Chef Kyle Connaughton, who contributed to the tome Modernist Cuisine and has trained and worked with two of the food world's biggest names, Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, is along with his wife Katina about to open one of the most high-profile new fine dining venues the Bay Area has seen in several years. It's called Single Thread, and will have its own attached inn as well as its own Sonoma County farm, and it's headed to downtown Healdsburg in August.
Calling Connaughton the "best chef you've never heard of," Eater National back in November made the bold assertion that Single Thread would be "The Biggest Opening of 2016." That may in fact prove true, and details about the restaurant's design, concept, and Connaughton's resume all suggest that this could indeed join the ranks of Benu, Saison, and even Meadowood when it comes to luxury, experimentation, and a unique tasting-menu experience not to mention this marks a welcome return to fine fining for Healdsburg, which lost its once Michelin-two-starred spot Cyrus several years back due to a landlord dispute.
The Wall Street Journal picks up the thread on Single Thread today with a buzzy preview, and explains that Kyle and Katina were high school sweethearts who have now been together for 24 years (they are 40 and 39 respectively), and that Kyle became obsessed with Japan starting at an early age, hearing about his father's business trips there and eating sushi in LA. As a chef, he would get early training in the kitchens at Spago Beverly Hills and Suzanne Goin's Lucques, but quickly his ambitions led him out of California.
He translated his love of Japan into a gig working for Michel Bras on a restaurant he was opening in Hokkaido over a decade ago, and he left there to head up Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, where he spent five years. In 2011 he and Katina returned to California where he's been doing freelance curriculum development and chef work, working for The Culinary Institute of America and serving as a consultant to Sprig. But for the last year and a half the two have been at work on Single Thread, having inked a deal in January 2015 for the Healdsburg building, owned by the Seghesio family, and overlooking a nearby vineyard, as the Chronicle reported.
The menu will be based on the Japanese tasting-menu tradition of kaiseki, and Connaughton tells the Journal, "The foundation of kaiseki is that the menu is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow. [It focuses] on that day, that moment in nature. We use that structure and philosophy as applied to Sonoma."
To that end, Katina Connaughton will farm using a Japanese almanac calendar of 72 micro growing seasons through the year, utilizing a rooftop garden with fruit trees, herbs, micro greens, as well as a a five-acre farm parcel at the nearby San Lorenzo Vineyard.
The food will no doubt employ some more molecular gastronomy technique than most other Bay Area restaurants, just given Connaughton's training, and the cuisine will be of the multi-cultural fusion by-way-of-California variety that has distinguished places like Meadowood (and The Progress, and many others). Certainly the influence of Japan, though, will be felt throughout the meal. See a photo of some of Single Thread's dishes here.
In addition to the option of being able to stay on site in one of five guest rooms, with the inn inspired by the wholistic Japanese hospitality tradition of omotenashi (check out one of the guest rooms here), the restaurant experience itself promises to be unique and relaxed in the wine-country tradition like the French Laundry but with an open kitchen and a concrete wine fermentation tank at its center.
Per the earlier Eater piece (back when they hoped to be open by mid-winter):
Checking in with the host, you can see through a window into the kitchen right in front of you, and on your left, an atrium with herbs, flowers, and citrus trees. But instead of heading into the dining room, you’re diverted into an elevator and brought up to the roof. Among greenhouses and planters, drink in hand, you’re invited to decompress before settling into a lengthy dinner. Over a conversation about your dining preferences, you learn there's a Japanese word for the sense of warmth you've been experiencing: omotenashi. The sun sets over vineyards.
Katina tells the Journal, "We want the restaurant to be an extension of our home, an extension of us. We really want that to shine through."
As for the name, Kyle earlier told the Chron, "We are combining that omotenashi hospitality with the agriculture and the food. We kept talking about how there’s one single thread that runs through all those things, almost stitching together someone’s experience."
And given all the attention this place has already gotten, you may want to sign up on the email list here to be updated when reservations actually come available and an opening date is set. The dining room will have just 54 seats, and reservations will be available two months in advance. Prices: $295 per person, with both vegetarian and vegetarian/fish options available; wine pairings for an additional $155.
Single Thread - 131 North Street, Healdsburg - Opening August 2016Katina and Kyle Connaughton plating up a dish of cherry wood smoked Mt. Lassen trout with a sauce of Japanese scallion, malted rice and salt kogi, served with a salad of radish, negi and young ginger bud, at Meadowood in December. Photo: Bonjwing Photography for Meadowood