This article appears in the May 31 issue of Wine Spectator.
SingleThread Farms is a natural for Sonoma County. This California wine region was among the first hotbeds of the farm-to-table movement, and the duo behind SingleThread—Kyle and Katina Connaughton—honor that tradition while layering in Japanese influences to create a unique and ambitious new restaurant.
SingleThread was two years in the making when the Connaughtons perfected their very personal vision of a restaurant, farm and inn. Using his experience with A-list chefs outside London and in Los Angeles, as well as at French chef Michel Bras' outpost in Japan, Kyle developed recipes in a research kitchen while Katina tended the farm in Alexander Valley.
The result is a destination that elevates farm-to-table cuisine to an almost immersive level. Each of the tasting menu's 11 courses is meticulously composed, and the kitchen finds innovative ways to highlight the purity and freshness of flavors.
While the menu takes influences from around the world, Japanese flavors dominate. Ingredients like dashi and ponzu frequently play roles. Another Japanese touch is the handmade donabe and other ceramic vessels used extensively in the kitchen and during service.
The dining room's interior is inspired by a traditional Japanese style of inn called a ryokan. Decorated with dark wood and tile, it sets a handsome, luxurious and soothing tone. Each evening, tall doors slide back to expose the open kitchen, allowing guests to watch and even interact with the cooks.
Dinner opens with an eclectic collection of small bites displayed on a gnarled tree plank decorated with greenery. A farm egg with smoked sabayon and mushrooms duxelles is a delicately rich creation served in the shell. Other opening treats include Dungeness crab with ponzu and raw Miyagi oysters.
Smoky sunchoke, with preserved lemon, crisp Mangalitsa pork jowl and shaved pine nuts, offers a burst of divergent flavors and textures that somehow works brilliantly. Kyle keeps it simple with a filet of lamb from Preston Farm & Winery in Dry Creek Valley, roasted on the hearth and served tender, with carrot, dried apricot and scarlet turnips.
Service is impeccable but down-to-earth. David Sisler, former general manager at Saison in San Francisco, runs the front of the house. Head sommelier Evan Hufford worked at Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Michael Mina in San Francisco and Grand Award winners Joël Robuchon and Saison.
Hufford's wine list has more than 900 selections, and while there is a commitment to Northern California wines, particularly Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, it's anything but parochial, with strong offerings of white and red Burgundy and crisp whites from Germany, Alsace and more. For such a young cellar, there is a promising collection of California verticals. There are more than 100 Ridge Zinfandels, with the oldest, the Ridge Alegria ATP 1991, selling for $235, as well as 70 Williams Selyem single-vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings, including a Hirsch Vineyard 1998 at $360.
Hufford is perceptive in the wines he selects. Bernhard Ott Grüner Veltliner Stein Wagram 2013 was ideal with the sunchoke, while the Baxter Chardonnay Oppenlander Mendocino 2014 blossomed alongside black cod with maitake mushrooms and chamomile dashi.
To be sure, there is a preciousness to SingleThread that may not suit every taste. Dinner is something of a mystery, since guests do not see a menu until after the meal, and it is presented rather like a keepsake. Before the meat course, a server arrives with a wooden box holding steak knives crafted from the recycled steel of a 1968 Volkswagen. And some may lack the patience for a three- or four-hour meal.
Guests wanting the inn's complete experience can elect to stay in one of SingleThread's five rooms on the second floor. The decor reflects a mood similar to that of the dining room, with wood floors, beamed ceilings and chic, contemporary furnishings.
When weather cooperates, guests begin the evening in the rooftop garden on the third floor, with views of Russian River and Dry Creek valleys from SingleThread's location just off Healdsburg Plaza. Katina grows herbs and edible flowers on the roof. The farm is a few miles away, a 5-acre spread in the lowlands of Pete Seghesio's San Lorenzo Vineyard that provides vegetables, fruit, eggs, honey and olive oil to the restaurant.
SingleThread Farm, Restaurant and Inn
131 North St., Healdsburg, Calif.
Telephone: (707) 723-4646