Tucked away along the hillside of Dry Creek Valley, in the sleepy little town of Healdsburg, is a century-old mansion called Madrona Manor. Built in 1881, this nationally-registered Victorian estate was once just a weekend getaway for a very well-to-do banker. Today, it's an inn with a one star Michelin-rated restaurant. The grounds at Madrona Manor--as one would expect--are immaculate. It is a mansion after all. Tulips, roses, cherry and camellias, leave the eight-acre estate billowing with floral delights. But my favorite part is the property's organic kitchen garden.
Under the guidance of Executive Chef Jesse Mallgren, the kitchen garden provides culinary inspiration for the restaurant most of the year. Raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, fava beans, lettuces such as wasabi arugula, are just a few of plants you'll find on the property. Let me tell you, wasabi arugula is called that for a reason. I couldn't help but sample some of it.
But don't take my word for it, hear what Chef Jesse has to say about it:
I was at Madrona Manor last month while driving all around California in a Chevy Volt. I had the luxury of not only staying there, but also dining there. Heck, they even let me charge my Volt there.
This chilled asparagus soup is just one of the amazing dishes I was treated to, featuring hazelnuts and rosemary blossoms. Look at how beautiful it is. After photographing it, I sat there in awe for a few minutes. I didn't want to ruin Chef Jesse's creation. But I got over that pretty quickly.
What makes Chef Jesse a genius is not just his use of seasonal ingredients but also, his use of out-of-season items. For example, he even uses the asparagus plant when it's not producing. Who knew you could do that?! Ferns from the vegetable find their way into salads or just as a garnish. And they taste just as fresh as the vegetable themselves. Genius, I tell you.
Here he is showing off his beautiful fava bean plant and you can tell, he's quite proud of it.
John Paxton purchased the land back in 1880 for just $10,500, a total of 240 acres in all. The home itself cost just $12,000 to build and was known as Madrona Knoll Rancho, one of the grandest homes in the 1880s. Not too surprising. When the house was completed it had 17 rooms, 3 1/2 baths and 7 fireplaces.
Being a century-old mansion, the Madrona Manor experience might seem a bit old and dusty. It's not. During my six-plus course meal, Chef Jesse and I were chit-chatting over Twitter, something I'm guessing Thomas Keller would never do. At least he didn't when I was at the French Laundry.
You can talk to Chef Jesse too, his Twitter handle is @MadronaChef.
But without further ado, let's get on to the eating, shall we?
As I mentioned, the dinner was about six courses, most of the ingredients were hand-picked from the garden that day. As Chef Jesse mentions in the video above, the dining experience at Madrona swings full circle. They try to use every part of the plant. That ethos was ever-present during my meal. It started with an amuse-bouche consisting of a radish and a savory churro and it ended on a similar note, with a marzipan radish and a more traditional churro.
This yukon gold gnocchi was one of my favorites. Not just for the flavor but as an avid gnocchi maker...it's always nice when someone else makes it. It's a very, very labor intensive process. And since Chef Jesse is always looking for a fun and tasty way to use the whole plant, this dish included estate pea leaves along with some fresh lemon and pecorino.
In case you were worried, the peas themselves were also used. Appropriately coined "Peas and Carrots" on the menu, I guarantee you this dish has no resemblance to the frozen vegetable mix you find at the grocery store.
And just when I thought I couldn't eat another bite, this was dessert one of two. And I ate both! The second was a Guinness ice cream which was hand churned tableside using minus 320 degree nitrogen. How could anyone turn that down? Sadly, my photos of that dessert did not turn out.
So if you have yet to make it as far north as Healdsburg, I suggest you book that Zipcar today! Besides being the home to Madrona Manor, the town of Healdsburg, is one of California's wine capitols, that is, three of the most important wine-producing regions (the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley) meet in Healdsburg.