by Roberto Friedman
Everyone has their favorite local getaway for escaping the city, and for Out There, it's Healdsburg, CA. In bygone years a sleepy little Sonoma hamlet set around a charming town square, it's now a resort destination chock-full of gourmet eateries, intriguing bars, winery tasting rooms, art galleries and luxe hotels. We've been going up there for years, so when we were invited to return for an overnight stay to sample some recent additions to the town's attractions, we jumped at the chance.
Our first stop was at the new Taste of Tea just off the square, a unique establishment that offers quality teas from Japan, China and Taiwan, food, retail and spa treatments. Cups of strong Kyoto Bancha green tea and an "old-fashioned" made with chrysanthemum, goji berries, tea and mint sugar got us up and ready for our day.
Next we were part of a tour and tasting at the new Sonoma Cider, housed in an old auto-parts warehouse, where we sampled many delicious hard ciders. These libations are barrel-aged varietals, so they're really more like wine than beer. Sonoma Cider specialties include Golden Delicious, Winter Banana, Gravenstein and Gosa (like the German beer), sarsaparilla vanilla (roots from Mexico) that tastes like root beer, and an absinthe-flavored brew. Cidermaker Robert Cordtz 's "Jacks" cider took the honors: dry cider, apple juice, honey, toasted buckwheat and cinnamon produced a drink that tasted just like Apple Jacks breakfast cereal, but with a kick.
Martinis and a cocktail demonstration at the newly refreshed Ralph's Martini House on the town square hit the proverbial spot, and then our group of pressies, including writers for Vogue and Conde Nast Traveler, found our dinner waiting for us at the excellent Valette restaurant on the square. The elegant dinery is the heart project of chef Dustin Valette, formerly of Dry Creek Kitchen, and his brother Aaron Garzini. Our repast included house-made charcuterie & cheese, olive oil-poached ahi sushi, red wine risotto, day boat scallops en croute, smoked + sous vide lamb bacon, and a dessert of huckleberry jam, toasted brioche and salted brown-butter ice cream. All of this was presented with style and panache. Double and triple yums all around.
We had overnight accommodations at the elegant Hotel Les Mars, a luxurious French maison-style inn filled with 17th- and 18th-century antiques in the rooms and public spaces. The hotel exudes old-world charm, and offered European-style service and an in-room continental breakfast – including an espresso machine – that got us on our way next morning. All this, a stone gas fireplace in every room, and hydrotherapy tubs for salt baths as well. When can we go back?