Sonoma's Culinary Game-Changer

Kyle Connaughton’s restaurant will give Napa’s top tables a real Sonoma rival. 

Sonoma has always been less polished—by design—than Napa next door, with a renegade spirit embraced by its mom-and-pop wineries, hotels, and restaurants. With few Michelin stars or celebrity chefs in the area, high-end gastronomy has never been much of a draw. That’s likely to change in February, when Kyle Connaughton launches Single Thread Farm Restaurant & Inn, the most ambitious dining destination to open in wine country in ages.

Kyle has spent the past 20 years working for celebrated chefs at Michelin three-star restaurants—from kaiseki master Yoshihiro Murata at his flagship, in Kyoto, to Heston Blumenthal at his cutting-edge the Fat Duck, outside London. For Kyle’s headlining debut, the chef will feature elements from all of those places, serving California-inspired kaiseki cuisine with classic French and modernist accents using techniques he developed at his nearby food-innovation consulting company, Pilot R+D. Kyle and his wife—his high school sweetheart, Katina—spent four years scouring the region for the perfect location before connecting with vintner Pete Seghesio. He offered them a new two-story building with a roof deck, in town, on the site of the old Healdsburg post office (destroyed in a 2010 fire), along with fallow agricultural land a short drive away, among the Zinfandel vines on his San Lorenzo vineyard, on the Russian River. Most of the restaurant’s produce will be grown there by Katina, who once tended the gardens at George Harrison’s family estate, in Oxfordshire, England. From Katina’s two acres will come a variety of fruits and vegetables, some from seeds collected in Japan, such as negi (long onions) and kabu (white turnips).

Tweaks to Single Thread’s 11-course tasting menu—available in pescatarian, vegetarian, and omnivorous options—will come every five days, following the 72 microseasons that dictate kaiseki cooking. “If you’re a farmer dealing with nature on a daily basis, you know a season is much shorter than three months,” Kyle says. Dishes might include roasted wild duck breast with matsutake mushrooms and komatsuna greens, or black cod, fished off the Sonoma coast, with charred negi, heirloom squash, tatsoi, walnut-nori pesto, and truffle.

AvroKO, the design firm behind several restaurants, from New York City to Moscow, re-imagined the space as a sort of Golden State ryokan, channeling the family-run inns found across rural Japan. The 48-seat dining room’s redwood-paneled walls will feature details in tooled leather and brass. Earthenware pots—traditional clay rice cookers, steamers, and stewing vessels from Japan—will serve decorative and functional roles. Guests who spend the night in one of the inn’s five rooms that open in January will find walk-in closets, individual balconies, and bathrooms with heated floors and Japanese fixtures.

Kyle and Katina, who met in Southern California, married young just two hours away from their new restaurant. Though it took them a while to return to the area, it was always on their minds. “For us this was always the place,” Kyle says. Rooms from $600; 131 North St.;