Chalkboard Bistro Healdsburg

New Healdsburg small plates bistro replaces Michelin-starred Cyrus. Change is good, maybe great.

Sea Scallops with uni sauce at Chalkboard in Healdsburg
Sea Scallops with uni sauce at Chalkboard in Healdsburg

English Pea Soup at Chalkboard Bistro in Healdsburg ©heather irwin
English Pea Soup at Chalkboard Bistro in Healdsburg ©heather irwin

Over the next few months, the inevitable comparisons between Cyrus and the space’s new iteration, Chalkboard, will appear in endless food blogs, Yelp reviews, and “critical reviews” of the new Les Mars/Bill Foley restaurant. As devotees of the much-lamented Michelin-starred restaurant, we can’t help ourselves.

Ignore the blather and simply head north. Change is good, and here it’s also visually and culinarily stunning.

Sure, the ghost of Cyrus hangs heavy, as do the devotions of its diners. Chef Doug Keane’s kitchen sanctuary has been thrown open in a striking visual leveling of kitchen and dining room. A wide communal table commands the center of the space. White tablecloths have been banished. The caviar cart was literally kicked to the curb (snatched up by a former employee, we hear).

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But this ain’t Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly’s first rodeo. The small plates menu is exceptional. A mix of high- and lowbrow dishes, it includes a “snack” of warm, housemade soft pretzels with Mornay sauce, stone-ground mustard, and tomato chutney ($6). Buttermilk biscuits with maple-glazed pork belly, pickled onions, and chipotle mayo ($8) are finally given the proper execution I’ve sought for so long. Kampachi crudo with grapefruit, avocado purée, and slices of jalapeño ($12) are small summer jewels. A tiny shot of chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab ($3) is like sipping spring. I got misty over a deconstructed dish of fresh radishes with butter and rye crumbs and pickled carrots.

Dishes get more substantial as you move down the menu. Roasted baby carrots with caraway yogurt and sesame seed brittle ($6); a hearty pasta with duck confit and mascarpone ($12); and seared scallops with risotto cake, uni sauce, and grapefruit was so good we ordered it twice ($16)–and then fought over the second order.

Meatier fare includes a delicate buttermilk fried quail with fava beans, nasturtium, and fennel salad ($15), and the entrée of the evening, crispy pork belly with triangles of fried grits, a poached egg, melted leeks, and sweet pepper purée ($12). Baskets of produce procured from restaurant owner Bill Foley’s Chalk Hill Farms makes each dish all the better.

Pastry chef Bill Woodward showers each of his desserts with sweet surprises: a donut semifreddo (frozen creaminess) with white coffee foam and mocha-glazed donut holes ($8); a towering multilayer brownie with caramel and ganache flanked by milk chocolate that’s been cooked sous vide ($8). Hold out for the warm vanilla bean cake with strawberries and crème fraîche sherbet baked to order ($8).

The bar still serves up creative libations along with regional beers. The wine list features (not surprisingly) many of Foley’s bottles along with other local superstars as well as some well-crafted white and red flights (all less than $20).

Le roi est morte, vive le roi.

Chalkboard Bistro, 29 North St. at Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030.