Forbes Lifestyle Online Editorial – September
Here's Why SingleThread Is Worth The $1,500-A-Night Splurge
At SingleThread, arguably the most interesting hotel-slash-dining experience in America, the pencil tells you the story. Placed atop a stack of paper on a side table, the Camel HB writing instrument, imported from Japan and selected after weeks of testing and deliberation, is as dark and smooth as a 100-point Grenache.
That’s how it is at SingleThread. In the five guestrooms at the discreet inn off the main square in Healdsburg, California, each guest amenity is as meticulously sourced as the Fuyu persimmons and Monterey Bay abalone on the 11-course tasting menu downstairs.
Other hotels might throw you a few teabags. SingleThread, which opened late last year, provides a $400 Teaforia digital tea infuser and a box of magnificent oolongs and masala chais. Here, the trashcan lids lift upon approach as if by magic. The complimentary toothbrush has bristles of binchō-tan charcoal. Then there’s the multi-function Toto smart toilet with so many heating and cleaning and rinsing modes it practically does your laundry.
Kyle Connaughton is the chef and hotelier behind the obsessive details. He and his high school sweetheart and now wife, Katina, spent years collecting ideas for a good-life outpost where the pillows would be as fluffy as the modernist cuisine foams, and where service and setting rated high enough to impress Kyle’s godlike mentors. The ethos is Sonoma County chill meets Japanese omotenashi, the “spirit of anticipating needs without having to be asked.”
Connaughton helped French chef Michel Bras open a restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan, and later ran the experimental kitchen lab for Heston Blumenthal at Michelin-three-star Fat Duck in the English village of Bray. Among Connaughton’s inventions there was a dish called Sound of the Sea, which featured edible sand and a conch shell that concealed an iPod Nano so diners could hear crashing waves as they ate.
The senses are of primary concern at SingleThread as well—and primarily the sense of wonder. A gorgeous peach sitting on a plate in the guest room turns out to be an illusion. It is chocolate, molded and airbrushed to peach-like perfection, and filled with peach jam, lemon thyme genache, almond praline and peach clusters. One of many fine creations by pastry chef Matthew Siciliano and confectioner Liza DiDonato.
Dinner–starting at $295 a person and payable only by advanced “ticket” that includes service charges but not drinks–begins on the rooftop with flutes of prosecco and snacks such as pea pods filled with a confit of garlic buds from the surrounding garden boxes (other items come from the five-acre farm Katina runs that’s 10 minutes away).
The 52-seat dining room downstairs has directional speakers that isolate sound so each table can enjoy a soundtrack timed to the emotional beats of the kaiseke-style menu. The playlist begins on the softer side, hits a crescendo at the peak of the evening when the dining room is in full swing, and begins to mellow as the evening comes to a close. The lighting, too, adapts throughout the evening to mirror the advance of the clock. And poetic descriptions of the menu items only hint at the sublimity on the plate. The poached foie gras is served with “tea of last year’s tomatoes, Tokyo turnips and their greens.” Sonoma Grains are a mix of “Nettles, Kasu-Zuke, Faro Verde Beignet, Rib Cap and Herbs from the Garden.”
The tables look onto the open kitchen where Kyle and his cooking team communicate via headsets that keep every employee within whispering range. If a guest on the rooftop mentions to a server that she doesn’t like buckwheat, let’s say, the kitchen can start making adjustments almost in real-time.
Connaughton’s eye for off-kilter perfection—wabi sabi, as the Japanese terms goes—extends to each plate and serving utensil. The earthenware bowls used for the black cod and leeks come from a family of Japanese potters that goes back eight generations. Knives for the Pacific Rogue Beef have handles fashioned from barn doors and blades made from a 1968 Volkswagen.
The hotel has its own winery, too, just off the dining room (some say it is the smallest in Sonoma County); and even the signed menu presented as a parting gift contains an epiphany: a cellophane square of tiny heirloom red carrot seeds from the Kyoto region to plant and enjoy.
But it is the room service breakfast the next morning that finally makes you cry “Uncle!” Again, at other places—even, say, The Ritz—you can expect chocolate chips in your pancakes and perhaps a squiggly rose topping your latte. At SingleThread, it’s the moon and beyond. The Persian Breakfast is a sultan’s fantasy of goat’s milk feta, slow boiled eggs, herb and cucumber Salad, toasted handmade flatbreads, Meyer lemon marmalade, housemade pickles, and z’atar.
The Japanese breakfast includes grilled trout, dashimaki tamago, donabe rice with chesnut, fresh yuba with barrel-aged ponzu, homemade tsukemono, miso soup and fresh fruit. Eggs are freshly laid on the farm. The orange juice is fresh Satsuma mandarin. The bacon? Smoked and cured in house, of course. The handmade tableware alone deserves a few Michelin stars.
SingleThread isn’t cheap. Rooms start at $700 and dinner for two with drinks pushes close to $1,000. But the experience is one to write home about, that’s for sure. Fortunately, the writing instrument makes even that endeavor a dream.