Spoonbar (Sonoma County): Chef Rudy Mihal’s Mediterranean-influenced food reflects the abundance of Wine Country

Chef Rudy Mihal doesn't name his local purveyors on his Mediterranean, seasonally-inspired menu because the list "would be two pages long," he says. Photo by Zubin Shroff

Chef Rudy Mihal says his dishes reflect “the flavors of the area.”  And man, what an area Spoonbar’s executive chef gets to explore.

Located in the charming northern California wine town of Healdsburg, Spoonbar has year-round access to some of the country’s best vegetables, fruits and herbs.  For example, Mihal uses an ever-changing array of fresh produce — little gem lettuce, broccoli di ciccio — that most of us who shop in supermarkets have probably never heard of, let alone sampled.

Spoonbar's executive chef Rudy Mihal says his customers want flavorful, unfussy food. Photo by Zubin Shroff

“I want you to taste the earth when you come to eat here,” says Mihal, whose purveyors generally are located within 100 miles of the restaurant — and often much closer.

Mihal, who uses French- and Italian-based cooking techniques, incorporates these ultra-fresh local ingredients into his straightforward and seasonal Mediterranean-influenced cuisine.

“You have to make food people want to eat,” he points out.  And guests at Spoonbar, which is located in Healdsburg’s new eco-friendly h2hotel, aren’t looking for anything particularly fussy or frilly, he says.

One of his signature dishes is a simple chicken breast ($19) roasted under a brick, which he is currently serving with roasted veggies and couscous.  “I once tried to take it off the menu, and after two weeks, people demanded I put it back on,” he says.

Mihal starts his focused menu with simple-but-fun, reasonably priced small bites (choice of four for $12) and flatbread ($5.50) with three spreads (spicy feta, Moroccan eggplant and Mediterranean hummus).

Diners can start their meal with a selection of creative "small bites" such as crispy stuffed olives or spicy lamb meatballs. Photo by Zubin Shroff

Fresh from an afternoon of Sonoma County wine tasting, our hungry group ordered a tray of bites to accompany our last hurrah bottle of silky 2005 Hamel Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($44).  Our assortment featured spicy lamb meatballs; crispy chicken-stuffed green olives; fried rock shrimp with harissa aioli; and my personal favorite, perfectly hard-boiled quail eggs marinated in piquant saffron, roasted garlic and olive oil.

Salads showcase local heirloom greens. Photo by Zubin Shroff

Skipping over Mihal’s selection of fresh oysters, I moved to the menu’s appetizer section, which focuses on creative salads.  Craving something basic, light and fresh, I selected local field greens with verjus vinaigrette ($8). Verjus, the pressed juice of unripe grapes, gave the dressing a pleasant sweet-tart flavor that did not overpower the field greens’ distinctive flavors.

For those seeking something more complex, current appetizer offerings include crispy breaded local sardines with Sicilian eggplant caponata ($8) and grilled Gleason Ranch lamb riblets ($13) with tabbouleh salad and spicy yogurt dip.

Spoonbar offers a variety of handmade pastas in tasting or entrée portions. Photo by Zubin Shroff

Mihal is passionate about pasta, and he features four handmade varieties in both tasting and entrée portions.  One of his signature dishes is gnocchi ($8/$16), which he currently serves with pistachio cream and young pecorino.  “My gnocchi is of epic proportion,” laughs Mihal, who mastered the dish years ago while working at New York’s Gramercy Tavern.

Unfortunately, we did not know about the chef’s gnocchi-making prowess when we ordered.  So instead, one of my dining companions selected his still worthy hand-cut tagliatelle ($20) with garlic and briny Mendocino Coast sea urchin, of which I begged a few bites.

Main courses feature sustainable fish and other eco-conscious options. Photo by Zubin Shroff

During our early spring visit, I also sampled Mihal’s noted and notable roasted chicken ($21), which at the time was served with a beefy duxelle mushroom-filled roulade and an ample portion of root vegetables.  And I enjoyed several nibbles of grilled lamb loin ($23) with tangy olive vinaigrette and an accompanying ultra-comforting potato gratin.

Although ultimately exhausted and full, we couldn’t resist pastry chef Tosha Callahan’s sweets.  We settled on her sheep’s milk ricotta cannoli ($8/three; $3/one) and brioche French toasts ($8).  The decadent toasts were served with a choice of luscious dipping sauces.  We opted for both super-chocolatey hot chocolate and passion fruit ganache, although maple pecan crème fraiche and harrisa caramel were also tempting.

Our intrepid group concurred that the meal at Spoonbar was indeed enjoyable, down to the very last spoonful of hot chocolate sauce.

Spoonbar at the h2hotel
219 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, California 95448

Spoonbar on Urbanspoon

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