Dining at Healdsburg’s New Molti Amici
The name of Healdsburg’s newest downtown restaurant loosely translates from Italian to “many friends.”
It’s emblematic of the convivial vibe to be found at Molti Amici, which took the place of locals’ favorite, Campo Fina, in late June.
It’s the brainchild of three alums of Michelin three-starred SingleThread Farms restaurant, just a block and a half away. Owner and sommelier Jonny Barr is that venerated restaurant’s former general manager. Husband-and-wife Chef Sean McGaughey and Melissa McGaughey, are SingleThread’s former chef de cuisine and hotel baker, respectively. The couple also own Healdsburg’s Quail & Condor bakery and Troubador cafe. At Molti Amici, Seth is the executive chef and Melissa is the pastry chef. They are assisted by Chef de Cuisine Matthew Cargo, former executive sous chef of Gjusta in Los Angeles, who honed his pasta and pizza skills through extensive travels throughout Italy.
Don’t expect fancy, white tablecloth, tweezer-food here, though. Instead, it’s all about handmade pizzas and pastas, made with a confident, deft hand that befits their impressive backgrounds. When I visited a couple weeks ago, as a guest of the restaurant, I enjoyed some of the best pastas and pizzas I’ve had in a while. And if you know my carb addiction, you know that’s saying something.
Upon first stepping inside, the restaurant is deceptive looking, appearing compact, long and narrow. But walk past the interior bar to the back patio where the space really opens up. Yes, there’s still a bocce ball court out there, if you want to give the game a whirl. There is also another, larger bar, and outdoor tables galore, packed this night with diners in a festive mood.
My husband and I sat inside the main dining room, where a server steered me to the Import/Export ($16) cocktail when I was torn between a couple of different ones.
Her pick was spot-on, made with pisco, mezcal, strawberry-balsamic shrub, acidified orange, and something called Byrrh, a wine aperitif of red wine, quinine and brandy-infused wine that originated in 1866. Served over ice, it was quenching, fruity, acidic, and smoky — basically a cocktail I would happily enjoy every weekend if I could.
From the small plates, we started with two crudos. First, local halibut with chili oil ($19). Firm, meaty, and mild, the fish took on a whole new dimension in a pool of Sichuan pepper-infused oil. Its taste was reminiscent of a classic Sichuan boiled fish dish that tingles with heat. Only, the fish here was raw, resulting in a lighter and cleaner tasting dish.
Second, the kanpachi tartare ($20). Cubes of the pale pink flesh-fish were arranged in a lightly smoky, sweet tomato-tasting sauce that was peppery like a Bloody Mary. Jimmy Nardello peppers and chive blossoms dotted the top.
Even a simple chicories salad was balsamic vinaigrette ($17) was special because all its ingredients were in perfect proportion to one another. The crisp, bitter greens were tossed with salty, creamy ricotta salata; crisp, smoky bits of pancetta; and crunchy, addictive croutons made from — what else — the top-notch bread from Quail & Condor.
Seven pizzas are available, each large enough to share between two people if you also order some sides. We hit on the hen of the woods pizza ($26), which arrived right out of the oven, nearly too hot to handle with fingers. It’s strewn with earthy maitakes and porcini, melty fontina, a drizzle of balsamico, and rings of sweet-fruity-spicy chili peppers that add just the right amount of heat and depth.
The crust is a marvel. The center is crisp, thin and droops under the weight of the gooey cheese while the rim is thick and puffy with deep caverns, which renders the edges of the pie surprisingly light and airy despite its heft.
Now, the pastas. The raviolo al’uovo ($32) is the showstopper. Get there early to enjoy one, as the restaurant sometimes runs out of this egg yolk-filled raviolo. At other places I’ve had this, the raviolo is a neat square of pasta not much larger than its filling. Not here. A huge sheet of pasta is used to make this, so that it falls languidly on the plate. You might think the ratio off with too much pasta to filling. But once you taste how incredibly thin and supple this pasta sheet is, you’ll be wishing it were even larger.
Cut into the center to expose the liquid gold — the yolk that oozes out. Brown butter with crispy sage leaves is drizzled all over, along with grated summer truffle and Parmesan. Few things are such natural partners as a luxuriously creamy yolk with earthy truffles.
The fazzoletti ($27) bring kerchief-cut pasta dotted with petals and baby basil leaves. Hidden underneath the pile of pasta are sausage crumbles in a vivid pesto sauce. The pasta is as supple as fine silk caressing your lips. If you’re someone who shies away from pasta because you think it too heavy, you won’t find that here. Not with this pasta that is nearly gossamer, like the most ethereal Chinese dumpling wrappers.
For dessert, there’s a chic version of tiramisu ($13) that’s served artfully in the shape of a long, slender ladyfinger, and dusted all over the plate with cocoa powder. It’s creamy, shot through with boozy Marsala and strong espresso, and eats surprisingly light.
Barr has planted a few “Easter eggs” on the property. One especially fun one can be found in the restrooms. They are wallpapered with images of pro wrestlers in a nod to Barr’s own pro wrestling career a lifetime ago. It’s an unconventional background which few restaurateurs and sommeliers can lay claim, that’s for sure.
As for me, I couldn’t be happier to have “made friends” with Molti Amici. I think you will be, too.
Other Places To Check Out In Healdsburg: Troubador
And: Quail & Condor
And: The Matheson
And: SingleThread Farms
And: Jordan Estate