Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
I always get a little giddy when I’m one of the first people to experience a new boutique hotel, taste a vintage wine straight out of the barrel, or get a sneak peek at a music festival’s lineup. But nothing gets me going more than dining at a new restaurant in town and meeting all of the wonderful people behind a soon-to-be burgeoning business. I had the absolute pleasure of dining at Valette, Healdsburg’s newest restaurant, which opened in March 2015. These guys are definitely going to make waves in the neighborhood.
Envisioned by brothers, locals Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini, the duo wanted to create a restaurant inspired by Sonoma County’s food, wine and deeply-rooted passion. Executive Chef Dustin is at the helm of the beautiful, open kitchen while Aaron mans the front of the house while offering wonderful service. (We’re talking hugs and kisses to frequent guests, asking where diners are visiting from and treating everyone like family. You rarely see this kind of service in the City, that’s for sure.) The service is authentic and every server, runner and person on the dining room floor will go out of their way to take care of you, yet stay out of your way when necessary. It’s a beautiful culinary dance to be a part of if you’re lucky enough to find it.
While the brothers worked all over the country to hone in on their skills, they decided to come back to their roots to open this outstanding restaurant. That definitely tells you something about the charm and emergence found in Healdsburg. They worked together at their first restaurant job and are doing it all again, together and at home.
After chatting with my server for a bit about what I thought looked delicious on the menu, he suggested a tasting menu and wine pairing to see a wide spectrum of Dustin’s vision and tastes. Yes, always say yes to a chef’s tasting menu. Now on to the good stuff.
I started my six-course meal with a beautiful and floral French sparkling wine before trying the Furikake Crusted Hawaiian Ahi Tataki. The Japanese seasoning crust perfectly accented the kimchi puree, soy kombu emulsion, seaweed salad and sprinkling of toasted sesame powder. The appetizer is light and touches all of your senses. I highly recommend this dish to start your meal.
Next up was a course I had already been eyeing and it definitely did not disappoint. The House Made Semolina Pasta infused with squid ink was served with local arugula, walnut pesto, fresh English peas and Valette’s own 15-month prosciutto. The dry aging meats are one of the first things you’ll notice upon walking into the restaurant so do your darnedest to order the charcuterie board or any dish showcasing their meats. The squid ink brings in a different dimension to the dish; the peas are tender and offer a slight tenderness; and the prosciutto offers a nice salty bite. The plate is well executed and absolutely stunning. Mine was paired with a 2012 French Cote Rhone blend and was absolutely perfect.
Keeping with the seafood theme, Dustin created a beautiful Day Boat Scallop En Croute. Two plump oysters and shaved fennel, were baked inside a puff pastry brushed with squid ink and fennel. Once the server opened up the pastry, he drizzled a Caviar and Champagne Buerr Blanc atop the scallops and pastry. Besides the process being visually stunning, the scallops were baked to perfection.
In the beginning of my meal, I told my server that I was still deciding between the duck and the halibut and lo and behold, Dustin decided to do a tasting of both. The Coco Nib Cured Liberty Duck Duo showcased a compressed and sous vide duck thigh with layers of duck meat and skin along with a perfectly roasted duck breast. If you’re a duck fan, this dish is worth making the trip alone. Both pieces of duck were succulent, juicy and buttery and the kohlrabi mousseline, pickled ramps and dried cherry mole gastrique provide a new and robust way to enjoy this dish. Paired with a local Zinfandel, the cherries and earthiness of the duck stand out even more.
The Pancetta Crusted Alaskan Halibut may have been the standout of the evening. The fish was cooked perfectly and the flakiness and delicateness of the fish was absolutely delicious with local Preston Farms fava beans and edamame hummus, baby roasted fennel and onion vinaigrette. A 2012 Chardonnay from Domain Martin Saint of Maconnais, Burgundy paired perfectly with the butteryness of this dish. Simplistic, balanced and slightly smoky, this floral and light dish will definitely attract the masses.
As if my meal wasn’t decadent enough, Dustin created a delicious dessert to cap off my meal. The Bread, Butter and Jam dessert is a playful dish that will please every sweet tooth. How does local artisan bread dipped in condensed milk, grilled and topped with sugar and Hawaiian sea salt sound with a side of brown butter ice cream and rhubarb jam? It’s absolutely heavenly. I was completely stuffed after my first five courses, like any other normal human, and somehow managed to nearly finish my entire plate. Sip on a Portuguese port and I guarantee you’ll be ready for bed like I was.
Vallete in Healdsburg is the perfect place to visit if you’re traveling with friends and family and want to have an amazing dining experience. From Aaron’s impeccable, five star service in the front of the house, to Dustin’s beautiful take on local food and wine, you’re going to have an unforgettable meal. Healdsburg is a beautiful town by night so you’ll definitely want to take a stroll after your meal to enjoy the scenery. For more information, visit www.valettehealdsburg.com.
Thank you Dustin and Aaron for a beautiful evening. I’ll be back soon!