INVITATION TO INDULGE Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly, working wonders with the old Cyrus kitchen.
And so it was revealed to us that a new restaurant had opened in Healdsburg, but Leon and I had not yet dined there. Skipping such niceties as reservations, Leon donned his new silk and linen togs, I dusted off my "good" flip-flops, and into the car we went, headed north for an early meal.
Our destination was Chalkboard, the latest incarnation of the space that once reverently held Cyrus, in the Hotel Les Mars.
Cyrus, where the staff was hushed and the tables clothed. Cyrus, where the kitchen staff did gently spy on guests as their meals progressed, the better to prepare the next course. Cyrus, where there would never be a dirt-filled plant on a bare four-top or a community table or a merciless fruit fly . . .
To the very good Chalkboard where milk fat regularly moistens cheeks and lips and tongues and laps. Where we learned that gigli is not only a terrible Ben Affleck/J. Lo vehicle, but also a lily-shaped pasta that this kitchen likes to brighten with saffron. Chalkboard, where gnudi is not a spangled suit worn onstage by such deceased chaps as country star Porter Wagoner, but rather ravioli that's lost its coat. Where radishes are stuffed with homemade butter, baby carrots are to be dredged through a wonderful concoction known as "leek dip," and where dark rye bread crumbs are crushed into "soil." Where puny dietary vows die softly and the steak comes wrapped with bacon.
To Chalkboard, where they tried to seat the reservationless in the back, in a corner by the kitchen. But the room was empty at 5pm on a Thursday evening, and we wanted to be by the bright summer windows and sip a Hendrick's and tonic ($10), which you can damn well bet we did.
Listening to a recording of this meal—which I did so that you never, ever think of doing this yourself (the pop of your lips greased and floppy, your awful timbre escalating with wine . . . )—I hear our sober delight as we settle in by the windows, order our drinks and immediately request a tray of crab tater tots ($9) and that veggie plate ($8) which would reveal the butter-stuffed and the leek-dipped nestled amid rye soil with a side of duck-fat-fried frites. (I shudder to learn that I evidently chanted "butter-stuffed-radishes" in a cheerleader's rah, but a cheerleader would never have eaten them.)
Chalkboard is a small-plate place with nothing priced over $17, as chef Shane McAnelly's invitation to indulge. We didn't need the invite, ordering the fresh corn ($7) immediately upon spying it as a special. Roasted on the cob, the kernels are sheared off and married in a bowl with cilantro, feta and a chipotle crema that is washed with a squeeze of roasted lime. The server invited us to mix it up. Mix it we did.