1001 Westside Road
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Nestled at the top of a hillside on Westside Road, Madrona Manor was once the home of John Paxton, a successful businessman, who was involved in numerous enterprises and his wife, Hannah. During the 1880s and 1890s, it was known as Madrona Knoll Rancho and was considered the grandest of homes in Healdsburg. Bill and Trudi Konrad purchased the manor in 1999 and made extensive renovations to maintain its elegant charm. “We wanted to make it a beautiful place to stay,” says Trudi. “It’s a treasure in Sonoma County, and we feel we’re the guardians.”
Madrona is a Victorian-style mansion, surrounded by lush gardens in a tranquil setting with a view of Fitch Mountain. Once you step inside, there’s a pronounced sense of traveling back into time when tables were always set with fresh linens and flowers, people dressed for dinner, dined by candlelight and lingered over their meals.
Alex and I arrive on a Wednesday evening and begin with drinks in the front room. There’s a selection of garden-inspired cocktails and bartender John Vega recommends the Corpse Reviver No. 2 because no one ever orders it. I admit I was put off by the name. Corpse? Reviver? But Vega gave me a brief history lesson: this is an old world cocktail, which dates back more than 100 years. Made with Benham Gin, Grand Marnier, Lillet Blanc St. George absinthe and a splash of lemon, this cocktail is mostly made with spirits and was once intended as a hangover cure, hence the name. It’s fresh and tastes so deceptively light, I was tempted to order a second.
We’re seated for dinner on the palm terrace, where guests can enjoy views of the garden and drink in the sweet scent of jasmine. Madrona offers a thoughtful selection of starters and entrees to suit every taste, but if you can’t decide there’s an I’ll-have-one-of-everything option, which includes the entire al a carte menu, served in five courses ($468). On this evening, Alex and I opted for the spring tasting menu. Each course is paired with wine and the portions are just right.
We begin with a smoke egg sabyon made with diced potatoes, prosciutto sherry syrup and watercress puree—a small bite exploding with flavor. Next we tried the Hokkaido scallop crudo with mountain potatoes, fresh wasabi and persimmon vinegar, which is as light and fresh as a spring day. This is followed by the Bulgarian Osetra caviar with shiitake gelée and crème fraiche, which is decadent and perfectly paired with a 2014 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc Brut from Napa Valley.
Chef Jesse Mallgren brings nearly 20 years of culinary experience to Madrona. His culinary philosophy is simple. “I cook food I want to eat,” he says with a grin.
Next we sample the onion velouté, a silky, exquisite concoction served with a slow-cooked egg, banyuls vinear and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mallgren knows how to showcase a season with his culinary talents and each plate serves as his empty canvas. This is followed by the king salmon served with artichokes and estate fava beans, cipollini and bee pollen, and the Liberty Farms duck, seared to a beautiful crisp and served with beluga lentils, asparagus, black garlic and sherry vinegar.
Madrona Manor is mostly known as a destination place and special occasion restaurant for fine dining, but this is a place where you’ll want to dine regularly. During the October firestorm, Mallgren set his artful culinary skills aside and went back to basics. First responders staying at the manor were looking for hearty comfort food. At their request, Mallgren whipped up fried chicken dinners reminiscent of his childhood. The family-style dinners became popular with local families, who sought haven there in the aftermath, and is now a Wednesday night tradition.
Next time you’re in Healdsburg, stop by Madrona where you can step back into time, relax and fully enjoy the manor’s old-world charm and the thoughtful creations of Chef Mallgren.
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