Brothers Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini dreamed up their Healdsburg restaurant, Valette, while sharing a bottle of wine on their father’s porch overlooking the vineyards of Alexander Valley. Having grown up in Geyserville, California, surrounded by the bounty of Sonoma, they wanted to create a restaurant that celebrated local farmers and vintners with a seasonal menu that service a fine meal without fussiness.
In March 2015 they opened Valette on Healdsburg Square at 344 Center Street. The spacious location was formerly a bakery run by Valette’s great-grandfather, Honoré Valette, a French immigrant who settled in Sonoma in the early 20th century.
The brothers were raised in a family where mealtime meant sharing conversation and great food.
“I fell in love with cooking early on and actually applied to be a chef at a local restaurant called Catelli’s when I was age 13. Of course, the owner wouldn’t hire me since I was so young and had no experience, but I kept coming back to the restaurant for two weeks until I was finally hired as a busboy,” said Valette.
After graduating high school Valette enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He traveled in Italy and France and worked in restaurant kitchens in Las Vegas and California, notably Aqua in San Francisco, Bouchon and Chateau Souverain in Napa Valley, and VOX Restaurant & Wine Lounge in Henderson, Nevada. While in Las Vegas, he met chef Charlie Palmer who recruited him back to Sonoma to work at Dry Creek Kitchen as executive chef for seven years. Valette credits both Charlie Palmer and Thomas Keller as his culinary mentors.
Like his younger brother, Aaron Garzini cut his chops working in the kitchen at Catelli’s at just 14 years. Eventually, he was drawn to working front of the house and spent more than a decade working at John Ash & Co. in Sonoma. He served as restaurant manager at both Betelnut in San Francisco and at Francis Ford Coppola’s Rustic Restaurant in Geyserville.
The two brothers divide their responsibilities. Garzini manages front of the house and oversees the Sonoma-focused wine list. Valette oversees the menu with Executive Chef Nathan Davis, also a Dry Creek Kitchen alum. Customer menu favorites include day boat scallops en croute steamed with Pernod infused leeks and topped with American caviar-champagne beurre blanc, and cocoa nib crusted Liberty Duck breast with pickled rhubarb and coffee-cherry gastrique, handmade pastas and a generous house-made charcuterie board served with local cheeses.
“So much of our menu is showcasing artisan producers and the passion for what they grow. Many are small and just specialize in one product such as mushrooms, turnips, peaches, or garlic. On our menus, we acknowledge who the farmers are, what they grow, and where each is located. Sonoma is like a culinary Disneyland; there are so many great local products here, ” said Valette.
In 2013 Valette started experimenting with making wine in his garage and in 2019 launched an eponymous label, Valette Wines, with his business partners, Bob Cabral, Jesse Katz, and Tom Rochioli. Valette Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are featured on the restaurant’s wine list and sold direct-to-consumer.
A new restaurant opening
This summer Valette will open The Matheson, also on Healdsburg Square at 106 Matheson Street. The location was formerly Snowflake Bakery in 1920, also owned, by Honoré Valette.
The two-story building with a rooftop bar will offer a different menu on each level, all terroir-driven and centered on Sonoma ingredients laced with Pacific rim flavors conceived by Valette and Chef de Cuisine Matt Brimer. A selection of fresh sushi and sashimi will be overseen by sushi master, Ken Tominaga
Valette is especially enthusiastic about Roof 106, the rooftop lounge featuring a locally made Mugnaini pizza oven that will turn out wood-fired flatbreads made from a dough recipe derived from a rare yeast strain sourced from William Selyem winery, whose late winemaker, Burt Williams, was recognized for his extraordinary Pinot Noir. “The dough has an amazing depth of flavor and enhanced ‘fruity’ notes in the flavor,” Valette said.
The Matheson will spotlight boutique Sonoma wine producers and feature a “Wine Wall” offering 88 self-service wines by the class on top, including selections of Valette wines.
High on Healdsburg
Valette and Garzini are both enthusiastic about Healdsburg’s recognition as a dining destination, known for world-class foods and wines. Of course, prominence also has its price: higher expectations.
“People in Sonoma and Healdsburg expect the best. You can’t just grab a recipe book. You need passion and dedication to not just be good but be the best. I am fortunate in my career to have worked with people who are driven and passionate,” Valette said.
Like many of their local neighbors, the family has weathered the ups and downs of the economy, the pandemic and the onslaught of wildfires that threatened their region. The local community is the glue that keeps everyone together and supportive.
“All our local restaurants and farmers come together to support each other.We work hard and are passionate,” said Valette. “My mantra is: Success is not given; it is earned.”