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Barndiva shifts to a take-out menu, including sandwiches and cocktails

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Barndiva

Where: 231 Center Street, Healdsburg

When: Noon to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday

Contact: 707-431-0100, or order online at barndiva.com

Cuisine: Contemporary American

Price: Moderate to very expensive, entrées $15-$42

Summary: The Barndiva team barely missed a beat switching from fine sit-down dining to fine takeout and delivery fare.

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For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Under normal circumstances at this time of year, as the busy season kicks in, Barndiva employs a staff of 44 members at its Healdsburg restaurant. These aren’t normal times, however. So for the past three weeks, operations have been limping along with just nine employees. As owners Geoff and Jil Hales try to keep their business afloat during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place regulations, they’ve turned to what many other Wine Country restaurants are doing: take-out and delivery.

With dine-in service forbidden by law during the virus outbreak, the only other option was to shut down the restaurant completely. Instead, on March 18, Barndiva unveiled its new, no-contact to-go program, managed by chef de cuisine Jordan Rosas and a small circle of sous chefs whose health is monitored daily.

“The decision to shift to a pickup and delivery operation was made by balancing our desire to keep ourselves and remaining employees working safely, while trying to honor our relationships with suppliers both in and just outside our immediate food shed,” Jil Hales said. “Because it isn’t just the fine dining and casual restaurants that are in peril right now. Anyone cooking in Sonoma County with passion depends to varying degrees upon this food shed. And every one of those suppliers is hurting right now.”

These days, Barndiva customers pull up curbside to grab a BD cheeseburger and fries ($18) or New York steak frites glistening with garlicky chimichurri ($42). It’s been a dramatic pivot for the upscale contemporary American restaurant, where chef Rosas typically sends out appetizers on the restaurant’s regular dining-in menu, like delicate salmon tartare arranged with herb oil, avocado, jicama, papadum chips and espelette ($19) and entrées such as Spanish octopus bathed in spicy harissa broth with rapini and chickpeas under a crown of pickled onions and toasted pecans ($28).

Barndiva had never done any significant amount of takeout before, Hales said. On top of that, the team has had to institute delivery, offering free service to Healdsburg, Windsor and Geyserville. Yet the transition has been successful, down to the staff, wearing disposable gloves, carefully tucking food into plant-based recyclable packaging.

The biggest challenge came when a key kitchen staff member had to step out almost immediately once the shelter-in-place order came into effect to care for his three small children at home. “We understood that,” Hales said. “Fortunately, our core staff is cross-trained and has great energy, so they are able to work multiple positions.”

Everyone is pitching in wherever needed, in fact, making this a rare time when a Barndiva meal can be hand-delivered to a diner’s home by general manager Lukka Feldman or cocktail manager Isabel Hales, the Hales’ daughter.

“We got things going surprisingly swiftly,” Hales said. “The most time was spent rethinking the menu with an eye on dishes that would be most missed by our regular patrons, and crucially, how does a great dish make the journey to arrive at the desired temperature and intact?”

To that end, much of the lunch and dinner menus focus on simpler fare, including a fried chicken sandwich with kosher pickles and kewpie mayo on a Downtown Bakery bun ($15) or a Jackson Family greens salad tossed with daily changing spring vegetables and yuzu vinaigrette packaged on the side ($12). Some longtime signatures appear, too, including an eight-piece serving of golden Laura Chenel chevre croquettes finished with lavender honey ($10) and a pulled chicken salad tossed with romaine, blue cheese, garlic croutons and Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette ($17).

Barndiva

Where: 231 Center Street, Healdsburg

When: Noon to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday

Contact: 707-431-0100, or order online at barndiva.com

Cuisine: Contemporary American

Price: Moderate to very expensive, entrées $15-$42

Summary: The Barndiva team barely missed a beat switching from fine sit-down dining to fine takeout and delivery fare.

-----

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

The fanciest dish on a recent to-go menu was handmade lumache Bolognese, a lacy, snail shell-shaped pasta draped with chunky sugo and finely shredded grana padano ($22). Just like the restaurant, though, dishes will be updated and might become more upscale as take-out dining becomes more celebratory, not just simple sustenance.

“The ease of getting to-go food usually is the great part of its appeal, but where once we chose it because we didn’t want to go out, we’re suddenly ordering it because we’re being forced to stay in,” Hales said. “What a transition.”

As we sequester, we can still celebrate the luxury of having someone else prepare a special meal for us.

“The temptation might be to eat swiftly, probably in front of a screen, but dining is a great moment to take a break from all that, which we all need right now,” Hales said. “Set a table, with a view outside if you have one and open a bottle of wine. We’re even happy to send a floral arrangement down from our acres of fresh flowers at our farm in Philo. We sure would love to see them not go to waste, and we can’t stop celebrating milestones, celebrating life.”

This isn’t bargain dining, certainly. On the to-go menu, whole roasted chicken garnished with fried herbs runs $38, with salt baked potatoes and garlic aioli dip at $9, plus roasted asparagus dressed with shaved grana padano and lemon for $12 and dessert of a Valrhona chocolate brownie for $5.

The portions are generous, however, and much of the food stands up well to reheating. I made two meals of my above order, for a final tally of $32 per each of my dinners.

And for another order, picking up a container of pasta, it did feel like special occasion food, eaten on nice china at my dining room table alongside a roasted beet salad prettily arranged in a colorful fan pattern with creamy ricotta, citrus, chicories, hazelnuts and a drizzle of sweet-tart sherry vinaigrette ($14).

As quickly as the new service rolled out, Barndiva already has been welcoming a good amount of repeat customers, split pretty evenly between carryout and delivery (and with nearly every customer tipping generously, Hales noted). In the first two weeks of the new program, best-sellers included the burger (delicious, by the way, juicy and smothered in melted cheddar, caramelized onions, homemade pickles and lettuce on a brioche bun), the roast chicken and a hoe cake of polenta cake drizzled in maple butter ($9).

Amping up the experience, customers are ordering adult beverages along with their meals. On March 19, California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control changed its rules, making it far easier for restaurants to sell beer, wine and premixed cocktails for pickup or delivery throughout the state. Indeed, I felt very civilized sipping a 6-ounce vodka gimlet with my pasta, savoring the Young & Yonder six-times-distilled Armont vodka, fresh lime, lavender syrup and tonic ($10) that I poured from my takeout cup into a martini glass.

Hales thinks takeout business might even improve the longer the shelter-in-place requirement goes on.

“It’s still early days for everyone in town,” she said. “People have probably stocked their fridges and freezers. But that will change (as people consume their groceries), and to-go means you can skip at least one trip to the market.”

As more fine dining restaurants enter the takeout arena — think Valette, Mateo’s Cocina Latina, Chalkboard and even Single Thread jumping in with limited amounts of packaged family-style meals — grabbing a great meal to-go will feel more like part of daily life, with all eateries benefiting.

“Here in Healdsburg, it’s a unique case of wanting to support all our competitors right now. We don’t want anyone to fail,” Hales said. “The restaurant culture is vital to the town’s identity, which is true across Sonoma County, an area known for great and varied food opportunities. The longer sequestration goes on, the more people will try different restaurant menus, and there should be more than enough to go around.”‘

While Feldman and Hales want to return to the familiar groove of dine-in service as soon as possible, they’re keeping their expectations realistic and hoping for the best.

“Right now, we’re all clear that the stakes are higher in our industry,” Hales said. “To-go must cover the staff who have remained on the payroll and keep the wheels turning until we can reopen.”

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.

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