Written and photographed by Heather Irwin for BiteClubEats.
In Sonoma County, “outing” visiting celebrities is generally frowned upon. But I’m fairly sure that actress Christina Applegate dined at this Healdsburg newcomer, Persimmon On the Square, after walking by and seeing me take taking pictures/scarfing down plates of Sichuan mapo tofu, seven spice brisket, duck bao and dulce de leche waffles.
Or at least that’s what I’m telling Chef Danny Mai, who opened the restaurant in late January 2016.
But it doesn’t take a lot of persuading to appreciate Mai’s Wine Country approach to Asian-fusion cuisine. The Vietnamese-born chef marries classical French techniques, Sonoma County ingredients, a broad interpretation of Thai/Vietnamese/Chinese cuisines and just a soupçon of Mexican for something entirely his own. From pho and ramen to banh mi and shrimp dumplings, this is approachable-yet-upscale dining that works perfectly in Healdsburg.
Best bets include:
Northern China Green Onion Pancakes ($11): Mai tells us that this was, by far, the most difficult dish on his menu to get just right. After many iterations, the pancake became a thin, crisp wafer broken into four pieces, interspersed with minced pork in spicy XO seafood sauce, maitake mushrooms and green onions.
Peking Duck Bao ($14): Steamed buns hug shredded duck with hoisin gastrique (we told you there was some French technique), chiles, cilantro and cucumber.
Banh Mi Du Jour ($14): Only served until 2 p.m., these Vietnamese-style sandwiches come with a new filling each day. Ours was curried shrimp, and it makes for a satisfying lunch, served with a bowl of consomme.
Bird in a Nest Warm Frise Salad ($14): Make sure to try this one, because it’s our favorite. Bitter frise and a small forest of enoki mushrooms get a warm dousing of vinaigrette and lardons (basically thick little pieces of bacon) rendered in sake. A perfectly poached egg perches on top, slathering the whole shebang with creamy yolk.
Ginger Chicken Porridge ($20): We were really hoping for a comforting bowl of congee and chicken, which is a hangover/cold staple in Asia. Instead, Mai riffs on the dish with risotto, bok choy, juicy poached chicken and ginger sauce. It won’t light your night on fire, but it’s a gentle, sophisticated entrée for less adventurous eaters.
Seven Spice Brisket ($23): Traditional Chinese five-spice (anise, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fennel) goes two better to flavor this fall-apart brisket served with a potato-wasabi croquette.
Tres Leche Waffle ($7): Here’s where the influence of co-owner Octavio Diaz (Agave, Casa del Mole) and Mai’s work in Diaz’ Mexican restaurants come into play. Soft Belgian waffles with persimmon brulee, creme fraiche and candied pistachios. Over the top? Absolutely. But that’s why celebrities (and the rest of us) love Persimmon.
Persimmon On the Square Restaurant, 335 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 395-0318, persimmonhealdsburg.com.