SingleThread, an inn, farm and restaurant in Healdsburg, California, opened at the very end of 2016. I visited the restaurant four months after opening, and I have never had a more perfectly curated restaurant experience. I was in Napa for the Culinary Institute of America's annual World of Flavor conference (very likely the best food conference each year), and was lucky enough to secure a reservation.
When I walked in, I was greeted by name and was invited to take a look into the kitchen before heading up to the roof for a drink. Chef Kyle Connaughton came over to the window to say hi and asked me how the conference was going. I asked him how he knew I was at the conference and he said, 'We know things." We both laughed and chatted about the conference. A lot of restaurants claim to do their homework on their guests, but SingleThread really does.
The next stop in the flawlessly curated evening was the roof top patio. I was greeted with a drink of purple sweet potato bush and oroblanco. It was tart and refreshing. It was a perfectly clear, blue, and warm Sonoma county day. After a few minutes, one of the servers brought over some snacks nestled amongst a plate of foliage. The four bites prepared me for the visual perfection, immensely fresh vegetables, and creativity of the meal to come. It was clear that the SingleThread farm was providing gorgeous produce for the restaurant.
I was escorted into a stunning dining room where many of the tables faced the kitchen. The far wall of the kitchen is shelf after shelf of Japanese donabe cooking vessels, simple yet elegant. The table was already set with a bounty of foliage and hidden bites. My favorite items in this first barrage of delightful bites were malted potato with caramelized onions and turbot, creamy egg with caviar and spinach purée, and tuna loin cured with seaweed and flavored with with house-aged ponzu, and scallop crudo with shiso vinaigrette.
Every one of the ten courses that came out after the initial offering were surprising in different ways. The trout cooked in a donabe was one of my favorites. It was served over a vinaigrette made with shio koji and topped with trout roe. Koji is the fungus used to make soy sauce, miso and sake, and shio koji is a salted liquid that is used as a marinade and sauce which contains enzymes that help break down proteins which releases free glutamate, the main source of umami. The trout itself was cooked flawlessly. It had the perfect doneness of fish cooked sous vide, but with a firm texture and a very slight smoky flavor. It was perfect, and nothing I've ever seen before. It was paired with a yellow tumeric and grenadine cocktail with smoked sea salt, which was a superb pairing. Another of my favorite dishes was foie gras with turnips, spinach and tomato tea made from dehydrated tomatoes from their farm. I have never had foie gras with turnips before, but I do hope to again.
I was driving back to St. Helena after dinner, so I opted for the non-alcoholic pairing. Non-alcoholic pairings are definitely a test of how seriously a restaurant takes its bar program. At Noma, their juice pairing was fascinating, full of non-alcoholic fermented vegetable and fruit juices. At Coi, the tea pairing was a first of its kind and I learned a lot that night. SingleThread was by far the best non-alcoholic pairing I've ever had. It is head and shoulders above any other in my experience. Every drink was unique, superbly paired, something I had never come across before, delicious, and in the most beautiful glassware from Japan. The glass maker is Kimura in Japan.
As you can see, I was inordinately impressed by SingleThread. Some people may find the heavily Japanese inflected food a bit light or subtle, and I do think there is room to continue to improve the food. But let me be clear, that would mean taking a few things from very good to great, or great to amazing, as everything was at least very good. Considering that the restaurant has only been open for four months, they have achieved the nearly impossible. I predict that they will have 3 Michelin stars when the San Francisco Bay Area guide comes out in October. In all of my travels and all of my restaurant visits, I have never had such a perfectly choreographed evening.