It’s been a while since we’ve has seen Top Chef Master’s winner Douglas Keane in a restaurant kitchen. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been hard at work behind a stove.
After the closure of his Michelin-starred restaurant and a brief chicken wing adventure at Graton Casino, he put all of his eggs into a new basket: Two Birds/One Stone in St. Helena. The casual Japanese-inspired pub recently opened in the luxuriously remodeled Freemark Abby, giving Keane and his co-collaborator Sang Yoon (LA’s Father’s Office, Lukshon) a playground to showcase California-style izakaya (basically pub grub to pair with sake, wine or beer).
Like the boisterous but culinarily disciplined Keane, Two Birds/One Stone is a wonderful tangle of contradictions: Flip-flop casual with white napkin service; a menu where creamed corn and soft-serve ice cream happily co-exist with cherry blossom gelee and Wagyu beef short ribs.
Two Birds/One Stone isn’t sushi rolls and tempura. Keane is a devotee of Japanese cuisine and culinary arts having studied things like dashi (fish and seaweed broth), tofu-making and tweezer-perfect presentation over decades. If you’re not a regular at Japanese restaurants, it’s easy to find some of the flavors are very unfamiliar — briny sea vegetables, miso, spicy ginger, yuzu (a Japanese citrus somewhere between a lemon and an orange), sesame and rice wine. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get adventurous. Prices for the small plates range from $4 to $14 (okay, the Wagyu is $17), so it’s worth a little experimentation.
Host Nick Peyton is a familiar face in the dining room, moving from table to table with charm. “We really learned how to make chicken wings,” he jokes about the brief casino experience. An eclectic wine list from Master Somm Kevin Reilly includes on-tap wines made by top name vintners exclusively for the restaurant, along with sake and a craft cocktail program that compliments the Japanese cuisine. Corkage on one bottle of Napa or Sonoma wine is free.
What to eat
If, like me, you’ve been a fan of Keane through the years, you’ll see some familiar old favorites like his wonton ‘chips n dip ($5) from Healdsburg’s former Shiso Modern Steak House; crispy chicken wings with chili-yuzu glaze ($9) from the short-lived eatery at the Graton Casino, or the precious silken tofu ($10) with chilled shiitake broth, sea grapes, and salmon pearls ($10) very reminiscent of Cyrus.
If we were to pick two can’t-miss dishes, the first would be duck egg custard with fresh uni, crab and lemon verbena ($14) that’s as comforting as pudding, but with a savory, ocean-y flavor unique to Asian cuisine. The other is the creamed sweet corn ($6), a humble dish that reaches epic deliciousness with white miso, lots of pickled ginger and cilantro.
Foie Gras Parfait ($12): Foie gras mousse, cherry gelee and popped sorghum that’s almost too decadent to eat. Almost.
Silken tofu ($10): This is a chilled dish, with flavorful and earthy shiitake mushroom broth poured tableside. Sea meets terra firma with this luxurious dish that could easily come from the Cyrus menu.
Savory Japanese Pancake ($14): You won’t be able to eat this delicious frisbee of a dish, but it’s a whole lot of fun trying. Made with green onion, duck ham, eggs, and a topping of bonito flakes (dried shrimp), it’s even better the next day. Keane says this dish is definitely a creation of Yoon, and Doug insisted it be on the menu.
Tucker’s Daily Harvest ($13): Fresh baby produce is skewered and placed atop edamame puree and aerated tofu (really a sort of tofu sauce). The restaurant has a special relationship with Jackson Family Wines, who own the property, and along with that comes a bounty of produce from Kendall-Jackson’s resident farmer, Tucker Taylor.
Yakitori: These little sticks of meat are seminal to the izakaya experience. We tried the pork belly with spicy yuzu and kimchee ($11); Jim’s duck breast with figs and spicy tamarind ($13) and wagyu short rib ($17), which were all tender, juicy and lush.
Matcha soft serve ($7): Japanese seem to love ice cream, but here it’s infused with green tea. More exotic is the “peaches and cream” ($4), liquid nitrogen “dots” that melt on the tongue.
Cocktails: Don’t miss the insane selection of Japanese and American whiskeys, the impressive wine list (this is Wine Country, after all), five spice mai tai or whiskey sour with yuzu honey and lemon.
It’s great to see Sonoma County’s truest celebrity chef back in the kitchen, creating Japanese-California cuisine that only Doug Keane can do. Even if it is in Napa.
Two Birds One Stone, 3020 St. Helena Hwy. North, St. Helena, 302-3777, twobirdsonestonenapa.com.