California’s Newest Michelin Two-Star Restaurant
Every acclaimed restaurant aspires to achieve a moment that wows diners. At SingleThread, the Sonoma County restaurant that earned two Michelin stars last fall, less than a year after it opened, that moment happens before you take your first bite. On your table when you arrive is an edible work of art, an assemblage of more than a dozen delicacies—in shells, on little wooden planks, and on handmade ceramic plates— garlanded with greens and flowers from SingleThread’s farm, just five miles away. The tablescape is so beautiful that, like a waterfall or Japanese garden, it can take your breath away.
“These are beets, roasted in the hearth with shaved purple cauliflower from our farm,” says our server, explaining that every item is emblematic of the season. “This is a salad of lotus root with silken tofu made by one of our sous chefs; he’s been working on the recipe for about a year.” There are also mustard greens from the SingleThread farm, and Golden-eye snapper wrapped around braised kombu and sea palm. There is sesame-dressed young broccoli from the farm with a broccoli blossom. Moving on to the boards, there is Fort Bragg sea urchin, which was just coming into season in Northern California, served raw with some ahi tuna and a little bit of tamari dressing. And all this was just part of the first course.
Perhaps most remarkable: the tablescape and many of the dishes in the 11-course procession of Japan-meets-California cuisine were custom-made for my wife and me after conversations with chef Kyle Connaughton and his crew. Up to two months ahead of a guest’s arrival at SingleThread, a staff member gets in touch to ask about allergies and preferences, and whether you’re celebrating a special occasion. There’s no menu— until you leave when you receive an elegant paper folder listing each of your courses (mine was different than my wife’s, as I try to avoid milk products) and the wines or non-alcoholic beverages you enjoyed. (There’s a non-alcoholic pairing with creative juice mixes and infusions.)
“We create maximum flexibility for our guests,” Kyle says. “So if someone doesn’t like seafood or shellfish or they’re vegetarian or vegan or they have a nut allergy, we customize and tailor the experience individually.” Almost uniformly, reviewers have praised SingleThread, owned and run by Kyle and his wife Katina Connaughton, for opening with a fully realized vision. “Every aspect of the experience was buttoned downand polished,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer shortly after the restaurant opened in December 2016. “I’ve never seen that before in a restaurant shooting for the stars. But then I’ve never seen a husband-and-wife team with such a focused and well-formed idea of what they wanted and how to get there.”
The restaurant occupies the site of a post office that burned down in 2009. After the fire, the Seghesio family, Sonoma County winemakers, bought the site and started building a tasting room, but during construction they sold their winery so no longer needed the space. The Connaughtons put together an investment group, acquired the property and halted construction. Then they brought in their own design team, which included San Francisco-based AvroKO, and built the restaurant of their dreams.
The structure is impressive, formidable without being foreboding. In good weather, which is most of the year, guests are invited onto the roof to enjoy a welcome drink and survey the view—if not for a ridgeline they’d be able to see SingleThread’s farm. I ask about the herbs growing in tall wooden planters, and Kyle pinches off a bit of pineapple sage. “Try one of these red flowers,” he says. The scent of pineapple hits my nose before I taste the piquant flower. In other planters are lemon verbena and kaffir lime leaf (often used in Thai cuisine), their citrusy aromas unmistakable. “It’s nice,” Kyle says, “because chefs can just run up and get some herbs.”
Back on the ground floor, the portal into the dining room is a 9-foot wooden door made at Sonoma Millworks in Healdsburg, a mile and a half away. And the interior of the 55-seat dining room is an earth-tone masterpiece of understatement and hidden touches, such as the fabric screens. Each screen’s pattern, a server explained, is based on the DNA sequence of a vegetable at its peak at that time. The November screen, for example, reflects the DNA pattern of kale. But there’s no pretension here: I wouldn’t have known about the screens if I hadn’t read about them and asked a server to reveal their secrets.
All these subtle notes, from the dining room door to sourcing produce from their own farm, are part of the single thread that ties the restaurant to its communities. On the kitchen shelves are donabe, clay cooking pots made in Iga, Japan, by master potters for eight generations, the Nagatani family, to whom the Connaughtons have become close. The Connaughtons buy miso from a family in Kyoto that they know well—their kombu comes from Hokkaido, where the couple once lived. Their vinegar producer is “the only one in Japan who grows its own organic rice. We go to them and they come out here, so there’s that connection,” Kyle says. “It’s personal.” The rest of this article can be read in print in Inspirato Magazine.