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Dry Creek Kitchen & Healdsburg Wineries

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I'm traveling to Sonoma with my girlfriend on Saturday. Tragically, we're only able to spend a single afternoon and evening there (from noon onward), and while that's a mighty limitation, I'd like the experience to be as great as possible. To that end, although I know there are a lot of old posts on these topics, I've got two questions. I should mention that I was planning on visiting Healdsburg (though that can change, depending on the answers to the below questions).

First: Can you recommend a good place to taste sparkling wine? We've got two or three wineries already picked out, but find it really fun to try sparking every once in a while.
Research has turned up Gloria Ferrer and J, but the former is in Sonoma and doesn't really offer tastings, and I'm not sure if the latter is still worth visiting now that they've done away with wine/food pairings outside the Bubble Bar. (If it is, please let me know!)

Second: I made dinner reservations at Dry Creek Kitchen, but there are a lot of posts on this board that give the restaurant remarkably poor reviews. All of the posts I saw, however, were over a year old. Has anybody eaten there fairly recently? If so, would you recommend it? If not, is there another restaurant of roughly comparable price that you *would* recommend?

Also; I discovered this website a week ago and have spent much of my time since then exploring reams of old posts. I'm excited - this community is definitely going to improve my eating for the better.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. One tip. If you only have one afternoon for wineries, and are staying/eating dinner in the Healdsburg area, stay in that area for your wineries or you'll spend all of your time driving back and forth. The Healdsburg greater area includes Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley, so you're not deprived. I don't know about champagne/sparkling wine up there, but others will know more. Many very good reds, especially Zins, there. I'm sure you've found many postings about those wineries.

    1. j is still fun but i would skip DCK. I had dinner two weeks ago, not good. They say Charlie is in the kitchen now but I son't think so. Try Cyrus or Madrona Manor in Healdsburg or Syrah in Santa Rosa.

      1. Don't miss Iron Horse for sparkling wines. They are fantastic, and their tasting "room" is really an outdoor bar overlooking the vineyard/rolling hills. It's gorgeous. $10 tasting fee (for about 5 pours), no rezzies required. FYI: they close at 3:30.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mbaldauf

          Iron Horse is your best bet for Sparkling.

          Addendum: Ooops...I forgot to check the date, and see now that adk posted a trip report below.

        2. Joseph Swan in Forestville is worth a visit and they're open without appointments on Saturday.

          1. We went to DCK back in July when we were too late to get into Willi's Seafood Bar. Given some of the reports on this board and others, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the meal was. The foie gras (with vanilla salt) was perfect, the duck excellent, and the popcorn sherbet with the dessert was amazing. I was also impressed by how gracious the staff was, given that we barely squeezed before the kitchen closed. While I would definitely go to Cyrus as a first choice (which was where we had dinner the night before), DCK was a good back-up option.

            1. I certainly agree with the recommendation regarding Iron Horse for sparkling wine. It is one of the most beautiful settings in Sonoma County and they are very generous with their tastings.

              Relative to DCK, Charlie is in the kitchen much more frequently than previously as he is in the area more regularly now. The executive chef has just left DCK to go to Barndiva in Healdsburg so things may be down from that move. Having said that, I have just never had a meal there that made me want to go back right away.

              1. There are many wineries and wine-tasting rooms within the city of Healdsburg -- within walking distance of DCK.

                If you look at the "Downtown Map" available at the website you will see them.
                Some of them charge $5 for a tasting, some are free. You can park free (3-hour limit) in the downtown area. I no longer like to drive after tasting wine.

                1. So, where did you go?

                  Dry Creek Kitchen
                  317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rworange

                    Sorry for the year-old response - I totally forgot about this thread! I'm reporting back what little I remember in the hopes that it might be useful to someone else.

                    We ended up going to Iron Horse for sparkling wine. The normally gorgeous vineyard that the outdoor tasting "room" looks out upon was closed for replanting, so our view was mainly one of gently rolling hills of dirt. But we both really enjoyed the wine and I'd certainly recommend the experience.

                    Though we had good experiences at some other wineries the highlight of the trip was undoubtedly Rodney Strong. We arrived some 15 minutes before closing and ended up staying long after all the other customers had left. This was entirely the fault of our fantastic pourer who repeatedly set up parallel tastings between the wines we paid to taste and the estate wines we did not. He also selected and poured us off-menu wines based on our reactions to the stuff we were tasting. And to top it all off he was extremely friendly, answering all of our questions and engaging and leading us through what turned out to be a very lengthy tasting process. I don't know if it was because they had a lot of open bottles they had to use, because our pourer was feeling especially generous, or if the tastings at Rodney Strong are always this great, but we had a blast and will certainly be going back.

                    And the food? After the warnings on this board we opted to skip Dry Creek Kitchen, but couldn't get a reservation at some of our other top choices on such short notice. We ended up dining at K&L Bistro where I had a delicious onion soup. I wish I could say more, but unfortunately the rest of the meal was largely forgettable.