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First Bite

Dry Creek Kitchen

By R. V. Scheide

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

To dine out alone is to become an object of suspicion: Why is he alone? Is he difficult? Has someone stood him up? The waitstaff at Dry Creek Kitchen proved no exception to this rule, and truth be told, they did seem genuinely concerned about my arrival sans date, who'd canceled on me at the last minute.

"You can join us here at the bar," one waiter hopefully suggested. Instead, I opted for a two-seat table out in the middle of the decidedly empty restaurant's dining area. Beautiful place, the Dry Creek Kitchen: vaulted ceilings supported by elegant arches; bare branches and boughs arranged in vases creating a rustic feel; and expansive windows overlooking the plaza park, with Fitch Mountain in the distance.

In my singular state, chef Charlie Palmer's tasting menu fairly leapt off the page at me: six mini courses, including a choice of desert, designed to showcase Dry Creek's emphasis on local ingredients, for the paltry sum of $69.

I say "paltry" because previous experiences here have taught me that among the area's haute cuisine establishments, the quality and price of Dry Creek Kitchen's fare represents a relative bargain.

The tasting menu did not dissuade me of this notion. First up were tiny Hog Island oysters, sharing their half-shells with a dollop of icy brut rosé sorbet and sprinkled with black caviar. The oysters dissolved in the mouth instantly, the sorbet melting more slowly and cleansing the palate for the next course, a langoustine cappuccino with beignets--rock lobster bisque served in an espresso cup with two battered and deep-fried lobster nuggets. Like all of the courses, this was plated in style, nuggets and cup on one side of an enormous square platter balanced by three tiny drops of condiment on the other.

Balance was also the order of the evening for duo of pork, a baby's fist-sized cylinder of pork tenderloin wrapped with oh-my-that's-salty! Hobbs bacon and topped with a bitterly scrumptious ramp (wild leek) dumpling, matched up with two clear, gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth fingers of slow-cooked pork belly drizzled with tangy tomato marmalade.

The competition for best course ended in a tie. Pan-roasted Bodega halibut--fresh, flaky and tender--served with crisp-on-the-outside, eggy-on-the-inside cubes of polenta and sweet caramelized watermelon cubes, which had been a previous favorite, were rendered with even more gusto on this occasion; however, veal sweetbreads, with a tender, crumbly texture akin to calf brain, served atop a lusty fennel puree, were equally mesmerizing.

For dessert, I selected a rhubarb sampler that included a sweet, slightly tart creamed rhubarb sorbet and a strawberry rhubarb beignet that reminded me of the pies Mom made when I was a kid. I found myself pining to share this childhood memory with a companion, but, alas, still alone, had to settle for the waiter, who didn't seem to mind in the slightest.


Dry Creek Kitchen, 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open for lunch and dinner Thursday-Tuesday; closed Wednesday. 707.431.0330.

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From the May 11-17, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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