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Healdsburg and Manzanita

Late this afternoon I walked around Healdsburg again, but this time without darkness, rain, and an umbrella. I could look up, see the architecture of the buildings, get a better sense of what the town is like. I headed from the hotel back toward Healdsburg Plaza. Just across from the northeast corner of the plaza is Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, which we passed yesterday but didn’t go into. I did today. It was evocative of old candy stores. Reading about them online, I see that they are in fact a recent chain store, designed to evoke old-time feelings. They started a few years ago as a single store just south of here in Windsor, then expanded through franchising, with many sites in California now plus sites in Boulder and Boise.

At the southeast corner of the plaza, I headed east to see what the town looks like away from the commercial center. One block east, I reached an intersection with a large Catholic church on the southeast corner and a small, intimate Episcopalian church on the northeast corner. The intimacy of the Episcopalian church was something of a visual trick, for it went way, way east, with extensions of the 1900 church. And beyond that, on the corner of the next intersection, was the Healdsburg Museum, housed in a 1910 Carnegie public library building. From there, I backtracked to the plaza, explored some stores to the south, then returned to the plaza again and took a seat facing a giant palm tree. After about 10 minutes of observing the people and cars, I got up, went to the palm, and read the sign below it, tracing it back to 1897, when four palms were planted in a formal pattern in the plaza, during a time of popularity of decorative palms. They are among the oldest trees in the plaza.

Back at the hotel, after a short break, we went down for the daily wine tasting in the hotel’s library. It became clear, as I suspected last night, that last night’s wine tasting was an anamoly — featuring a suite of wines from a single winery, with the owners of the winery doing the pouring themselves, while the hotel’s wine expert, Ron, served as host and welcomed people. Tonight, as I assume is the norm, Ron was host and pourer, with wines from a variety of vineyards. For the second evening in a row, we had a great conversation with Ron. He had explained last night that he grew up in southern California and was a sommelier in LA for 20 years. Now he lives in Chalk Hill, nearby, and uses his wine expertise on behalf of the hotel. He gave us badly-needed advice on vineyards to visit in the Russian River Valley.

From the wine tasting, we headed to Manzanita Restaurant, just a half a block east and one building down on Healdsburg Avenue. The restaurant describes itself as offering “casual fine dining in the heart of Healdsburg,” with “fresh seasonal cuisine with flavors of France, Italy & Spain,” and “the finest local products & wood-fired brick oven specialties.” That sounds about right. We sat at a two-top in the rear of the main room, against a four-foot wall on the far side of which the person managing the brick oven did his work. Beyond the wall was his work counter, then the space where he stood, then the oven itself, whose heat was easily felt at our table. We shared the “Pizza Margaretta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Basil and House Made Mozzarella” to start. It was pretty oily, but with excellent flavor. The basil and tomatoes were superb. We were then given an unexpected complimentary course, courtesy of our being guests of Les Mars Hotel — a salmon mousse inside a squash blossom. Whether this sounds good or not, it sure was good. We both were drawn to the same entree, the “Sonoma Lamb Ragoût over House Made Pappardelle Pasta with Fresh English Peas and Shaved Grana Padano.” A great dish. And for dessert we shared an apple tart with the house made vanilla bean ice cream.

It’s been a delightful day. We still have the Alexander Valley, the Russian River Valley, and the coast to explore.

Categories: Food, Travel
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