Appetite: Wine Country's new hot spots - Page 2

Join me for early visits at two new Wine Country destination eateries: Morimoto Napa and Spoonbar in Healdsburg

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Yes, you’ll get waylaid by the initial cocktail list, but don’t let that stop you from asking for the additional one. It’s a glory of new creations, featuring edible flowers and the herbal, produce-driven beauties Beattie has perfected since his Cyrus days. But there’s the added bonus of classics done with a Beattie sensibility. I get giddy at the site of three versions each of Old-Fashioneds, Negronis, Manhattans, and Sazeracs, the holy foursome of cocktails. I sampled five, each exquisite. It feels right seeing Beattie behind the bar again.

I chose the Tempus Fugit Negroni ($8.50). How could I not? Made with Ransom's impeccable Old Tom Gin, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, orange zest and Tempus Fugit's brilliant Gran Classico Bitter, it's a musky, full revelation. As I mentioned in my last Appetite, I'm beginning to see a whole new possibility when it comes to Negronis, thanks to Gran Classico and bartenders willing to experiment with it.

On the classics front, Beattie's Dark 'n Stormy trumps all others. There's a lovely Appleton Reserve version for $7.50 (or pitcher for five at $37.50). I'll put my money on the version with Ron Zacapa Solera 23 (a rum I've long been a fan of already) for $9/$45. With fresh lime juice and Angostura bitters, Beattie adds drops of essential oil of ginger for a more pure, round taste. Locally grown sunflower leaves are a vivid garnish.

Going the creative Beattie route is equally thrilling. John Chapman ($10.5) is a taste of fall. When you take St. George Whiskey and Pear Eau de Vie, then mix it with lemon, apple, ginger and a Thai coconut foam, you get magic. Ditto, on the other side of the spectrum, for the Summery taste of  Siddartha ($9.5). I normally wouldn't choose a vodka drink, but this one utilizes Hangar One Buddha’s Hand Citron with Beefeater Gin, St. Germain Elderflower, lemon, Thai coconut milk and lemon verbena. It's silky, seductively bright and garden fresh.

But the joys at Spoonbar are many as the food and wine list are likewise robust, the space open and airy (playful with hints of mid-century modern), the price point a nice mid-range. In early opening weeks, this has automatically become my # 1 Healdsburg spot for drink or food (since I can only afford Cyrus for a special occasion), and one of my tops in all of Wine Country.

Where to start? There’s wines on tap, a trend I am happy to see growing from an environmental and casual accessibility standpoint. Let wine director Ross Hallett, choose and you’ll likely get a nice range of local and international wines. With dinner, he paired a dry 2000 Villa Claudia Gattinara and a full  ‘05 Savuto Odoardi that yielded spice notes when paired with the Spoonbar Burger. For dessert, he poured thoughtful choices like Rare Wine Co.’s New York Malmsey Special Reserve Madeira, rich with earthy, coffee notes, and Ratafia de Bourgogne, a sweet but balanced liqueur.

The food? With Moroccan and Mediterranean influences, Chef Rudy Mihal’s menu shines as fine bar food with cocktails or as multi-course dinner. Appetizers offer all kinds of goodness, like addictive little Fried Smelt Fish ($8) dipped in a caper aioli. Or how about skewers of plump, grilled Calamari ($12) in a preserved lemon vinaigrette? You’ll find me equally hyped over imported Burrata ($13), creamy heaven in a pool of fine olive oil with meltingly soft brioche and a finely diced beet tartare.

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