the bubble room

Restaurant of the Week: The Bubble Room

Sonoma boasts some of the highest-rated restaurants in the world. And yet, in my dozen times visiting over the past several years, there is only one I’ve returned to again and again: The Bubble Room.

The restaurant itself is located on the J Vineyards & Winery’s expansive property in Healdsburg, and as one would expect, each menu item is made specifically to pair with one of the brand’s stunning sparkling, red and white wines (tip: the pinot noir portfolio is my favorite in the region). However, this is a restaurant, not a tasting room (the tasting room is next door though, and worth the visit).

Amid the health pandemic, there are two options for dining at The Bubble Room.

J Vineyards & Winery

First, there is a five-course (plus surprises in between!) gastronomic adventure. This dining experience takes place inside the Bubble Room lounge, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, elegant seating and chandelier-like light fixtures that resemble glowing glass bubbles floating above. The menus change seasonally and are all under the direction of Chef Carl Shelton, who works to not only pair food with J wines, but to take guests on a culinary exploration of Sonoma’s finest native ingredients.

Shelton is the real deal. He got his start in Chicago, where he attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and apprenticed under many of the great chefs. Notably, he held the Chef de Cuisine position at Boka in Chicago, which earned a Michelin star. He was also named on the Zagat “30 under 30 of the Culinary World” list, as well as a nomination for the 2012 Jean Banchet “Best Chef de Cuisine” while at Boka. After seven years at Boka, Shelton and his family moved to Northern California, where he worked at Healdsburg’s Spoonbar restaurant and later under Chef Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood before joining J Vineyards in 2016.

I’ve never been served the same dish twice from him. His most recent menu (as of November 2020) included:


Pinot Gris, Estate, Russian River Valley, 2017

Scallop Ceviche | Avocado | Hibiscus | Oroblanco | Root Vegetable Chips


Pinot Noir, Foggy Bend Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2016

Abalone | Bacon Tagliatelle | Celery Root | Parmesan | Black Truffle


Pinot Noir, Barrel 16, Russian River Valley, 2015

Squab | Black Trumpet Mushroom | Rutabaga | Cabbage


Pinot Noir, Edition NO. 1, Russian River Valley, 2016

Kenne | Beets | Honey | Oxalis | Walnut & Bulgur Sourdough


Demi-Sec, Russian River Valley, NV

Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée | Tropical Fruit | Chocolate

Insanely original, right?

There is also a second experience, available as of writing this, which was developed given folks’ desire to dine outdoors and made to serve all at once to limit contact amid COVID-19.  This small-plate tasting takes place on the terrace, with all the wines poured in advance. I was actually nervous about this one when I visited in November given my standards based on the indoor experience were sky-high.

Well, wow. Just wow.

From the presentation to the pairings, Shelton knocked it out of the park. The experience came packaged in the funkiest, coolest giant bento box of sorts. Each compartment of the box yielded bold flavors and exceptional finesse. A sampling of the goodies:


Cuvée XB, Russian River Valley, NV Blanc de Noirs, Russian River Valley, 2016

Oysters| Pear & Horseradish | Uni & Umeboshi

**full disclosure, I am not a raw oyster person so requested a substitute in advance and it was made effortlessly for me**


Pinot Gris, Estate, Russian River Valley, 2017

Big Eye Tuna | Coconut | Hearts of Palm | Finger Limes | Sea Beans


Pinot Noir, Eastside Knoll, Russian River Valley, 2017

Baby Beets | Barley | Yuzu | Chèvre | Nasturtium


Pinot Noir, Canfield Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2017

A-5 Wagyu | Sunchoke | Lobster Mushroom


Cuvée 20 Magnum, Russian River Valley, NV

Apple & Quince Upside-Down Cake | Fromage Blanc | Candied Ginger Streusel

As I finished this meal, I had to hold myself back from professing my love for Shelton and asking him to marry me. But when I return this winter…well…no promises.

For more information on The Bubble Room, visit

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