Chalkboard Bistro Healdsburg

English Pea Soup at Chalkboard Bistro in Healdsburg ©heather irwin

English Pea Soup at Chalkboard Bistro in Healdsburg ©heather irwin

Over the next few months, the inevitable comparisons between Cyrus and the space’s new iteration, Chalkboard, will appear in endless food blogs, Yelp reviews, and “critical reviews” of the new Les Mars/Bill Foley restaurant. As devotees of the much-lamented Michelin-starred restaurant, we can’t help ourselves.

Ignore the blather and simply head north. Change is good, and here it’s also visually and culinarily stunning.

Sure, the ghost of Cyrus hangs heavy, as do the devotions of its diners. Chef Doug Keane’s kitchen sanctuary has been thrown open in a striking visual leveling of kitchen and dining room. A wide communal table commands the center of the space. White tablecloths have been banished. The caviar cart was literally kicked to the curb (snatched up by a former employee, we hear).

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But this ain’t Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly’s first rodeo. The small plates menu is exceptional. A mix of high- and lowbrow dishes, it includes a “snack” of warm, housemade soft pretzels with Mornay sauce, stone-ground mustard, and tomato chutney ($6). Buttermilk biscuits with maple-glazed pork belly, pickled onions, and chipotle mayo ($8) are finally given the proper execution I’ve sought for so long. Kampachi crudo with grapefruit, avocado purée, and slices of jalapeño ($12) are small summer jewels. A tiny shot of chilled English pea soup with Dungeness crab ($3) is like sipping spring. I got misty over a deconstructed dish of fresh radishes with butter and rye crumbs and pickled carrots.

Dishes get more substantial as you move down the menu. Roasted baby carrots with caraway yogurt and sesame seed brittle ($6); a hearty pasta with duck confit and mascarpone ($12); and seared scallops with risotto cake, uni sauce, and grapefruit was so good we ordered it twice ($16)–and then fought over the second order.

Meatier fare includes a delicate buttermilk fried quail with fava beans, nasturtium, and fennel salad ($15), and the entrée of the evening, crispy pork belly with triangles of fried grits, a poached egg, melted leeks, and sweet pepper purée ($12). Baskets of produce procured from restaurant owner Bill Foley’s Chalk Hill Farms makes each dish all the better.

Pastry chef Bill Woodward showers each of his desserts with sweet surprises: a donut semifreddo (frozen creaminess) with white coffee foam and mocha-glazed donut holes ($8); a towering multilayer brownie with caramel and ganache flanked by milk chocolate that’s been cooked sous vide ($8). Hold out for the warm vanilla bean cake with strawberries and crème fraîche sherbet baked to order ($8).

The bar still serves up creative libations along with regional beers. The wine list features (not surprisingly) many of Foley’s bottles along with other local superstars as well as some well-crafted white and red flights (all less than $20).

Le roi est morte, vive le roi.

Chalkboard Bistro, 29 North St. at Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-8030.

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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16 Comments

  1. Walnut Creeks loss is Healdsberg’s gain … Shane is talented chef !!! Vada Vie hasn’t been the same since he left and the reviews bear ths out !! Can’t wait to head to Healdsberg’s to try it out ….

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  2. Either it’s a really slow month on the food front or Heather ran away from home !!!

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    • neither. i’m in charge of the relaunch of pressdemocrat.com, which is sucking up all my time. it looks mighty nice, if i say so myself, and will go live mid-summer. at which time i’m going to go on a week-long food binge and not do anything non-biteclub related.

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      • Midsummer??? Fairtime ??? I’m ready !!!

  3. Whatever Heather….you’re a huge fan of crappy dive restaurants that continue to feed you for free. Don’t get me wrong, some of our local dives are great but your “gourmet pallet” has zero credibility. We’re staying with Jeff Cox reviews. Well, of course one exception would be Sonoma County Fair food competition comes back around….your guest tasters hit the nail on the head with the Sonoran Dog. God, I hope they’re back this year! Best hot dog on planet Earth!

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    • I literally just laughed out loud when I read Michelle mention no credibility “gourmet pallets” (spelled wrong) and then say she relies on Jeff Cox for food reviews! Poor Michelle – drunk and angry (note the time she left the comment and how it goes from angry to happy in 2 seconds flat) and nothing better to do then leave such nonsense in a public forum. I’ve been to Chalkboard twice and it’s fantastic. The good news is they don’t serve Sonoran Dog’s there, so it sounds like I don’t have to worry about running into trashy types like MIchelle while dining there. Ick.

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    • Speaking as someone who has eaten truly crappy dive food with Heather, I can attest to the fact that she’s not a fan. Don’t think she eats anywhere for free.

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  4. Can not wait to eat here !

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  5. Date night, Saturday 7:00 PM. Beautiful, bright, modern space. We chose to sit in the bar. Food was very good. They need to work on details. Service, which began as professional and attentive degraded after first course. No return to ask for additions, fifteen minute wait to order a drink, request desert menu, or ask for check, etc. Will wait many months for improvement.

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  6. Gotta thank Shane for supporting my farm, Healdsburg Farm Fresh Eggs and Produce. Supporting local farms, very cool.

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  7. Honestly the food can be over the top fabulous…HOWEVER the way that the current owner conducts his business leaves a bad taste in my mouth…sorry just can’t get over that…maybe after a few years if they are still around I may give them a try…so many other great places in Healdsburg that I don’t feel the need to visit…

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  8. Wow, affordable food? I do realize it is “small plates” so you probably end up spending a bit of money anyway.

    Hubby and I went to Cyrus once. At the time, it still had a “tasting” dish on the menu, a sample of all of their food, so we ordered that. Never have we spent so much for so little food! It was all delicious and divine and the service was exceptional (two waiters/waitresses served and explained each sample, which were one or two bites) but the bill was $450 for the two of us!

    So, I won’t mind ordering several plates at the new place as it probably won’t end up costing as much.

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  9. Like you Heather, I was going to not like this place, not one bit. But open minds will prevail, and good food is good food..and change can be good when properly implemented. Just wish it hadn’t been such a nasty way to get there :-) I’m sure Mr. Keane will find his way when he’s ready to find his way.

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  10. Had the pleasure of dining at Va da Vi (spelling?), when Chef McAnelly was there and he is very good, but don’t you think its like comparing apples to oranges between the two restaurants?
    Douglas Keane will always be my sovereign…

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    • Not as apples to oranges as you think. Yes, of course it felt like I was cheating on a favorite boyfriend by admiring the new restaurant. Honestly, i think a lot of Keane loyalists (myself included) kind of wanted to NOT love this new place.

      But that made me all the more enamored. McAnelly has gone out of his way to get the menu right. The presentations and flavors are really spot on, and harken to the care that Keane put into his food. Also, the use of so much great local produce is heartening.

      I hope folks will embrace the new space and go in with an open mind. Its nice to have something to be proud of in the Les Mars again.

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