Critics’ choice: Three small-town stunners worth the road trip
Single Thread Healdsburg, Calif.
I’ve awarded several restaurants four stars before, but this Sonoma County gem is the first that earned the rating right from the start, said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. Husband and wife Kyle and Katina Connaughton put years into the planning, and “every detail has been rigorously considered.” Diners pay in advance for the $225 tasting menu, and when they arrive at a handsome building in downtown Healdsburg, they are whisked to the roof for champagne before being called to dinner. Then an 11-foottall redwood door swings open, and they get their first eyeful of the “dramatic, even awe-inspiring” dining room. You choose your own cup for sake, and the Japan-meets- Sonoma tasting begins: bite-size appetizers, malted potatoes with flakes of black cod, yellowtail sashimi with barrel-aged ponzu. Each dish seems straightforward, “but the techniques that bring them to the plate are complex” and backed by an “unwavering dedication to seasonality.” In fact, the farm the Connaughtons run nearby operates by the standard set in a Japanese almanac that lists 72 seasons a year. The results are “flawless,” a three-hour meal that restores the spirit. 131 North St., (707) 723-4646
George Trois Winnetka, Ill.
Chef Michael Lachowicz’s intimate tastingmenu venue “honors the past to a greater degree than any restaurant I can recall,” said Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. In a “stunning” white room that’s tucked inside Lachowicz’s larger Restaurant Michael, this son of a restaurateur family is paying tribute to blood forebears as well as professional mentors, including some true masters of French cuisine. George Trois has just five tables, double-draped in white linens, but it makes small suburban Winnetka a worthy dining destination. Lachowicz himself delivers many of the tasting menu’s courses, assisted by a maître d’ and a general manager. Lachowicz’s late-winter menu included a truffle and foie gras ravioli (an homage to Pierre Orsi) and a scallop-filled puff pastry (inspired by Jean Banchet and Daniel Boulud). The spring menu includes bacon-wrapped loin of rabbit that Lachowicz dabs with a mustard sauce at the table, “working his spoon like an artist’s brush.” 64 Green Bay Rd., (847) 562-6105
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
Now there’s a second compelling reason for Washington, D.C., food lovers to make a 50-mile drive into rural Virginia, said Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm doesn’t offer the Rolls-Royce car service diners get at the Inn at Little Washington. But it does offer a welcome getaway, and its chef, Tarver King, is “cooking like a rock star these days.” In a greenhouse- like building overlooking the Potomac River and surrounded by a 40-acre farm, guests sit at bare oak tables and begin the tasting menu experience with corn dumplings or other quietly pleasurable snacks. A luxurious Thai soup might follow, then an elegant garland of the first carrots of spring and vermilion snapper paired with a vinegarbased blueberry switchel. After a shared entrée of roast duck served on a wooden plank and, finally, dessert, your enthusiastic server will present the menu. The gesture helps fix in your mind all the tastes, aromas, and sounds of the meal you’ve just enjoyed. An evening at this bucolic spot “calls attention to a lot of things.” 42461 Lovettsville Rd., (540) 822-9017