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Go inside the swanky Matheson and casual Roof 106 in Healdsburg

The Matheson and Roof 106

Where: 106 Matheson St., Healdsburg

When: The Matheson is open 5:30 - 10 p.m. Thursday - Monday, with the Wine Wall open from noon to 10 p.m. Roof 106 is open noon to 10 p.m. Thursday - Monday.

Contact: 707-723-1106, thematheson.com

Cuisine: California, Global

Price: Very expensive, entrees $28-$57 at The Matheson. Moderately expensive at Roof 106.

Summary: After four years, chef-owner Dustin Valette’s The Matheson dream is finally alive. The huge operation nearly overflows with fine dining facets and flair. At the casual Roof 106, cocktails and outdoor dining are first come, first served.

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.”

Sonoma details

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).

The Matheson and Roof 106

Where: 106 Matheson St., Healdsburg

When: The Matheson is open 5:30 - 10 p.m. Thursday - Monday, with the Wine Wall open from noon to 10 p.m. Roof 106 is open noon to 10 p.m. Thursday - Monday.

Contact: 707-723-1106, thematheson.com

Cuisine: California, Global

Price: Very expensive, entrees $28-$57 at The Matheson. Moderately expensive at Roof 106.

Summary: After four years, chef-owner Dustin Valette’s The Matheson dream is finally alive. The huge operation nearly overflows with fine dining facets and flair. At the casual Roof 106, cocktails and outdoor dining are first come, first served.

Kona kampachi ($21) is another personal favorite, for its buttery character. On one visit, the thin-sliced yellowtail was tumbled beautifully with agua chile-pickled cucumber, marinated onion, micro flowers, crisp puffed sushi rice and delightful nubbins of finger lime (a “citrus caviar” fruit filled with tart, juicy pulp). On the next visit, it was simpler but still lovely, decorated with avocado and kohlrabi in a bright citrus kosho sparked with chile.

Thai chile delivers some heat to chilled Monterey squid, alongside smoked peanuts, sweet melon and aromatic mint blossoms ($17). And the tamanishiki rice porridge is superb ($19). The short-grain brown rice delivers a beautiful chewy texture and nutty flavor and here is cooked soupy risotto-style, with preserved lemon and crowned with a golden-seared day boat scallop, chrysanthemum and roasted red pepper ($19).

It’s fun to watch Valette take the stage in the large open kitchen, especially if you sit at the chef’s counter. Even when he’s elsewhere, the energy is high, as chefs flame black cod to be paired with sunchoke, nicely bitter brassicas and PEI mussels in sweet and smoky vadouvan ($36) or aged Sonoma duck partnered with Okinawan sweet potato, persimmon and Brussels sprouts ($38).

On an earlier visit to Roof 106, my companion and I tried the coffee-spice grilled Akaushi bavette steak with leek salsa verde, watercress and pickled turnip ($25). It was so chewy we took one bite then left it. But returning downstairs, the wood-fired Snake River American Wagyu bavette was as tender and juicy as it should be, quietly dressed with potato pave, alliums horseradish and a touch of black truffle ($41).

Like the main menu, dessert offerings change or are tweaked frequently. Currently, the black sesame semifreddo is a standout, slightly sweet and earthy, brilliant with pomegranate and finished with made-in-Windsor Volo chocolate ($13).

Interestingly, now that The Matheson recently unveiled its new autumn menus, I’m more excited to return and focus on the chef’s tasting prix fixe. The first go-round was typical, of sashimi, tomato burrata salad, king salmon, Sonoma lamb and dark chocolate pave ($95).

But feast your eyes on this updated “Chef Ken’s Omakase” ($120): a Happy Spoon of uni, oyster, ponzu creme fraiche and Valette sturgeon caviar, followed by ahi poke with tobiko, negi and crisp wonton. Then, it’s maitake mushroom tempura with green tea salt and lime, followed by six pieces of nigiri. Next, we get torotaku and uni temaki with pickled daikon and shiso, followed by unagi and foie gras nigiri with balsamic mirin reduction and sansho pepper. To finish, that black sesame semifreddo.

That experience will certainly have to be a story of its own. Because, have I mentioned, there’s a lot — a lot — of really notable things happening here?

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com.

Upstairs, Roof 106

Lined up behind a red velvet rope, eager eaters buzz in anticipation of a coveted seat at Roof 106, the casual sibling to chef Dustin Valette’s Matheson restaurant.

With down-to-earth prices and a first-come, first-served policy, the third-floor bar and lounge is a clubby cocktail-forward amuse-bouche to the tonier reservation-only restaurant and sushi bar (already booked through December) and private-mezzanine Matheson.

Suffice it to say that Roof 106 is your only hope of getting any kind of seating at The Matheson complex anytime soon, but it’s no consolation prize.

The indoor-outdoor Roof 106 is an intimate hive of activity centered around a glowing wood-fired oven and apiary-themed bar. Only accessible by walking through the downstairs restaurant and up a column of stairs (or going by elevator), it’s a cozy sanctuary overlooking the Healdsburg Plaza with just about 60 seats. As the weather cools, fire pits and heaters will provide warmth and a glass wall will close to keep the indoors cozy while allowing sunshine and fresh air on warmer winter days.

It feels good to sit at the casual wood-top tables, close enough to be convivial but well-spaced enough for comfort. Here, sharing plates and conversation is recommended, but not required, should you want to simply enjoy a cocktail at the bar or wine and dine yourself.

Do enjoy a cocktail or two, because the craft drinks here are well thought out and deliver a bang for the buck. The lunch menu centers around pizzas, piadines and salads, while the dinner menu adds some more sizable entrees.

Expect to see seasonal changes as produce and ingredients move through their annual cycles. Figs and Asian pears have replaced stone fruit and dishes like sweet corn. Heirloom tomato salad likely will make way for heartier winter greens.

Our only major gripe: You can only get sushi rolls and platters from Ken Tominaga’s sushi bar at the downstairs Matheson restaurant at dinner. Keep that in mind if you’re stopping by for lunch.

So grab a friend and a little patience and stand behind the velvet rope. The Matheson is an experience to be savored bite by bite, floor by floor, cocktail by cocktail and plate by plate, starting at Roof 106.

Best Bets

Chef Valette’s Cured Heritage Meats ($23): Charcuterie plates are rarely up to the hype, with sad, commercially made meats thrown haphazardly onto a plate. This is a rare exception, with whisper-thin slices of salty prosciutto and seasonal salumi from nearby Journeyman Meats. A quenelle of luxe chicken liver mousse, slivers of cheese, pickled vegetables and a cabernet mustard round out the plate, accented by olives, fried garlic and fresh flatbread.

Happy Spoon ($10), Hand Rolls ($6), Soma Platters ($45-$95): The open sushi kitchen on the first floor is a wonder to behold, conceptualized by sushi master Ken Tominaga (Hana Sushi in Rohnert Park) and executed by sushi chef Daisuke Soma. You can only get sushi, hand rolls and the stunning platters of sashimi and maki during the dinner hours at Roof 106. Tominaga’s signature Happy Spoon is a one-bite welcome, with the flavors of sea and land (oyster, salmon, uni, roe and tobiko with ponzu and creme fraiche). Casual spicy hand rolls with tuna, salmon or yellowtail are great starters. You won’t find fresh fish of this caliber at many other Sonoma County restaurants.

Rancho Gordo White Bean Hummus ($17): Pureed heirloom white beans make for a fluffy, creamy hummus. This bowl goes well beyond an appetizer, with a healthy portion of tart tzatziki sauce studded with cucumbers, pickled vegetables and sourdough flatbread. (Can be made vegan without tzatziki or gluten-free without the bread.)

House Cured Pork Belly Pizza, ($21): The 3,800-pound Mugnaini wood-fired oven is the beast that powers the Roof 106 kitchen. It also turns out perfectly blistered pizza crusts that hold the layers of flavor dreamed up by the culinary team (headed upstairs by chef Brian Best). A combination that works especially well has a base of roasted garlic creme fraiche and nutty Gruyere cheese; cubes of salty, crisp pork belly; and red onion. You really can’t miss, however, with any of the pizzas. We also loved the broccolini with charred onion, Calabrian chile, feta and preserved lemon with bitter, sour and creamy flavors in every bite. A fun side note: The dough includes a yeast from the historic “Williams Selyem strain” of pinot noir grapes.

Lime Posset ($7): Possets are so on trend right now, but this ancient recipe is really just a loose pudding. Flavored with zesty lime and topped with macerated fruit and rock candy, it’s a light and satisfying dessert.

106 Grand Bar ($13): Valette and pastry chef Skyler Spitz love a good twist on a classic candy bar. Their 106 Grand Bar is filled with caramel and chocolate mousse and coated with a thin chocolate shell and candied cocoa nibs. A pool of sweet-tart passion fruit caramel sauce takes this from grand to grandiose.

Modern Margarita ($13): A wonder of modern alchemy, this classic cocktail is crystal-clear, making for a sneaky drink. We also love the naughty Panda Punch, a dangerously chuggable iced drink with makrut (lime leaf)-infused vodka, watermelon, lime and pandan leaves giving a hint of grassy vanilla and coconut.

Heather Irwin is the Dining Editor for Sonoma Media Investments.

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