade before passing that baton to her daughter, Karen Bates.
“Food has always been a force for our family, and Boonville was our second home,” Hoffman recalled. “We would stay at the farm every holiday, and for weeks through the summer.”
Initially, Hoffman’s sights were set on a corporate career, as he was hired as sous chef at Rutherford’s Auberge du Soleil when he was 20, then moved to étoile at 22. In 2015, he took over as culinary director at Healdsburg’s now-closed farm-to-table marketplace/café Shed. The bigger, and busier, the better, he believed.
Yet when Boonville Hotel’s chef Brennon Moore left after 10 years in the summer of 2018 - just after Hoffman and his wife, Kristen, had welcomed their first daughter, with a son arriving in April - he started thinking of a more remote, relaxed lifestyle.
“I loved doing the high-energy crazy work, but after my daughter was born, it was like a light switch,” he said. “I’m still a workaholic, but I can only go so far in Boonville, so it helps keep me in check, and lets me balance life and family.”
So now, Hoffman is running a 40-seat, eclectic, farm-chic decor restaurant and 60-seat seasonal patio that serves dinner Thursday through Mondays (during high season of April through November) and Friday and Saturday dinner with Sunday lunch December through March. The prix-fixe menu is single choice, changing nightly, supplemented by a selection of a la carte small plates (note that a 20% service charge is added to provide a living wage for the crew, with no additional tips expected).
Keeping things even more streamlined, on Sundays, the fare is paella, slow-cooked in a giant paella ring on the courtyard, on at least one occasion an all-pescatarian symphony of Mendocino rock cod, gulf shrimp, Monterey squid, local saffron, chive aioli, bean, and basil smoked cour di bue tomatoes, served with a simple salad and a dessert bite.
Mondays bring just one main course, which recently featured local beef and pork polpettes atop Red Florini polenta with creamy Piment d’Ville ricotta, sprouting broccolini and Sicilian oregano.
Whatever is on the table, this is clean cooking. Given the Anderson Valley town’s rural location amid gorgeous farms, the chef focuses on daily-picked local produce, including delicacies grown on the 4-acre hotel site such as lemony Maldovian Dragon Balm herb, horseradish leaves, lemon basil, tamarind, fragrant Bachelor’s Buttons, sweet corn shoots, French lavender for honey, plums, quince and persimmons.
Surrounded by such natural beauty, the mood and food seems even more spectacular, feeling like a fairytale at rustic wood tables in the garden under towering shade trees. On a late summer visit, we started with several small plates, including extraordinarily smoky, charred-on-the-edges, rosy curls of speck ham accented with Boonville-grown sweet-spicy Piment d’Ville red chile dust, juicy peach chunks and delicate marigold blossoms, all glistening with olive oil ($13).