Go inside the swanky Matheson and casual Roof 106 in Healdsburg
Downstairs, The Matheson
Like so many restaurants these days, The Matheson charges for bread and butter. But I’d say $6 is an entirely reasonable price to pay for the excellent housemade Parker House rolls presented with homemade cultured butter and sea salt. And the simple act of slathering the luscious butter on the squishy, crisp-crust bundles feels extra special when you consider the rich history of this upscale Healdsburg restaurant that debuted in September.
Built more than a century ago, the historic building on Matheson Street off the Healdsburg Plaza once housed Snowflake Bakery, owned in the 1920s by French immigrant Honoré Valette. Honoré Valette was Matheson chef and owner Dustin Valette’s great-grandfather. He also, in the 1940s, operated Home Bakery in the space that now is Dustin Valette’s first restaurant, Valette, at Center and North streets.
So as Dustin Valette walked me through a preview of the completely redesigned and expanded three-story building last month, his pride was understandably palpable. There is so much going on here: an 84-seat restaurant, bar, boutique sushi bar and 12-seat private dining room on the first floor; a 44-seat mezzanine with reserve wine lockers and gathering space on the second floor; and a 90-seat rooftop cocktail lounge and casual bistro called Roof 106. It’s maximalist — to the max.
Yet to Valette, The Matheson is more than a gathering place to join over food and drink. It’s also a symbol of his family’s long-held dedication to Healdsburg and its landmarks. The building had sat vacant for the past eight years and then, in 2017, came up for sale.
“New people were going to buy it, tear it down and build condos,” Valette said. “As a third-generation Healdsburger, I’ve always had a deep commitment to the town, and I saw an opportunity to operate a business that fits its heritage.”
The tribute starts with the first-floor décor. The host stand is made from an antique Italian wine barrel gifted to Valette from retired E&J Gallo vintner Marcello Monticelli. The vaulted, curved ceiling is designed to look like a Bordeaux wine barrel. Study the murals, too, painted by San Francisco artist Jay Mercado and celebrating Sonoma County agricultural heroes.
Many of the food and cocktail ingredients come from local artisan producers, said the former Dry Creek Kitchen chef.
“I love that my former sous chef at (Dry Creek Kitchen) started a farm and is growing our potatoes,” Valette said. “It’s so amazing — customers pay us money so our farmers can grow great stuff for them and earn a living.”
Spanning 15,700 square feet, the multimillion-dollar destination took four years to build. It brought together a team of remarkable talents, including business partner and tech entrepreneur Craig Ramsey, renowned Japanese chef Ken Tominaga of Rohnert Park’s Hana and Managing Director Brian Sommer (formerly Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg).
I could write an entire story about Wine and Beverage Director Jon McCarthy (of Charlie Palmer restaurants and Healdsburg’s Chalkboard), too. He manages an interactive, spaceship-style wine wall of 88 wines on tap, plus a cellar stocked with more than 450 wines and a full bar serving complicated craft cocktails and local beers.
There’s even a sake cellar, with selections curated by Hana’s sake sommelier Danny Pitassy and showcasing a range of styles from creamy, cloudy nigori to premium, crisp and elegant junmai daiginjo.
Array of options
So where to begin? I have to say it was all a bit dizzying on that first tour with Valette, who cheerfully admitted that a few years ago, he discovered he has attention deficit disorder and “it’s like shiny puppies everywhere, woo-hoo!” He usually sleeps just five hours a night, trots at a fast clip instead of walking and speaks rapid-fire, punctuated with lots of laughter and more than a few salty words.
Returning later for dinner, I found the modern Sonoma County food is equally attention-grabbing. Working with chef de cuisine Matt Brimer (Emeryville’s Paula LeDuc Fine Catering), Valette has created a brief but complex menu featuring notes of Asian, Mediterranean, Cal-French, Mexican and American cuisines. Each dish stands on its own, but a meal is even more interesting when you load your table with many plates and flavor profiles (those redwood tables, by the way, were hand-hewn by Andrew Somawang of Sebastopol).
Start with sushi. The daily-changing sampler platter is nice to share ($45), though I coveted every morsel of the 16 pieces of various nigiri, sashimi and makimono I got. It’s straightforward fish, vegetables and rice — no bells, no whistles — though I love that we can get special tuna cuts, including akami bluefin ($13 nigiri, $19 sashimi), fatty otoro ($26/$38) and bigeye mebachi ($12/$18).