When a restaurant is declared the country’s “biggest opening” years before it serves its first meal, the goal becomes not so much living up to expectations as surviving them. That is the first marvel of SingleThread, a restaurant attached to a five-room inn and nourished by a 5-acre farm in Healdsburg, Calif.: Even after all the hype, chef Kyle Connaughton and his wife, Katina, have created a restaurant filled with originality and surprises at every turn.
The 11-course tasting menu opens with a panorama of the Sonoma Coast. A serving piece made from driftwood, cloaked in soft moss from the farm, holds a dozen small bites representing what is at its peak that day—malted potatoes with smoked turbot wing, roasted beets with citrus and umeboshi plum, and pickled kushi oysters with fresh wasabi and olive oil. The meal, which is built around the produce Katina grows at the farm, gracefully progresses through such courses as cured foie gras with pear, chicory, and rooibos tea. Even the simplest dishes—say, a garnet slice of duck breast served with a tangle of black trumpet mushrooms, mustard greens, and blood orange—conceal intricate touches. The duck, for instance, is Duclair—a rare breed that combines the gamy flavor of a wild bird with the tenderness of the farmed—which was raised to Connaughton’s specifications in pens that straddle a creek so that the birds could swim. The result is so complex and flavorful that it requires just a dusting of spice.
Connaughton—who has cooked at Michel Bras in Japan and the Fat Duck in the U.K.—spent years developing SingleThread with Katina. The couple was most inspired by traditional Japanese ryokan, which originated multicourse kaiseki menus, and that style of hospitality shines through in every gesture. At SingleThread, the staff learns as much as possible about the guests, often greets them by name, and carefully chooses their table. Tranquil yet thrilling, cerebral yet delicious, fascinating yet comfortable, SingleThread ushers in a new concept in dining and, indeed, is not only the country’s but also the culinary world’s biggest opening this year. (singlethreadfarms.com, $293)