344 Center Street
Sonoma County Cuisine
Open Daily at 5:30 p.m.
By Karen Hart
A fresh canvas is an open road to new possibilities for an artist, and that’s the inspiration behind Valette, located on Center Street in downtown Healdsburg. The two proprietors, brothers Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini, grew up in the area and opened the restaurant three years ago in March with the idea of creating a unique dining experience. “It’s a blank canvas for local artisans— winemakers, farmers, ranchers—to showcase their craft,” says Dustin Valette, who is also executive chef.
Valette is the result of a lifelong dream for the two brothers who, as teenagers, began working in the kitchen at Catelli’s, a family-owned restaurant in Geyserville. Those early years marked the direction of their career path in the culinary world. Garzini focused his efforts at the front of the house, and Valette went on to serve an apprenticeship at Chateau Souverain, a Francis Ford Coppola Estate where he worked under the chef, Martin Courtman. “Having our own place has always been in the back of our minds,” says Garzini. “We started conceptualizing [the idea] in the early 2000s.” Today, Garzini works the front of the house, and
Valette works his culinary magic in the kitchen at the back of the house.
Since opening, Valette has gained a reputation as being the place to eat in Healdsburg for both tourists and locals. On a Wednesday evening, just 11 weeks following the firestorm in Sonoma County, Valette is packed. “Everyone goes there,” says Laura Sanfilippo, co-founder of Duke’s, a bar located just around the corner on the plaza.
The ambience at Valette is modern with a sophisticated, rustic feel, and the menu showcases the rich bounty of Sonoma County. Case in point: the menu discloses the source of ingredients, and the charcuterie box above the kitchen (built by their older brother, Les Garzini) also underscores their philosophy.
Our server for the evening is John Sillers, who’s worked at Valette since the beginning. He recommends we begin with the Hawaiian-style ahi poke and the beef tartar. The ahi is served with a wakame salad, soy kombu emulsion and crisp nori. The beef tartare is artfully plated and served with crispy green peppercorns.
Next we try the restaurant’s signature dish—day boat scallops en croute, served with shaved fennel, topped with American caviar and a Champagne buerre blanc sauce on the side. This dish is phenomenal—the crust delicate, the filling rich and creamy—and raised a great deal of interest from the diners seated next to us, both celebrating birthdays at Valette that evening.
As we’re waiting for the next course, we chat with Garzini about business during the autumn. “October was surreal for us. Everyone was hard hit, and we were trying to survive,” he says. “It was a rough month for
everyone, then in November business picked up again, people were coming back in—mostly locals and others from the Bay Area.”
Next we try a sampling of the entrées menu. The crispy skin striped bass is served with celeriac puree and a purple cauliflower relish. The skin is satisfyingly crisp and the fish is bright and creamy, served with an espelette vinaigrette. The duck breast, sourced from Liberty Farms, is made with a cocoa nib crust and served with pickled green papaya, which is the star of the dish. Alex, always up for a good steak, enjoyed a New York strip, which was perfectly cooked and served with olive oil poached potatoes, which were savory and offered a nice crunch. The petrole sole with saffron jus has a deep, slightly smoky explosion of flavors from the charred peppers and foie gras sausage.
The food at Valette is artfully plated and beautiful, and every mouthful offers a thoughtful burst of flavors. Chef Valette’s culinary philosophy is simple: to offer fine dining in a relaxed, comfortable environment. “The new normal for fine dining,” he says.
Be sure to save room for dessert because the final course isn’t an afterthought at Valette. We sampled two on the menu. It’sNotA “Snickers Bar’ was my favorite—an elevated take on the Snickers Bar, and the Bread Butter and Jam, a unique take on a jam sandwich, which is believed to have originated in the 19th century in United Kingdom for working-class people. This dessert features fresh homemade jam and is served on toasted brioche with salted brown butter ice cream.
Valette is a great place to enjoy Sonoma County’s fresh local ingredients, and the thoughtful creations of Chef Dustin, who is a wizard in the kitchen. If you haven’t visited yet, you may want to try Valette’s “Trust Me” tasting menu, which is $15/per course, minimum four courses.