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Healdsburg Restaurant Offers Immersive Winter Fantasy Dining Experience

The wild and mystical winter forests of northern Japan are coming to Sonoma County this holiday season.

The wild and mystical winter forests of northern Japan are coming to Healdsburg this holiday season.

“Usu-Zan” at the upscale Single Thread restaurant will be a five-nights-per-week immersive outdoor dining experience inspired by the food and wild spaces of Hokkaido, a far-flung island prefecture of Japan. The event is a collaboration between Chef Kyle Connaughton and Katina Connaughton of Single Thread and interior designer Ken Fulk.

Tasked with creating a misty forest that marries the tranquility of an old-growth forest with the energy of a Japanese countryside restaurant, the team plans for river rock-lined pathways and fountains leading to a verdant open-air tent filled with Japanese cypress trees. Guests are invited to journey through gates, past an altar and over a footbridge on their way to their tables. Shoji screens and tatami mats offer a warm stage for rustic tables, while softly lit lanterns made from rice paper are suspended overhead.

“We wanted to create an imaginary Hokkaido forest providing a cinematic backdrop for an otherworldly meal,” Fulk said. “Rather than be limited by the current dining constraints, we saw (this) as an opportunity to craft spaces that reveal themselves and recapture that childlike sense of wonder in all of us.”

Expect an over-the-top luxury environment that showcases Fulk’s unique ability to join story, art and design in a space. He is also working on the reopening of the former SHED space in Healdsburg as Little Saint.

The food, of course, will be up to the standards of the three Michelin stars that Single Thread has been awarded. But it is also a very personal homage for the Connaughtons, who credit their time living in Hokkaido and learning the cuisine, culture and artisan lifestyle of the region as the inspiration for Single Thread.

The opening nine-course menu is focused on seasonal winter ingredients — seafood from the cold waters of Hokkaido; local Wagyu beef prized for its tenderness; uni and scallops; konbu (kelp) and Single Thread Farm’s onions, turnips, chrysanthemum greens, daikon and eggs. The highlight of the meal will be family-style donabe hot pots that include Hokkaido Seafood and Miso Nabe; Roasted Duclair Duck Nabe and Vegetable, Mushroom and Tofu Nabe, along with A-5 Wagyu beef Shabu Shabu. DuMOL wines will be offered as a special pairing with the donabe course.

“In Hokkaido, all of our friendships were forged over a simmering hot pot of rich miso broth with local seafood and vegetables” Kyle Connaughton said. “We’d sit for hours fortifying the broth, sharing sake and talking. It was a way of cooking and a way of life that changed us forever. We are excited to bring this to a new dining experience for our guests, when everyone can use fun, excitement, nourishment and comfort.”

In a moment when fairy tales and far-off worlds sound pretty good, Usu-Zan fulfills that fantasy, according to Fulk.

“We all need a little escapism now and then, perhaps now more than ever,” Fulk said. “The dining experience at Single Thread is so exquisite that Usu-Zan needed to be equally magical but also whimsical and transportive. It feels like you stepped into a Japanese fairy tale.”

Usu-Zan will take place Dec. 10 to March 28, with seating from 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Dinner bookings are $375 per guest with a transferable, nonrefundable $100 deposit required at the time of booking. A special “experience within an experience” will be offered for parties of four with King Crab from the Okhotsk Sea, roasted crab broth and other crab goodies along with Connaughton’s book, “Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking,” for $475 per person. Details are at singlethreadfarms.com/blog/usuzan.

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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