ealdsburg is a small town, both charming and grounded, less than four square miles in size. Of its 12,000 residents, many farmers, vintners, and second-home owners, Charlie Palmer is happy to be counted among them.

He opened Dry Creek Kitchen here in 2001, and shortly after moved his family to a farm right outside of city limits. Over the years, Palmer has become a partner in a luxury hotel in the town’s center that earned the prestigious Ivy Award in 2008, and his wife runs a successful travel and leisure store called Lime Stone. Healdsburg might have grown in popularity with more diverse and sophisticated offerings, but one constant remains true: There’s always a well-set table at Dry Creek Kitchen.

Aureole Wine Tower
Dan Prentice
General Manager Dan Prentice is no stranger to Sonoma County living. This is his second stint in town at Dry Creek Kitchen. Hospitality experiences at companies big and small have taken him around the world. You don’t have to ask why he came back, because it’s obvious in the way he stops to talk to a table of guests, motivate a server, or take in the dining room right before service starts.
hen Charlie Palmer first opened here, there was not a lot happening. He was a pioneer, and Dry Creek Kitchen and Hotel Healdsburg together landmarked Healdsburg. Not only has the area attracted other chefs, but our own restaurant has spawned a lot of individual talents that now have local places of their own. In that respect, Charlie’s influence is prevalent throughout this entire community. Beyond Healdsburg, you see dining destinations pop up in satellite cities like Windsor and Geyserville.

The first time I worked here, there was a small enclave of city dwellers living in the country. Now that number has grown. So many more people who are local here also have their feet in San Francisco or Los Angeles. The town has become more sophisticated to meet the needs of its residents.

I like to tell guests that what they see and enjoy on the hills and valleys of Sonoma County is sitting right here on their plate and in their glass, and they can appreciate the lack of a carbon footprint that it took to get here. If Hotel Healdsburg is country minimalism, Dry Creek Kitchen is country elegance. Its progressive American menu is based on classical French techniques that focus on regional ingredients that change seasonally.

“We highlight those intimate farmer and vintner relationships on our menu that lock in our identity.“

—Dan Prentice, General Manager, Dry Creek Kitchen

We offer a tailor-made experience for each guest. It’s not just about the food. Much like a band, we are all in this together, from the chef in the kitchen to the server who has to believe in the craft the culinary team has created. We want our guests to come for the whole experience, not just one instrument! For the educated diner, we are friendly and approachable but not too familiar. Consider yourself in the hands of culinary experts who make suggestions and present and describe with culinary passion, not just deliver your food. After all, you can put a white tablecloth on any table and call it formal, but if you don’t have a team to produce that classic yet friendly service, then it’s just an empty promise.

For the traveler with a limited time in town, we realize he or she could eat at any establishment. And so we highlight those intimate farmer and vintner relationships on our menu that lock in our identity. We have the most comprehensive wine list in Sonoma, and we even waive corkage fees on the first two bottles of local wines you bring in. For our neighbors and friends, who in so many ways have helped define who we are, we offer a $39 three-course neighbor dinner menu Monday to Thursday.

I’m a stickler for a perfectly dressed table. There’s a lot going on in our dining room—all the foliage, the open floor-to-ceiling windows, the angles of our vaulted ceilings, the frosted glass in our exhibition kitchen. That’s a lot of abstract to take in. When you have a well-set table with perfectly placed silverware, it’s a nice juxtaposition: structure to the organic. The guest doesn’t need to acknowledge it. It’s subconscious, but it implies the underlying philosophy we have at Dry Creek Kitchen: that you are about to have a great meal, because there is order to this journey through food and wine.

Aureole Wine Tower

Executive Chef Scott Romano, a 1999 CIA graduate, knows his way around a Charlie Palmer kitchen. He started at Aureole in New York as a line cook in 1997 and since then has cooked in many of Palmer’s kitchens all over the country.

”It gets better and better all the time,” Chef Scott Romano says of his past few years at Dry Creek Kitchen. “We have cultivated intimate relationships with farmers and vintners. The farmers market is literally 50 feet away from the restaurant. We try to stay within a 30-mile radius, working with small family farms that often grow produce or raise animals just for us.”

You can almost taste his enthusiasm for the ingredients at his fingertips as he explains meeting his sous-chefs at the market each Saturday, after which they turn their culinary finds into specials that night. “Everything tastes that much better, sweeter, when it’s grown right there in front of you.”

Chef Romano might have had a line on good ingredients in past establishments, but nothing quite like this. And he clearly doesn’t take it for granted. “I changed my style when I came out here to suit the food,” he explains. “Lighter, crisper plating. No heavy sauces. I use a lot of different acids to bring out the flavors on the plate. It’s a cleaner, fresher way of cooking.”

He takes full advantage of Sonoma’s bounty with a series of monthly Ranch and Vine lunches that start in June, pairing a local farmer with a local vintner. “We showcase the whole animal, nose to tail, in a series of dishes that pair with the wines.”

Beyond his relationships with purveyors, Romano points back into the kitchen, at the team he works with. “It’s a tight crew,” he says. “We all get together, get inspired, even write recipes together. Much like the quality of ingredients I have to work with here, I am lucky to have some amazing sous-chefs and cooks.”

Charlie Palmer and Executive Chef Scott Romano at Dry Creek Kitchen
Charlie Palmer and Executive Chef Scott Romano at Dry Creek Kitchen