BiteClub, Celebrity Chefs, Healdsburg, Luxury, Wine Country

Valette | Healdsburg

Valette in Healdsburg is on the A-list when it comes to haute dining in a friendly atmosphere in Wine Country.

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Chef Dustin Valette is in the weeds.

His namesake restaurant, Valette, has been open just nine weeks, but on a Saturday night in bustling Healdsburg, every table is full and the orders are coming fast and furious. From the open kitchen, he calls out shorthand “fire” instructions to his sous chef, and meat starts hitting the griddle. The whole time, he’s grinning from ear to ear, because for once this is his kitchen, his food and his restaurant.

“It’s been like this every night,” he said from behind the open kitchen pass-through, with a bewildered look. In the controlled chaos of the restaurant, the former Zin Restaurant, reborn, is a who’s-who of Wine Country gentry.

Wakame and ahi tuna at Valette in Healdsburg, CA
Wakame and ahi tuna at Valette in Healdsburg, CA

“Up ‘til now, Healdsburg’s been an ‘A’ location with a lot of ‘B’ restaurants,”  said one well-known winemaker, digging into dessert.  “But if you attribute that to me, I’ll have to kill you.”

This is a small town, after all.

In late 2014, Valette left his position as executive chef of Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen to begin full-time work on the Center Street space. But the inspiration for the restaurant goes back 75 years to when Valette’s grandfather, Honore, owned the building.

Fish at Valette in Healdsburg, CA
Fish at Valette in Healdsburg, CA

“We spent some serious time thinking about what to call our new little ‘baby’ and we couldn’t get away from Valette,” he said. “It pays homage to our family’s history with the building.”

His brother, Aaron Garzini, is co-owner and runs the front of the house. Brother Les Garzini built the charcuterie box, and Valette’s dad, Bob, plays unofficial host from the bar, flitting from table to table.

The interior is minimalist, with the focus on hand-hewn furniture made from a 750-year-old redwood stump and a pop of fire-engine red from a vintage Berkel meat slicer given as a gift from one of his culinary admirers for his housemade charcuterie.

Ahi Nicoise at Valette in Healdsburg
Ahi Nicoise at Valette in Healdsburg

That leaves plenty of breathing room for the dishes, which have more unexpected twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Get ready for some pretty involved descriptions of what you’re eating. One feels a little sorry for the wait staff who have to remember things like the deconstructed Nicoise salad of ahi tuna, olives, cucumber, chive, 64-degree egg and olive oil “snow.”

But the idea is that every sense should be stimulated before the food actually gets to your mouth. Verbal descriptions fire the imagination (“What in the world is olive oil snow and how will that taste?”). An artistic combination of colors, spacing and texture visually stuns. Wafts of ocean, olive and cucumber tease the nose. The pudding-like egg begs for a touch. And finally it all goes into the mouth as the culmination and, if you’re lucky, chewing becomes an out-of-body experience. Seriously.

Semolina pasta with prosciutto at Valette in Healdsburg, CA
Semolina pasta with prosciutto at Valette in Healdsburg, CA

Here’s a tip: Immerse yourself in the chef’s “Trust Me” tasting menu, which is a guided tour through four (or more) dishes on the menu. At $15 per course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

Also on the menu (prices are a la carte):

Day Boat Scallops en Croute: A signature dish, this is a visual stunner. Puffed pastry topped with squid ink, hiding a giant scallop in creamy champagne beurre blanc with Pernod and shaved fennel ($17).

Foie gras at Valette in Healdsburg
Foie gras at Valette in Healdsburg

House-made semolina pasta with walnut pesto, English peas, arugula and prosciutto ($12) is the essence of spring.

Foie Gras Two Ways (tasting menu only): Welcome back, foie. A seared lobe of foie gras, and terrine atop kiwi, kumquat and almonds with grilled brioche ($15).

Crispy Skin Bass with saffron risotto pave, charred octopus and roasted pepper sofrito ($28).

Seared Kobe beef with foie gras butter (tasting menu only): So rich it seems almost sinful. Almost. ($15)

Lamb sausage at Valette, Healdsburg California
Lamb sausage at Valette, Healdsburg California

Charcoal roasted potatoes — so dark black that they look like mussel shells (is that a hint of squid ink?) with a smoky quality that’s either reminiscent of a campfire or an ashtray, depending on your outlook. ($7)

Brown butter ice cream, rhubarb and brioche, and the Mignardise (petit fours). Prices vary.

Chef Dustin Valette at Valette, Healdsburg, CA
Chef Dustin Valette at Valette, Healdsburg, CA

There’s a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars for a meal — to delight every sense, one at a time. Showcasing the best local products, well-studied technique and creative execution from pan to plate, Valette delivers on that promise.

Chocolate mousse at at Valette, Healdsburg, CA
Chocolate mousse at Valette, Healdsburg, CA

Valette Restaurant, 344 Center St., Healdsburg, (707) 473-0946, valettehealdsburg.com

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Comments

8 thoughts on “Valette | Healdsburg

  1. I’ve been to Valette for lunch and dinner. The food was great, service even better. Tried the “Trust Me” and was fully satisfied. Great addition to the Healdsburg restaurant scene. Congrats Dustin and team!

  2. i think it depends what you order. I don’t think you’re gonna be starving after eating a piece of kobe beef with foie gras butter. Its not a matter of size, but of richness. If you’re looking for a steak as big as your head, then this might not be the place for you. But i definitely didn’t walk out hungry — nor did my BF — who is a meat and potatoes man.

  3. Everything looks pretty tasty, however to ask an age old question, after having spent much cash – will the patron leave and not feel like they’ll need to eat a couple hours later in an attempt to fight off hunger? I think many can respect the artistry of food but it’s nice to feel a sense that you won’t be hungry later once you’ve spent a small fortune. Then again the assumption could be made those who can frequent a place like this have a small fortune, but if they don’t what a treat it might just be for the regular Joe’s and Jane’s.

  4. Meat schmeat… does the portion fit the bill? That’s the question!
    Flavor trumps the schadenfreude those of us in the culinary world (those who know the taste of sweat) garner from the vegan wince. O’ blessed disdain.
    Though I holy detest the haute; artistry is never more present than in the corners of your drooling yaps. If the food is commensurate with the price tag, give the props.
    Don’t like what Vallette mongers, go bark up a more huggable tree.

  5. So 1990’s! Who cares about another chef glorifying food as art for $40 a plate. Check out places like Peter Lowells in Sebastopol if you want to see a restaurant that gets it right.

  6. Yes, the beauty of living in the US, freedom of choice to patronize who suits your individual style, needs, likes and dislikes. My guess is he does not need to cater to the trendy vegan group who make more noise than their actual population warrants. Embrace diversity; difference is the essence of living. I can’t wait to come and try something new.

  7. Yes it does look wonderful. The chef is cooking to his strengths, if that doesn’t satisfy vegans or non meat eaters they can go somewhere else. Every restaurant does not have to satisfy everybody.

  8. Looks wonderful, but a glance at the menu says this is another chef with limited understanding of or respect for those of us who do not eat meat.

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