'Guess what it is!," enthuses my server, Jessica, whose raven hair matches the wine glass she's just placed in front of me. The black glass conceals the tell-tale violet or honey-hued color of the liquid inside. Is it dry and prickly? Buttery and floral?
No matter what I find inside this "mystery glass," one thing is clear: I am not here to idly imbibe; I am here, as the very name suggests, to partake.
The latest creation of Kendall-Jackson, Partake is defined as much by what it isn't as what it is. Too gastronomically ambitious to be a tasting room, more wine-driven than a mere restaurant, Partake—just off the plaza in Healdsburg—bills itself as an eatery-tasting lounge, a place where food and wine exist to complement the other.
"We start with the wine," executive chef Justin Wangler tells me, "and then create the dishes."
Like Wangler, who's worked at Kendall-Jackson's winery for nearly a decade, the mystery glass has its roots in the tasting room. There, the "wine geeks" competed to see who could guess the unknown wine they enjoyed after their shifts. "We turned it into a contest," Wangler says, "but it's really about opening up and using your senses."
My mystery wine turned out to be Kendall-Jackson's Avant Chardonnay, whose brightness paired perfectly with a tart and creamy salad of fresh mozzarella, preserved lemon, summer squash and Castelvetrano olives ($9).
The white flights complement light, dainty offerings like the challah with Dry Creek peaches, crescenza and hazelnuts ($8). Already a house favorite, and not to be missed, are the caramelized carrots with guajillo chile and coconut ($6), paired with a Vintner's Reserve Muscat.
Moving down the seasonal menu, the flavors get bolder and richer, the wines darker and heavier. The perfectly pillowy pork buns ($7) are made with Syrah grapeskin flour, and the tempura maitake mushrooms ($8) evoke all the earthy goodness of rained-soaked soil.
Highlighting the harvest of Kendall Jackson's eight-acre garden, the menu offers a refreshing selection of veggies and fruits. A corn pudding with pickled mushrooms ($8) has all the rich decadence of bacon-laced mac and cheese, but without the meat or the gluten (or, ahem, the stale trendiness). Another unexpected treat? The unctuous Riesling and Chardonnay grapeseed oils, proud products of the "Whole Vine" philosophy, which easily push olives out of the limelight.
Diners are advised to save room for dessert. "The nectar of the gods" is how one winemaker describes the lush Grand Reserve Late Harvest Chardonnay, a fitting antidote to pastry chef Buttercup's heavenly bite-sized mignardises ($10).
In the location formerly occupied by Shimo Modern Steak, Partake's two main seating areas, both amply windowed, are understated and elegant. The creamy white walls are mostly bare, save for an ancient gnarled grapevine and a blown-up photo triptych of Alexander Valley. And in a playful nod to Rodin, local tattoo artist Adam Burns of Bad Billies has used a mobile chalkboard as a canvas to paint his version of The Thinker.
Backed by the sun setting over rolling vineyards, the iconic man with the furrowed brow has one hand tucked beneath his chin, the other holding—what else?—the stem of a mysteriously dark wine glass.
Partake, 241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.6000.