Madrona Manor, Healdsburg, California

March 29, 2011

Linda and I spent the nights of March 4 and 5, 2011, at this charming inn near some of California’s most famous wine growing areas. On the right you can see the side of the main house, built in 1881; it includes the restaurant. Our room was in the lower right of the house in the back, right behind our grey rental car. The extensive grounds provide a peaceful setting, enhanced by the lack of televisions in the rooms.

In early March the big kitchen garden supplied mostly salad greens and herbs. Fava beans were already over a foot high.

At the suggestion of the charming maître d’hôtel, Joseph Bain, with whom we chatted in French, we started with the house apéritif: Lillet, crème de cassis, lemon and soda water on ice. Enjoyable. The tables were decorated with fresh camellias from the beautiful, big camellia bushes around the property. (The light level was very low and so the photos are not good; sorry.) There was an hors d’oeuvre with a radish and little pastry.

One could choose four, five or six courses off the small, but varied and interesting menu. There was also a “Chef’s Grande Dame” menu offered. We made our selections and ordered a bottle of 2006 Littorai, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley, Pinot Noir. Excellent. The amuse-gueules were a chorizo-turnip vichysoisse and a carrot raviolo with eucalyptus honey; then a little dab of compressed mayonnaise with rehydrated basil seeds.

Linda’s first course was Wagyu Beef Carpaccio. Her second course was Lobster “Cuit Sous Vide”; celery root – white chocolate – foie gras.
She said that the small beef carpaccio was good and set up her appetite for the excellent combination with the succulent lobster. 

My starter was
textures – temperatures – gorgonzola

The golden beets had been frozen and served as granules on top; the dark red beets were the purée underneath; the orange ones were the wedges on the sides. The varied fresh beet flavors came through nicely, enhanced by the texture and temperature contrasts. The gorgonzola was in a frothy mousse which was complementary and added more variety. This was an excellent and imaginative seasonal dish.

My second course was
Japanese “Aji” Mackerel,
tangerine – olive oil ice cream – fennel

This dish also provided interesting texture and temperature contrasts centered around a good central ingredient, the mackerel. 

Then there was an entirely unnecessary bowl of granité of sauvignon blanc and litchee; at least it was not unfriendly to wine.

Our main course was
Mangalista “Wooly Pig” Belly
raisins – lentils – black garlic – ver jus – estate turnips

The tasty Mangalista pork was nicely cooked, with the expected crusty skin. I would have liked more turnip, but enjoyed the dish.

Our dessert was
Sourdough Financier Tart
estate Meyer lemon – olive oil caramel – pine nut ice cream

Very good.

The chef, Jesse Mallgren, came by to say hello. On seeing Linda, he immediately identified her from her photos in our blog, of which he is a regular reader. We then had a good chat. He grew up nearby in Sonoma County and has never worked farther away than Aspen, but he has a keen interest in chefs around the globe. We congratulated him on our meal and said that we would like to return the following evening.

The meal ended with a good crème brulée and some mignardises.


The next morning we enjoyed the breakfast buffet.

The following evening the hors d’oeuvres and first amuse-gueules were similar to the night before, but then came a spotted prawn tartare and tempura, which were excellent.

Chef Mallgren was hoping to prepare his “Grande Dame” Menu for us, but we had enjoyed lunch at Ubuntu and were not ready for more than a four-course meal. We ordered a bottle of 2006 Iron Horse Pinot Noir, from the nearby Russian River Valley. It was very good.

We started with the
Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi
black trumpet mushrooms – savory – Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The gnocchi were light with a good potato flavor that was a traditional match with the mushrooms.

The next course was
Seared Hokkaido Scallops
sunchoke – frisée – bacon – yeast. 

The quality of the scallops was exceptionally good. They were perfectly seared. The garnishes were just right.

Liberty Farms Duck
roasted breast – crisped confit –parsnip – pear – jalapeño.

Very well done.

Our dessert was
Cart “à Glace”
ice cream sundae hand “churned” tableside using minus 320o F nitrogen – cherries on top.

Fun and a fine finish to a very good and enjoyable meal.

We did not get another chance to chat with chef Mallgren as he was very busy on this Saturday night. We think that he is an unusually talented, dedicated chef and hope that he gets the recognition he deserves.

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