A Chef's Hotel
The little town of Healdsburg in Sonoma wine country has several nice B&Bs, but the new Hotel Healdsburg is something else entirely. Created by chef Charlie Palmer of New York City's Aureole--who provided the crab recipe here--it is Healdsburg's first luxurious, full-service hotel,with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the town's 140-year-old plaza. The entrance is around back, surrounded by gardens; inside are Tibetan rugs, black teak furniture and French doors that open onto balconies. San Franciscans drive 70 miles to compete with locals for seats at Dry Creek Kitchen, Palmer's restaurant in the hotel. The menu features Sonoma ingredients, with dishes like Liberty duck breast poached in olive oil; the wine list is all-Sonoma, with Kistler, Williams Selyem and Rochioli among the 600 selections. Do look for Palmer when you go; he's building a house in Healdsburg (25 Matheson St.; 800-889-7188; rooms start at $205 a night).
Perfect Wine Match
Although it's planted throughout the world, the sturdy Chenin Blanc grape rarely wins much acclaim. Some of its best bottlings, however, can be great matches with rich dishes such as these pan-fried soft-shell crabs. Chenin Blanc's brisk acidity stands up to the tartness of the sauce, while its signature honeyed character plays up the sweetness of the crab. One delightful example is the 2000 Pine Ridge Chenin BlancViognier ($11), produced by a Napa winery better known for Cabernet Sauvignon. This unusual blend of 84 percent Chenin Blanc and 16 percent Viognier gets crisp grapefruit and melon flavors from the Chenin and floral aromas from the Viognier. Alternately, look for the dry 1999 Château d'Épiré Savennières Cuvée Spéciale ($20) from France's Loire Valley. This is an ageworthy wine with a lovely touch of lemon and hints of minerals and hazelnuts.