I hesitate to write today’s post. While living in Sonoma County for five weeks, I decided to round out my dining experiences at the wine country Michelin 3-Star restaurants. I previously dined at The French Laundry last November. So SingleThread and The Restaurant at Meadowood were on my radar.
First up was SingleThread. I had a group of friends in town, including my favorite dining buddy. So, we made reservations! I’ve read tons of reviews. I’ve talked to dozens of people who have dined there. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was downright giddy.
In warmer months, SingleThread invites you to come up to an hour early to enjoy their rooftop gardens. Our visit was in January. No such invitation was given – I even asked. We arrived about 15 minutes early. The host asked if we’d like a cocktail and we each proclaimed yes! He then gave us local options. Ummm…nope. Sorry. I don’t feel like going across the street to get a cocktail. I decided to stand in the lobby and take in the view of the kitchen.
Promptly at our reservation time we were escorted to our table in what I’d call their “back room” that could probably seat six tables of two comfortably. We were the first “couple” seated in that area. Our first course was waiting for us at our table. I’d heard about this first course. I’d seen the photos. And there it was. All ours. Sitting in between us.
One of our servers greeted us and introduced herself. And we introduced ourselves right back. Both of our names were associated with our reservation. But now they knew who was who. She asked if we wanted still or sparkling water. Moments later – without her leaving our table – two additional servers simultaneously poured our requested waters into our glasses. I’d heard that the restaurant has microphones and cameras throughout to track your progress without interrupting us. She also walked us through each of those bites. I was thrilled there was one for each of us – I do not share. Well, except a small dish of the yummiest carrots I’ve ever eaten. We had to split those.
Our sommelier was up next. And he greeted us by our names. Hmmm…tricky. We already knew exactly what we wanted to order as far as beverages go! SingleThread offers two different wine pairing options. Diane was being frugal and opted for the regular pairing. I was splurging. I opted for the “rare and reserve”. Here’s where I went wrong. I really should have asked more about it. I assumed they’d serve me a selection of rarer, older, local wines. Wrong! I’m sure they were incredible and I should have been blown away. But, I know nothing about old world wines. All I know is that some of them were older than me and that I was supposed to be impressed.
He also proceeded to explain that they were offering an additional, supplemental course. Apparently that NEVER happens. It hasn’t happened in the past eleven months. It was an optional cheese course. A small creamery in Petaluma out of the blue likes to drop off cheese. They don’t order it. It just shows up. This time it was their “etude”. Apparently it’s rare. Produced in extremely limited quantities. It was paired with a 1964 Barolo. When I asked how many bottles of this 1964 Barolo SingeThread had sitting around, our somm explained that the cheese is harder to come by than this 56 year old wine! We hesitated but ultimately decided to splurge on the $50 cheese and $60 wine pairing – a total of $110 for one course. More on that…quite a bit later. It was the 8th of 12 courses. I even heard him explain to another table that they had a couple of hours to decide. Ha Ha!
We were finally free to dive into the first course. We decided to eat each little dish at the same time. Just as I was about to pop it in my mouth, our wine arrived. Sigh. More waiting. Since we were doing different pairings, he had to explain both to us.
I was poured the 2002 “Rare Millesime” from Piper-Heidieck. Apparently this sucker is pretty rare. It’s produced in very limited quantities and in only certain vintages. I’m pretty sure he mentioned something about every ten years or so. Boy, do I wish I appreciated champagne.
Diane was poured something with lots of German words. I tried googling to give you more info, but I failed. I don’t have her wines on my menu so I’m going off of bottle photos. I preferred Diane’s.
And now…maybe…we could dive in.
We chose the oyster to start. They explained that they wait until we arrive at the restaurant to prepare the oyster so that it’s at optimal freshness. Diane is not the biggest fan of oysters but chokes them down. She’s a good sport! I believe (based upon the order of photos taken) that we made it through those first four bites before we were served the warm bites in the first course. OMG. There were more. We both agreed that the warm bites were our favorites. I did love those shared carrots, but they weren’t warm.
The mussels were divine. I’m pretty sure Diane even loved those. I think the middle bite was our favorite. But that third was the most impressive. That cup is an actual egg shell. How on earth they slice a raw egg is beyond me. What’s inside is liquidy custard stuff. I’ve chatted with a couple of people since eating the meal and typing this post and they’ve commented “how about that egg”! Ha Ha!
Then we moved back to the cold bites (the five above and the carrots I forgot to photograph). I don’t remember the first. The second contained cauliflower on top. I don’t like cauliflower or the texture of it. The third was a really dense, firm fish. I don’t need to eat that again…ever. I think Diane would agree. I don’t remember the fourth. And the fifth was fun. We were instructed to dump the contents of the shell onto our little plates and eat it.
As we finished each little bite, our little empty plates were gathered up. Not at the end. Throughout the course.
We asked questions later about which course we were on because it was easy to lose track. But all of that….all 13 dishes were the first course. Oh dear.
Course Two certainly seemed to be a mystery. It came out in a little wooden box. What appeared to be the lid was removed from the box.
Oh, but that wasn’t the lid. The lid is still on the box in the upper right. If I remember correctly, the bottom portion was cold. The top portion was hot. So we could keep the lid on while we ate the cold elements if we wanted. The menu description is: Akabana Kanpachi – Winter Citrus, Daikon Radish, and Chrysanthemum. Yup, there’s more there than that. Ha Ha! The vocal descriptions had many more words. But I didn’t understand half of the words anyway.
This course was paired with wine as well. Diane’s was local – a Shared Notes Sauvignon Blanc with a small portion of Semillon from Russian River Valley. Unfortunately, I can’t read the vintage on the label. But it was a 2016 or 2014…those are my best guesses. Mine was the 2011 Trimbach ‘Clos Ste. Hune’ Riesling from Alsace France.
Moving onto our third course…this was one of my three favorite courses. It was an Heirloom Pumpkin (that I really wanted to steal) filled with squashy/pumpkiny soup that was ladled over dungeness crab and orange. I was really sad when she took the pumpkin and remaining soup away. I was hoping we could refill our bowls.
Oh, but we weren’t done. This seemed to happen often. The soup was accompanied by a roll. A delicious roll filled with melted butter. This was the only bread we received all night. I would have benefited by a bread course to break up all of these rich dishes. The last bites, below, are part of the pumpkin “shell” with cooked pumpkin and stuff on top. These bites were crazy amazing.
This was paired with a 2014 E. Guigai “La Darienne” Condrieu from the Rhone Valley in France. Diane enjoyed a 2018 Stephanie Ogier “La Combe de Malleval” Condrieu with hers.
It may have been around this point in the meal that I proclaimed that I was tired of eating. This may have been the first sign that something was wrong. You knew whenever this dish was served at a nearby table. Inside the pot with the grid where hot rosemary chips. I think. They were smoking the salmon. The smell was incredible! The menu description reads: Smoke Salmon “Ibushi-Gin” – Brassicas, Sunchoke, and Steelhead Roe.
This course was paired with sparkling wines. Mine was the Ulysse Collin “Les Maillons” Rose de Saignee – a Champagne from France. Diane enjoyed Brick and Mortar’s Sweetwater Springs Vineyard Sparkling Rose.
The fifth course was another of my favorites. This one was not paired with wine. Instead it was paired with a sake. Before the food came out, we were presented with a basket of sake vessels. We were invited to choose the one that spoke to us.
The food was amazing. It was a Duck Liver Parfait with Hoshigaki, Vegetables from The Farm, and Chestnut.
The sake pairing was Takenda “Katafune” Junmai Ginjo Genshu, Nigata, Japan. We both received the same sake. I would have preferred it to be warm sake, but I wasn’t complaining. It was quite tasty.
At the start of the sixth course, a mysterious copper pitcher/pot/box thing was placed on our table. We were told it was for the next course….okay….
The food that came out was Black Cod with Chanterelle Mushroom, Kohlrabi Terrine, and Grilled Bone Broth. It was pretty tasty, too. But, nothing about this course really stood out for me. At this point things were starting to feel repetitive.
This course was paired a few wines. First – the official pairings – I was served the 2017 Jean-Luis Chave Hermitage Blanc from the Rhone Valley in France. Diane enjoyed an Australian 2016 Yangarra Roux Beaute Roussanne from the McLaren Vale region.
However, in perfect timing, we inquired about SingleThread’s own wine. Yes. They are one of the smallest bonded wineries in the US. They collaborate with a winemaker each year to produce a wine that will pair with one of their dishes. It’s fermented in an on-site 450-gallon concrete egg. Those eggs!!!! It’s actually zoned with its own address! Ha Ha! It’s visible from the sidewalk outside. I noticed it. Most of my friends did not.
Our somm quickly explained that this course would be the perfect pairing for their own Chardonnay and brought us each a taste! Here’s our somm proudly displaying their wine. He even helped pick the grapes that went into this bottle. So, he was pretty darn proud. It’s a 2017 Chardonnay from the San Lorenzo Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. And it was pretty good! I actually asked about the possibility of purchasing a bottle. He explained it could be done. However, he’d have to Coravin out (that’s becoming a verb) a few ounces from the bottle and then he could sell it. Clearly some licensing issue. We didn’t purchase a bottle. I kinda which we had. It would be a fun collectable.
By this time in the meal, I’m pretty sure at least one of the tables that had been seated after us had already left! We were definitely taking our time and enjoying every moment. The seventh course was another favorite of mine – maybe because it was steak and potatoes!!!!! Yes, what’s pictured below is steak and potatoes. It’s a teeny tiny piece of wagyu. It was delicious. It could have been larger.
On the menu it is described as Miyazaki Waguy – Nori, Leek, and Malted Potato.
This course was paired with PINOT! What? And it worked. I was served the 1979 Remoissenet “Les Combottes” Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru from Burgundy France. This was my first “old” wine. It’s almost as old as me at 41 years. It was good. Diane was served a 2013 Savoy Pinot Noir by Radio-Couteau from the Anderson Valley. If you’ve been following along on my “30 Wines in 30 Days” journey, you probably read the story about Radio-Couteau.
Here’s where things really started going south for me. Or at least I noticed. But I still didn’t fully realize what was happening. And, I can tell – the quantity of photos I was taking at each course was diminishing. The menu description for this course is Sonoma Grains – Lamb Tongue, Tsukemono, and Beef Consomme.
This was the grains course. In the top bowl is pickled vegetables. And they were pickled! Maybe that’s what did it. The bowl on the left is beef consomme. The larger bowl is filled with grains. The server explained we could eat the elements separately or combine them. I was really struggling with this one. So, I added the broth to the grains. Better. Realizing I could no longer eat those pickled vegetables alone, I also threw them in the bowl. But, I couldn’t finish this course. I was starting to feel a little ill.
My course was paired with a 1991 Chateau de Beaucatel Chateauneuf du Pape from the Rhone Valley in France. Diane received a 2007 Vina Bosconia Rioja – maybe. There are lots of words on her bottle.
Course Nine – Rare Supplemental Course
We’d finally gotten to that very rarely offered cheese course. I was super excited about this one. I’ll actually even share the wine bottle for this one. It’s a 1964 Barolo. I’ll let you figure out the rest from the label!
This is the course, if you remember from the beginning, where it was explained that the restaurant has two of these bottles of wine and that the cheese is actually harder to come by! It was a slightly warm dish. The cheese is buried under truffle shavings/slices. I can’t give you a menu description for this one. Why? Well, after one bite I ran to the restaurant and well….threw up my entire meal. There’s no graceful way to put it. I was devastated. I cried a little. How was this happening? I wasn’t full. I wasn’t drunk. I didn’t even feel the effects of the wine. The pours were small. But something didn’t sit well with me. Though, I instantly felt a lot better. Maybe I do have a food allergy to something in one of the earlier courses. I don’t think this course made me sick – it just pushed me over the edge. I struggled with the grains.
The restaurant staff quickly realized something was wrong. I’d paid $50 for that cheese. And I barely touched it. I tried to politely explain what happened. They took away that cheese that I so desperately wanted to enjoy. They offered me digestives to calm my stomach and ultimately brought me a complimentary Amaro that was quite good. It seemed to work. I didn’t finish any of the remaining courses. But, I was able to try them. And, more importantly, there were no more trips to the bathroom. I also let Diane finish my Barolo. She’s such a good sport to choke down that $60 pour of wine. Ha Ha!
The staff – without me asking – removed the course (not the wine) from my bill. I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t even sending it back. I wasn’t asking. But they did it anyway. So, I imagine that is why it doesn’t appear on my menu. I’m a little sad about that. And I sadly realized that this would be my biggest memory of SingleThread – standing in a glamorous bathroom with high-tech toilets and throwing up. And, while I’m talking about the bathrooms – every single time you get up to use the restroom, you get a new napkin. It’s the little things.
But we weren’t done! We had a few dessert courses to work through first! And we plowed onward. Next up was Yuzu Custard – Okinawa Black Sugar and Jasmine. I actually think I finished this course. It wasn’t my favorite. There were some odd textures and flavors. But I was desperate to put the previous course behind me.
Apparently there was no pairing for this one. I don’t have a photo. I don’t have anything listed on my menu. But, I did still have the Amaro in my glass.
This was my favorite of the dessert courses. The menu description reads – Hazlenut with Chocolate, Black Truffle, and Coffee. Funny enough, the staff felt the need to point out that these were different truffles than what was on the cheese that made me sick. I still don’t think it was that course.
I really enjoyed the tiny bites off to the right. They reminded me of little churros that you were to sort of dip into the soft truffle. I could have eaten more of those – may be $50 worth of those! Ha Ha!
For me, this course was served with a 2009 Chapoutier, Vine de Paille, Hermitage from the Rhone Valley in France. Diane’s was similar. Hers was a 2011 Domaine Berthet-Bonde Cotes du Jura. Again, I really am lost when it comes to old world wine labels so I’m not sure which words are important! Ha Ha!
We’ve made it to the end. The 12th and final course. The bill accompanied this course – which we of course sent back and asked them to split for us. Ha Ha!
Similiar to the first with lots of tiny things happening. The menu description reads Wagashi – Gravenstein Cider and Miso, Pinot Noir, Match, Quince and Clove. Scroll down for close ups of some of the items.
These eggs were absolutely the most disgusting thing I ate all night. Harsh words. But I wanted them to be filled with yummy chocolate. They weren’t. I don’t know what they were filled with but there wasn’t enough liquid on the table to wash them down.
The bottom tier contained two different bites. I believe the red is a gummy pinot noir candy. I don’t believe I ate that. At this point I was letting Diane try everything first before I risked it. However, that little white slice was amazing! I could have eated six more of those and been happy.
I was so done by this point that I didn’t even enjoy my tea. I let Diane have mine as well. She enjoyed it.
The bill was adorable. We were at SingleThread and it was presented on a pin cushion with a little drawer of thread. I don’t typically like to share the receipts. It’s not an inexpensive experience. We pre-paid for the food at the time of reservation which was $330 for each of us plus a $33 service charge plus applicable taxes. That money was gone months ago. Diane’s wine pairing was $270. Mine was $500. I’ve been in wine country too long when I don’t bat an eye at drinking $500. That’s an insane amount of money. But YOLO – You Only Live Once, right? We added the $50 cheese course plus an additional $60 for each of us for that additional wine pairing. The total bill before any additional gratuities was $1811.79. Funny story….ten of us had dined just across the street the night before. The bill came to $1795.42 (including a 20% automatic gratuity) and I think someone commented it was the largest bill they’d ever seen. I just laughed knowing full well what SingleThread was going to cost us.
I’m pretty sure they heard us discussing the mystery service charge. Bills at these expensive restaurants can be confusing – or maybe it’s just me. There were two tip lines at The French Laundry – and they were in French. I’m pretty sure I left way too much money. I guess that’s better than not leaving enough. Our server was great and explained that the service charge goes towards their health insurance costs. If we choose to leave an additional gratuity it would go only to the employees we saw today – and there were at least a half a dozen people who served us. I appreciated the explanation.
It’s been a few days since I’ve dined there – four to be exact. My opinions have softened since that night. Diane and I agreed we didn’t need to go back. It was an experience we didn’t regret. But, it wasn’t one we absolutely enjoyed – even without me getting sick. There just wasn’t enough red meat and carbs. The dishes started to all feel similar. Don’t get me wrong – they were gorgeous and intricate and I watched them use tweezers to perfectly place each little element. The service was stellar. Having a bread course in there to break up some of the richness could have helped.
Like I mentioned above, ten of us had dined at Valette which is directly across the street from SingleThread the night before and did a 6-course tasting menu. It ran us around $200 per person with gratuity if we got food and wine. It was heartier. More of the wines were local. With that dinner so fresh in our memories, SingleThread just didn’t live up to the hype. We enjoyed the Valette dinner so much more and it was SO much cheaper.
I’ve chatted with quite a few people in the last four days. Strangely, people are saying similar things. Not everyone was in love. I head to Meadowood next. And when someone said it was very “Asian inspired”, I was instantly sad. But, I’ll remain open-minded.
As we left, we were handed our menu – which included the little bundles of leaves and things that was sitting on our napkins when we got to our table. They’d offered to keep them safe for us. The menu presentation may be the nicest I’ve seen between my dining experiences at a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants.