25 North Street
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Market & Café
8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Wednesday to Monday)
8 a.m to 6 p.m. (Tuesday)
If you’ve ever ventured into SHED, located on North Street in Healdsburg, you know you’ve chanced upon a special place. A market and café, SHED is also a hub where the community can gather to celebrate food, offering fresh local produce and flowers, an eclectic assortment of spices, preserves, quality cookware and more to appeal to the inner gourmand. It’s also a great place to stop for coffee or a bite to eat. But what you may not know is that five days a week Executive Chef Perry Hoffman hosts a prix fixe dinner for guests, known as “Let Us Cook.” For an additional cost, each course is paired with wine.
A native of Napa Valley, Hoffman grew up in the fine dining world. His grandparents, Sally and Don Schmitt, were the original owners of The French Laundry in Yountville. Hoffman’s interest in cooking began as a young boy, helping his grandmother in the kitchen. Hoffman’s mantra is: “The garden tells me what to cook.” And Let Us Cook is all about garden fresh foods. “With my cooks, we like to set up new culinary challenges for ourselves and forge new paths in the kitchen,” says Hoffman. “Let Us Cook allows us to play with new flavors in the moment, and work with special, small quantities of ingredients that are fleeting.”
My dinner companion, Alex, and I arrive on a Saturday evening, and we’re seated at a table in the café. There is a community table where you can dine with other guests, but tables are available for couples and foursomes. Menus on the table show the range of offerings available, but Let Us Cook is not about placing an order. Our server for the evening is Max Nakabayashi, who introduces himself and inquires about food allergies and preferences. Dining in the café in this way is much like being invited into the home of a culinary wizard and then waiting to see what comes out of the kitchen.
Patricia Philitsa, café manager and wine director, brings us a glass of Raventos i Blanc Rosé NV from Spain. “I usually go local, but this is a biodynamic sparkling with a hint of strawberry,” she says. The Rosé is lovely, and you can’t miss its inherent tart sweetness. Soon after, our first course arrives—oysters on the half shell with malabar spinach, preserved lemon mignonette olive oil and a slight hint of Urfa, a smoked Turkish pepper with a deep flavor. Next, we’re served gazpacho with poppy seeds and a sprinkling of purple Bachelor’s button flowers. This one is especially memorable with its vibrant contrast of colors and peppery finish.
For the next course, Nakabayashi delivers shashimo wild king salmon, which is artfully plated with tart Dapple Dandy plums, green tomatoes and ice plant. Simple and fresh, this course offers an explosion of flavor and texture. Soon after our plates are cleared, Chef Hoffman arrives tableside. “A small bite for you,” he says offering a plate. We each help ourselves to a slice of Indian blood peach with zatar and oregano. This bite is bursting with flavor and the zatar is aromatic and has a unique, tangy flavor. Hoffman cooks the way everyone should—with passion and wild abandon.
Next Nakabayashi brings another beautifully-crafted dish of grass-fed beef tartar with fermented juniper, blackberries and lettuces served on a board. We enjoyed this with a glass of 2015 Broc ‘Love Red’ Carignan—an earthy blend with a hint of fresh cranberry. This was soon followed by a roasted chicken and baba ganoush with a confetti of fresh greens, herbs and pole beans.
What’s unique about SHED is that it offers an unexpected fine dining experience. The food is beautifully presented and well-executed, but the simplicity of garden fresh foods and the unexpected combinations of spices and textures is fun and surprising. And dare I say it? Healthful. What’s more, you can’t help but note what other diners are served, and we found ourselves engaging with the guests next to us, who are regulars at SHED.
For dessert, we enjoyed an apple galette, which is much like a rustic apple pie, but elevated with a sprinkle of marigolds and nocino. SHED is a great place to dine with friends and family, looking for fine food in a casual atmosphere. Be sure to bring your appetite and a sense of adventure because Let Us Cook is all about letting Hoffman and crew lead the way.
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