Second Story bringing vegan fine dining to Healdsburg

When SingleThread founders Kyle and Katina Connaughton suddenly ended their involvement with Healdsburg restaurant Little Saint last year, the future of the 10,000-square-foot meatless marketplace was uncertain. 

But just six months later, Little Saint is poised for a dramatic comeback. The owners recruited an all-star chef from Copenhagen’s Noma — at times widely considered the best restaurant in the world before announcing it will close — to launch an ambitious fine-dining restaurant with an all-vegan tasting menu in July.  

Called the Second Story, the restaurant is a stark departure from Little Saint’s ground-floor offering, which was rebranded earlier this year as a casual cafe serving vegan comfort food like black bean burgers and creamy carrot pasta. Upstairs, dishes presented at the new restaurant’s light-filled, greenhouse-inspired space are notably fancier. 

The Second Story is a light-filled, greenhouse-inspired space with both indoor and outdoor dining. 

The Second Story is a light-filled, greenhouse-inspired space with both indoor and outdoor dining. 

Brian L. Frank/Special to The Chronicle

The 10- to 12-course meal may start with small bites like a mushroom and zucchini skewer with pasilla chile and tamarind, or a savory twist on a traditional Danish Aebleskiver pancake served with cooked greens, a carrot-yeast glaze and fennel flowers. Little Saint co-owner Laurie Ubben said that a fine-dining restaurant on the second floor — where the kitchen is — was always part of “the original spitball” when Little Saint was conceived. 

The Second Story is following the lead of New York City fine-dining star Eleven Madison Park, which switched to a meatless tasting menu in 2021. Last October, it was the first vegan restaurant to receive three Michelin stars, though not all critics praised the change

Second Story executive chef Stu Stalker hopes that the restaurant will earn the respect of the fine-dining world — not just vegans. “We don’t want to be compared to other vegan restaurants,” said Stalker. “We want to be compared to other high-quality restaurants in the area.” 

Former Noma chef Stu Stalker prepares a celery root and preserved truffle pithivier for the Second Story. 

Former Noma chef Stu Stalker prepares a celery root and preserved truffle pithivier for the Second Story. 

Brian L. Frank/Special to The Chronicle

But he also doesn’t want it to feel pretentious. “We’ve all worked in some pretty high-end places, but it’s supposed to be an extremely welcoming space that you can come back to regularly,” he said. “You don’t have to be dressed up.”

The menu ($120, $65 optional beverage pairing) will revolve around what’s available from the Little Saint farm each day and will be “changing all the time,” Stalker said — so often that he doesn’t plan to post a menu on the website. It will not utilize any high-tech alternative proteins, like Impossible Burger, but is meant to be filling. 

“People come to a vegan restaurant and maybe have some kind of notion that it’s going to be really light, or all salads,” said Stalker, who has planned for some rich and heartier dishes that you “wouldn’t normally see in a vegan restaurant.” One example might be a celery root pithivier — a vegan play on the classic French pastry pie — with preserved truffles. Another course will feature summer vegetables presented in a bowl of smoked tomato and miso broth. 

The meal will conclude with two desserts prepared by executive pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth, formerly of Michelin-starred kitchens like San Francisco’s Campton Place and Benu, plus SingleThread. He said the first will be lighter, like a sorbet, followed by something heavier, perhaps a chocolate caramel mousse draped with a “crispy chocolate cloak.”

Executive pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth prepares a vegan chocolate mousse with a chocolate cocoa butter garnish.

Executive pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth prepares a vegan chocolate mousse with a chocolate cocoa butter garnish.

Brian L. Frank/Special to The Chronicle

Another differentiator is the Second Story’s beverage offerings, which are inclusive of the wellness-oriented shift in the alcoholic beverage space. Diners can choose from three optional beverage pairings with the tasting menu: wine, low-alcohol or nonalcoholic. 

The wine list is built around sustainability-minded producers, while the cocktail and mocktail program, led by Eleven Madison Park and SingleThread alum Matt Seigel, repurposes leftover ingredients from the kitchen and imperfect produce from the farm to minimize waste. The Clarified Pimm’s Cup, for instance, utilizes leftover cucumber juice pulp, leftover ginger and ugly mint leaves and stems; Little Saint can’t use whole milk, so they substitute in coconut milk, which Seigel said “gives an incredible mouthfeel” and a “slight tropical note on the back end.” Another cocktail, called Plums N’ Roses, turns spent roses into a rose liqueur, and leftover plums and pits into fermented tea. 

The result: a spritzy summer aperitivo.  

The Second Story at Little Saint. Opening July. Reservations now open. 25 North St., Healdsburg. littlesainthealdsburg.com

This story was updated to reflect that Noma is slated to close at the end of 2024.

Reach Jess Lander: [email protected]; Twitter: @jesslander

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