A year before it even opened, Eater humbly suggested that Healdsburg’s Single Thread would be the biggest opening of 2016. And so far, the Bay Area’s food critics — those with expense accounts big enough to cover the $225-per-seat ticket price, anyway — have been lining up to confirm that it lives up to the pre-opening hype. Josh Sens already gave Chef Kyle Connaughton’s “intensely farm-to-table” menu a glowing three and a half stars in San Francisco Magazine, noting that it was well worth the trip, even if he couldn’t afford a return visit. Now, after few visits of his own, Michael Bauer is ready to give us his definitive take on the experience.
From the get-go, Bauer is impressed by Chef Kyle and Katina Connaughton’s vision for the space, in which “every aspected of the experience was buttoned down and polished.” And this is what immediately sets Single Thread apart from Bauer’s other four-star venues (Quince, Manresa, Benu, Saison, the French Laundry), which all took some time to perfect. From the pre-meal snacks and champagne served on the restaurant’s rooftop garden, to the multiple desserts, Bauer says the fruits of Kyle and Katina’s kitchen-farm partnership are “evident on every plate.” In the dining room, a sense of “spiritual calmness” pervades even as the kitchen staff are put on display.
“No one is as obsessed with ingredients as the Connaughtons,” Bauer says, and the duo is, “backed by flawless technique” that is apparent starting with the “magnificent presentation” of the first course — a tasting of about 10 bite-size appetizers that might include crab and uni, or thinly sliced geoduck that’s been torched and dotted with lime gelee. While some dishes may seem straightforward, Bauer revels in their complexity as in the “aerated cloud of malted potatoes” with black cod flakes, a dish of whipped eggs placed back in a shell, or the yellowtail sashimi with frozen orange curd. Desserts are “as complex as the savory courses,” and Bauer gushes over the shisho granita, “like spooning through a cloud into an ice storm and, finding the rhubarb compote at the bottom.”
Over the course of three review dinners, Bauer says the cuisine’s style was consistent, even as the ingredients were changing with the seasons. Parts of the experience that could come off as “precious and pretentious” — the hand-forged steak knives during the meat course, or the individually choses sake cups — also managed to win him over. “By the third dinner,” Bauer quips, “I realized I had only glimpsed what the Connaughtons and their crew can do.” In that case, most diners will never get more than a blinking look at Healdsburg’s new gem. Four stars for Single Thread.