Kyle Connaughton holds out a clay pot. It’s a Japanese donabe, he explains, lifting the lid with a just a smidge of ceremony. There, in a microcosm, is his life’s work, an orchestrated medley of plump, homegrown greens, edible flowers and pearly-fleshed black cod.
Connaughton is chef-owner of SingleThread — one of the US’s most talked-about restaurants of recent years. He opened the 52-seat Sonoma Valley inn (it has five bedrooms) with his farmer wife Katina, at the end of 2016 and just nine months later they were awarded two Michelin stars. But Connaughton does have form with Michelin. The California-born chef used to head up Heston Blumenthal’s experimental kitchen at The Fat Duck, and led the kitchen at three-starred French chef Michel Bras’ Hokkaido outpost, Toya.
About 70% of the menu at SingleThread is grown on the couple’s farm, and the weekly-changing, 11-course menu (there’s no a la carte) is based on whatever’s ripest. Most seats have a view of the open kitchen, where Connaughton and his team whisper to each other through headsets. Not that there is a deathly hush — speakers pipe out carefully curated music that moves you through the meal, the tempo increasing as the evening progresses. The sounds were still fairly ambient while I scoffed a starter of amberjack with daikon and miso, plus a charred citrus jelly and greens. It was washed down with a racy Mendocino Riesling, which also paired well with the next course of sweet, locally caught Dungeness crab.
I began swaying slightly (to the music, not the booze) during the ora king salmon smoked over cherry wood, and I foot-tapped to the poached foie gras with dried and fermented beets and roasted chicken broth. By the time I sliced through the Duclair duck — served with charcoal-roasted broccoli, nettle cream and sunchokes — I was having the most fun I’d ever had in a Michelin-starred-restaurant.
To book a meal at SingleThread, you have to buy a ticket up to two months in advance — but if you reserve a room, available up to a year ahead, a table is guaranteed. And what bedrooms they are, with Matouk linen, Japanese toilets and elaborate breakfasts that are almost as thrilling as dinner. Tasting menu $320pp (£230), including service. Doubles from $869 (£623), room only.
Best of the rest: Top 3 restaurants in Sonoma
A dynamic cafe, market and event space with fantastic salads. Winter citrus, avocado, radishes, shio koji and pea shoots, anyone?
Dry Creek Kitchen
New York chef Charlie Palmer brought the gourmets to Sonoma nearly two decades ago when he opened this place, and it still holds up. Expect plenty of fresh seafood, including octopus carpaccio.
Slick Californian cooking overlooking the ocean. Part of the Timber Cover resort it comes with mid-century styling and a ringside seat for whale-spotting.
Published in Issue 2 of National Geographic Traveller Food.