Strolling around Healdsburg square on the day after Thanksgiving can be quite a treat. Locals are packed into the many bustling wine bars, shops, and restaurants, spilling out onto the streets. Children and Christmas carolers arrive on cue, and, voila, the spirit of community and celebration is suddenly in the air.
Healdsburg has always been an intimate and quiet town, for the most part protected from major development. It remains so today, although it has grown, charm intact, especially the ever-more-pedigreed restaurant scene. A cadre of exciting new food establishments worth mentioning has recently opened for locals and visitors alike, who love good food and excellent wine with gusto and passion. Here are two notables.
Bravas Bar de Tapas
Good Spanish cuisine on the West Coast has always been a challenge for this writer. Having lived in Spain for many years, I am wary of the word “tapas.” It’s often over-used, mostly with food that is not at all Spanish. Newly opened by Sonoma County restaurateurs Mark and Teri Stark (Willi’s Wine Bar, Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar, Monti’s Rotisserie & Bar, and Stark’s Steak & Seafood) in the former Ravenous space (420 Center Street), Bravas Bar de Tapas delivers impressive—and very authentic, I’m happy to report—Spanish cuisine in a lively and friendly environment. Situated in a former cottage, the restaurant sets a warm scene. There is a fireplace right inside the entrance, with a mounted head of a white Spanish bull overhead. A long and usually crowded bar with a modern dining room on the left is partially separated by beaded curtains. The bright, orange walls are friendly, with dark grey accents, playful drum-style lights, and artwork from San Francisco’s The Fillmore music venue. Outside in the garden is another full bar with an inviting sign, “Jamón-In.”
Start off with a glass of the extra-dry cava and an order of fermin jamón Ibérico—ham from the famed “pata negra” pig. The Spanish believe that because of the heavy acorn diet of these pigs, this jamón can actually lower one’s cholesterol. Another simple and satisfying starter is the pan tomate (tomato toast) served on very fresh locally made ciabatta. Move on to Spain’s classic tortilla de patatas (potato egg omelet) with garlic aioli and a dash of smoky pimento, or try the mussels escabeche, a delicious chilled dish of mussels marinated in Spanish vinegar and served with a chili relish.
What’s the must-have side dish? Definitely the leeks from the fire pit served with a Romesco sauce. The smokiness from the wood fire brings out the beauty and simplicity of the humble leek. For something more substantial, go for any of the items from la plancha, or grill. The fresh Gulf prawns modestly garnished with olive oil, pimenton, and salt and pepper are pristine, as is the lavender quail with Sherried grapes and Basque honey. Even more extraordinary—both in taste and presentation—is the pulpo, or octopus. A generous whole piece of arm is presented over a bed of fingerling potatoes and olives with a healthy dose of smoked paprika and Sherry vinegar. The octopus is boiled until tender and finished on the grill for a nice char.
In addition to wine, Bravas offers an excellent selection of Spanish Sherries, which pair well with the dishes. Also available is a fun selection of specialty cocktails, such as the Seville-ian (reposado tequila, fino Sherry, lemon, grapefruit, agave) and the Dingo (vodka, aperol, amontillado Sherry, lime, cava). Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Located at 330 Healdsburg Avenue, Campo Fina is owned by Dawnelise and Ari Rosen (they own Scopa around the corner) and is named, in part, after their daughter, Serafina. Campo Fina is quintessentially Italian, with a wood-burning pizza oven, a patio with an open-beamed canopy, salvaged wood tables, and even a bocce court. The mostly small plates menu is divided into the following sections: from the fisherman, the farmer, the forager, the butcher, and the wood oven. If you only want a small snack, order the hard-boiled eggs with pickled celery and salsa verde. The chicken liver pâté with Calabrian pepper jelly and grilled bread is also fantastic with plenty of flavor.
For something lighter and very refreshing, the escarole salad (Pecorino cheese, white anchovy, pine nuts, red wine vinaigrette) is the perfect choice. If you are really hungry, share a main dish, such as the braised pork bellies (turnips, apple, chicories, salted rosemary caramel) and one of the signature pizzas. The classic margherita (San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, basil) is quite exceptional and very Neopolitan in its style and presentation. Campo Fina is the perfect place to drop in for lunch, dinner, or just a light snack and glass of wine. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
James Stolich’s CookWithJames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in UrbanDaddy.com, AgencySpy.com, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.