- FORWARD AND BACK Chef Shane McAnelly wants to revive some of the timeless disheshe learned to cook in culinary school at his new restaurant.
Lobster thermidor, lamb Wellington and Peking duck a l'orange aren't exactly cutting-edge, but Healdsburg chef Shane McAnelly wants to give the classic dishes and others like them their due at his new restaurant, the Brass Rabbit.
"When you're in a culinary school, this is the stuff you do," says McAnelly, who also runs the four-year-old Chalkboard nearby, "and you don't see them anymore. It's fun to prepare these dishes and share them with people who never had them before. They're classic for a reason."
While the name Brass Rabbit was inspired by British gastro-pubs, McAnelly says the concept is "classic Americana fine dining, seasonal with a California edge." That might sound like a lot of restaurants, but the difference, McAnelly says, is to mix the classics with local ingredients.
"In the Wellington, for example, instead of beef, we're using local Sonoma lamb," he says. "When we serve a beef bourguignon, we make it using a traditional Julia Child recipe, but add fresh radishes and asparagus from the Chalk Hill farm."
The lobster thermidor ($46), an impressive dish ordered by many on the night of my visit, is adorned with hackleback caviar provided by a young San Francisco venture—the Caviar Company—run by two sisters not yet in their 30s. The same caviar decorates the delicate eggs mimosa appetizer ($8), two deviled eggs filled with crème fraîche–whipped yolk and chives.
"We had to have deviled eggs on the menu," McAnelly says.
Right next to the throwback party snack, and alongside a crispy toast with a heap of traditional rabbit rillettes ($10), is a creamy, tangy and rich salad made of burrata, coal-roasted beets and grilled avocado ($13). "Burrata by Di Stefano, out of Pomona, is the best domestic burrata I've ever had," McAnelly says, "so I want to keep it throughout the year."
The avocado, what McAnelly calls "a stand-out Californian ingredient," had to be on the menu, too, he says. "I like to char avocado, as it's so creamy and buttery, and its meatiness comes out when you grill it."
The six-foot, Argentinian-style wood-burning grill is the centerpiece of the open kitchen, and features a rotisserie and plancha (griddle); it's responsible for one of the best chicken dishes I've had in the North Bay. The lemony, chimichurri-rubbed half-chicken ($24) arrives with a fresh stone fruit and panzanella salad comprising crispy, grilled sourdough chunks, nectarines, plums, pickled onion and salty feta. The chicken skin is wonderfully crispy and the meat tender and juicy; the salad is a summery celebration that complements the savory chicken perfectly.
"You won't always find chicken on fine dining menus," says McAnelly. "But there are a couple of markets here that sell grilled chicken, and they were my inspiration. The chicken doesn't usually look pretty, but when you bite into it, the flavor is crazy good."
This casual, flavor-first approach to reinvented classics helps the Brass Rabbit stand out in a town filled with good restaurants.
The Brass Rabbit, 109 Plaza St., Healdsburg.707.473.8580.