The story: Chalkboard is a casual, wine country-inspired restaurant in the old Cyrus space inside the Les Mars Hotel in downtown Healdsburg. Opened less than two years, the food is spearheaded by Executive Chef Shane McAnelly, who worked at Va de Vi in Walnut Creek and was on the opening team of Zero Zero in San Francisco.
Why I went: My friends and I have been exploring Sonoma wine country a bit lately and a couple of weeks ago we spent the morning at a winery and then decided to get lunch in nearby Healdsburg, which is getting more and more popular as the weekend crowd demonstrated when we arrived at Chalkboard for lunch.
The vibe: Bustling and loud, Chalkboard has an elegant yet casual vibe. We ate outside in the one table with seats in the patio. The other seating in the outdoor area were mostly lounges with fire pits, hoping to attract the younger crowds in the evenings, I imagine.
The menu: A creative menu from Chef McAnelly features fresh ingredients, pasta and entrees. He’s picked up on many popular items found at many Bay Area restaurants, such as Brussels sprouts, bone marrow, and fusion tacos. While our server said the small plates were made for sharing, it’s hard to imagine how you could share the plates with the small portions. Our group of five ended up ordering our own dishes, and the food came out haphazardly without being coursed.
The booze: Being in wine country, the restaurant has an extensive wine list, with wines from California and around the world, along with a specialty cocktail menu. We ended up ordering a bottle of Cab Franc from France because my friend Jason is a big francophile.
My favorite dish: I love raw fish, so I enjoyed McAnelly’s version of hamachi crudo ($17), with added green apple julienne strips, fennel for crunch, daikon, and lemon puree. The dish was beautifully plated and balanced in flavor, with thick slices of the hamachi. My friends Craig and Jason really enjoyed their starter of a shot of butternut squash soup ($3 each shot) with coconut milk foam and red japapeno for a kick.
Insider tip: There’s a big communal table in the center of the dining room that can also make a great gathering place for a party of 10.
The last bite: While not every dish is successful (such as the parsley crusted bone marrow Jason tried and thought was just OK), there are innovative combinations and blending in the execution. And while the restaurant is considered casual, the plating and quality makes it quite a sophisticated stop in wine country.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Chalkboard, 29 North St., Healdsburg, Calif. PH: 707.473.8030. Open dinner daily from 5 p.m., weekend lunch from 11:30 a.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. chalkboardhealdsburg.com
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