Holidays at The Hotel Healdsburg
Sonoma Wine Country always sparkles, but even more so during the holidays.
With everything ablaze in festive lights, it’s a wonderland without the true toll of winter.
There’s no better place to experience it, too, than at the Hotel Healdsburg, as I found out when I was invited as an overnight guest recently.
The 56-room boutique hotel, right on the square, is co-owned by celeb Chef Charlie Palmer, who lives with his family just four miles away on a 36-acre spread. The hotel was his first venture upon moving to the area in 2001. It sports one of his restaurants, Dry Creek Kitchen, as well as a lifestyle store, Lime Stone, operated by his wife Lisa.
For the holidays, the hotel gets dressed up with strings of lights, and both tabletop and 6-foot-tall decorated trees. The contemporary fireplace in the lobby lounge is always aglow with a warm fire. Nearby is a help-yourself station where you can assemble your own cups of spiced cider or hot cocoa complete with cinnamon sticks or mini marshmallows.
The lounge also has a full bar, with plenty of tables and chairs around the fireplace, to enjoy an afternoon glass of wine or morning breakfast, which is included in the price of the room.
Now through Dec. 23, the lounge also serves a popular Holiday Tea on weekends from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s $34 per person with tea and food; $43 with wine; and $14 for kids under 12 who get a choice of tea, cider or hot chocolate.
My husband joked that the waitstaff probably thought he took a wrong turn when he took a seat for tea. Sure enough, our server acknowledged that few men partake of the soothing afternoon ritual.
It may not be a manly endeavor, but it’s definitely a delightful and delicious one. After choosing your tea, which arrives in a heavy iron pot, a three-tier platter of goodies is set before you. The top layer holds mini sandwiches: duck ham and bourbon mustard, cured salmon and olive oil cream cheese, roasted beet relish with honey-thyme whipped goat cheese, charred eggplant with mushroom duxelle, Nutella and hazelnut, and even roasted turkey with American cheese on Wonder Bread (crusts cut off, but of course).
The middle layer has an array of little blueberry scones, cream scones and cheddar-chive buttermilk biscuits, accompanied by lemon curd, preserves and whipped cream. The bottom layer is a sweet lover’s paradise tiny eclairs, Russian tea cakes, coconut macaroons, sour cream coffee cake, lemon shortbread cookies, and truffles.
Around us, there were foursomes and twosomes — all female — catching up over tea. What a relaxing way to do gals’ day out.
For dinner, we ambled over to Dry Creek Kitchen, overseen by Executive Chef Scott Romano, who has worked at Palmer’s Auerole in New York, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, and was even former President Gerald Ford’s personal chef for a year.
Choose from a $79 five-course tasting menu or a la carte offerings. We opted for the latter option, starting with a velvety, deeply flavorful cauliflower soup ($14) that is poured tableside over chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, as well as a mini parmesan souffle that’s a little like a popover.
We also tried the charred octopus ($17), tender and redolent of earthy chermoula spices that was brightened by fresh orange segments.
It was hard to stop eating the cast-iron pan of warm rosemary focaccia rolls that come to the table. And if you’re torn between a couple of wines on the list, Wine Director Rolando Maldonado will thoughtfully pour you a taste of each to let your palate make the final decision.
I’ve had opah ($36) plenty of times in Hawaii, but never done like this, crusted with lentils, then cooked ahi-style with the fish seared quickly on the outside, leaving the interior still rare, to play up the natural sweetness of the fish. Dots of pear soubise added another layer of subtle sweetness, along with endive, caramelized to tame a little of its bitterness.
A $52 special paired 48-hour, sous-vide short ribs with scallops and shaved white truffles for a riff on surf and turf. The scallops were buttery tender, and the short ribs hearty and fork-tender — just the kind of dish you want in winter.
For dessert, the pomegranate s’mores ($11) is a modern, deconstructed version with a slender house-made graham cracker poised between pomegranate sorbet, torched meringue and smoked chocolate sauce.
The chocolate Nutella pot de creme ($11) comes in a shallow bowl crowned with shards of crunchy bourbon meringue, Nutella ice cream and crackly bruleed banana slices. It’s a grown-up version of chocolate and banana pudding.
Canneles are a surprise extra treat, not quite as deeply caramelized on the outside as others I’ve had, but plenty tender inside.
After sleeping in, we returned to the lobby for breakfast. There’s a spread of freshly baked mini croissants, muffins and scones, as well as fresh fruit, smoked salmon, yogurt and granola.
Omelets, egg sandwiches and eggs any style with bacon also are available, made-to-order, at no additional cost.
What a pampering way to revel in the holidays.