Zin, Charlie Palmer’s & Ralph’s Bistro: 3 Great Lunch Spots in Healdsburg

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Three fabulous choices for lunch (they also serve dinner) in downtown Healdsburg, CA are Zin Restaurant, Ralph’s Bistro and Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. While there’s more to Healdsburg than the main square, a number of quaint and interesting restaurants line the square on all sides, many of which tout renowned chefs and local organic food.

Zin Restaurant: 344 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA.

Zin offers a wide selection of options: healthy salads for those wanting to stay simple and heavier for those who want a little bit of comfort food to warm them up on a cold winter day. After all, the theme is Epicurean Winter so if calories aren’t a consideration, opt for the Macaroni and Cheese which my host claims is amazing or the Chicken Pot Pie.

They have a warm bloomsdale spinach salad which is actually cooked, so if you order it, don’t expect a traditional salad. It comes with Zin Bacon in a sherry vinaigrette with a poached Eastside Farm Egg – I ordered avocado and onions on the side as a nice compliment and their side sauces add a great finishing touch, especially the roasted red pepper sauce.

I wasn’t disappointed with it or the Mexican Cobb Salad, which I also tried. Mixed greens and chicken are tossed in buttermilk dressing and topped with guacamole, pickled vegetables, grilled scallions, Cotija cheese & bacon.

Their pot pie is braised with root vegetables in sherry & chicken stock served with a biscuit on top. If I were in a hungrier mood, I would have absolutely loved to try the Crispy Duck Leg with spiced peach preserves, braised greens and crispy Falls Mill grits. Southern style baby. For more comfort food, try the Sausage & Kraut, which is served with smoked fennel sausage, housemade sauerkraut with apple & caramelized onion, German potato salad and strong mustard. Whoahh Nellie.

They also have more traditional sandwiches and burgers, which are easy choices if you have kids along, such as the Chicken & Bacon melt, pulled Pork BBQ, Grilled Cheese or their renowned Zin Burger, which is served with garlic mayo and house pickles. You can also add Zin bacon or guacamole to any burger or sandwich.










Jeff Mall is the Executive Chef, who has worked with chefs and mentors of different disciplines such as Jeremiah Tower, Bradley Ogden and Anne Gingrass. Homegrown ingredients are cultivated and harvested at their own farm: Eastside Farm, including produce, preserves, eggs and honey. They also sell a cookbook called Down Home: Downtown, which has seasonal recipes from two Sonoma Wine Country Chefs.

Ralph’s Bistro: 109 Plaza Street, Healdsburg, CA.  

Ralph’s Bistro has slightly more formal ambiance with its white tablecloths on square tables offset throughout the restaurant. They were in the middle of a remodel so am curious to revisit next time I’m in town. They are apparently an establishment and a favorite to old-time locals who have been in Healdsburg for decades.

They too have a great salad selection, including a wild arugula with blood orange, fennel and ricotta salata, an iceberg lettuce salad with Pt. Reyes (local to Northern California) blue cheese buttermilk dressing and “Black Big” bacon, a Caesar with Vella aged Jack and Sweet Gems, which is served with Dijon vinaigrette. Also try their Grilled Artichoke with meyer lemon aioli.

If you want to go a little heavier, go for their Braised Shortribs, served with a red wine glaze, fresh horseradish, roasted carrots and potatoes grain.

They also do a great Duck Confit from Liberty Farm with Grand Marnier and Lentils du puy, a Lamb Shank slow braised with mint broth (yum), roasted garlic and creamy polenta. I loved the ambiance and the location is hard to beat.

Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen: 317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA.

Dry Creek Kitchen uses local ingredients and pride themselves in produce, dairy and meats that have “never been on a plane.” Owner Charlie Palmer is also host to one of the Epicurean Winter’s Pigs & Pinot Weekend March 23-24, 2012, which sadly I’ll miss. A cast of Master Sommeliers and international celebrity chefs (Guy Fieri, Michael Mina, Casey Thompson & Michael White), will showcase some of the world’s greatest Pinots with various pork pairings.  Dry Creek Kitchen’s Chef is Dustin Valette is also committed to local, organic and sustainable cooking and living.

I couldn’t not order the Hawaiian Ahi Sashimi, which is served with a Ponzu Gelee, pickled carrot threads, Ginger “Tempura” and French radish. The presentation was as good as its exquisite taste…the Ginger “Tempura” really made the dish for me.    

Even better with champagne btw.  

Onto Salad:

Coming off a healthy & lean diet over the past week or so, as much as I wanted to dive into their house made Charcuterie Platter and their Slow Cooked Beef Short Rib “Civet” (with a yummy black garlic risotto, carrot mousseline and baby carrot fries – yum), I opted for their Sonoma County Winter Salad upon recommendation from the waiter.

They have such an extensive wine menu that after moving on from the Champagne, you could have dived into a Russian River Valley Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, a Chenin Blanc from Dry Creek Valley (Saini Farms), a Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley (Merry Edwards) or a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc (Capture, Lew Pionniers). The salad was served with a fresh roasted curry squash, goat cheese, watermelon radish and candied pistachios. (with a pomegranite reduction)

This was the only salad on the menu but this white table-clothed elegant restaurant that is attached to the classy Hotel Healsburg is not about salad indulging. Why would you want to with diver scallops with caramelized onion, celery root batons and black truffle beurre rouge, Dungeness Crab stuffed Petrale Sole and Prosciutto wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Spaghetti squash, roasted beets and a mustard demi glace sauce on the menu?

The pork btw, was on the menu in celebration of Pigs & Pinot, which they recommended having with a Emeritus Pinot Noir. On the Chef’s Tasting Menu, you could opt for a Butter Roasted Lobster, served with caramelized onion, parsnip Mousseline, Bacon Lardon and Beurre Rouge.

The tasting menu is $79 a person or $148 if you want to sign up for the 5 savory course wine pairings.

They also do events, such as the Sonoma County Winemaker Dinner Series, where they feature local winemaker’s wines paired with multi-course chef’s tasting menus.

I’m sorry I won’t be around for that one. On Monday and Tuesday nights, they have live jazz and something they call 20×20 Thursdays, where they have 20 different wines for $20, all chosen by their Sommelier Drew Munro.

Their bread comes from Cousteaux, a local bakery in town and is fresh every day. Desserts? Well I didn’t indulge I’m afraid. And, it was all enticing: warm chocolate orange cake with a popcorn sherbet, a Lemon cheesecake with ginger shortbread, honey tuile and lemon curd, a Spiced Seckel Pear with almond lemon financier, a Lavender Creme Brulee Mousse with Hibiscus Infused Apples or a chocolate and peanut butter bar with dark chocolate marquis, peanut butter mousse and chocolate sorbet. Then, there is a cheese selection too of course. Why didn’t I try that lavender creme brulee mousse?

Rather than dive into cheese, chocolate or the lavender mousse I now regret not ordering, I decided to try their Roasted Red Beet Soup as my dessert? Let’s just say that it was the highlight of my day. And no, it was NOT served cold.

They start out with toasted brioche, local Mandarin Creme Fresh, egg yolk, purple Peruvian potatoes and fine herbs in a shallow bowl.












Then, they pour the warm beet puree on top, which when mixed together, results in a soup you won’t forget.











The final result? Heaven of course.











Also, have a meander through some of the recipes they share, as well as a selection of videos of Charlie Palmer showing off some of his fabulous cooking techniques.

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce to visit a handful of restaurants & vineyards however all opinions expressed here are my own and honestly reported.

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