Web Exclusive: House of Better blends dining with design

With the conversation surrounding reopening hotels post-COVID and resuming business travel, what would a hotel stay and, especially, an important event be without food & beverage? F&B was one of the hardest-hit industries alongside hospitality, putting employees out of work and the dining experience changed forever.

It seems that opening a new dining venue now may seem counterintuitive, but the teams at Sightline Hospitality and Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs in Calistoga, CA, are taking advantage of a challenging time, but a time when travelers are itching to get back to dining as usual. House of Better is a new dining destination at the wellness-driven resort that blends local flavors with a memorable atmosphere.

“It was fortuitous for us to build House of Better as primarily an outdoor concept,” said Jose A. Ortega, general manager, Dr. Wilkson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs. “Most of our seating is completely outdoors—with climate control provisions—and even our indoor area has an accordion door system that opens up the room to the outdoors. During these times, the seats are being spaced out with all other COVID protocols practiced as well.”

House of Better offers elevated counter service along with at least six-ft. of distance between its tables. Guests can view and order from online menus, order by phone or request single-use paper menus in person, Ortega explained. “Our restaurant staff is required to wear masks, complete training on hygiene and disinfecting practices and practice safe food prep and service,” he said.

Along with the enforcement of safety and sanitation protocols, the team recognized the importance of unforgettable design and cuisine, that would satisfy months of pent-up wanderlust.

“We wanted House of Better to have its own style and character unique from the rest of the property, but also relate to the two other differing styles of architecture present on the property, which are mid-century modern and the Victorian wing,” said Maki Bara, partner, Sightlight Hospitality. “The way to achieve this was to design the restaurant to integrate into the outdoors, as an indoor/outdoor concept which takes advantage of the fantastic weather as well as beautiful views of the Palisade Mountains and the valley of Napa. The buildings are casual contemporary, and the aged wood siding blends well with the nature around it.”

In all of Sightline Hospitality’s projects, Bara explained, the company aims to create a sense of place and identity that is unique to each location, as well as honor the particular history of the property.

“At Dr. Wilkinson’s Resort, we aim to nurture the well-being of both the mind and body—we are ‘where health meets happiness,’” she said. “The House of Better embodies this value—patrons will nourish the body with healthy ingredients in our Southwestern cuisine and drinks, but also look to enrich the mind with a relaxing and fun experience.”

The menu is inspired by nutrient-dense Southwest cuisine, with a balance between comforting and healthy options. The restaurant design was also inspired by the property’s surroundings, taking notes from natural materials.

“The inspiration was to draw from nature—the oak tree grove adjacent to the restaurant on our property and the view of the Palisade Mountains,” Bara said. “The design was also inspired by a casual and fun ‘food truck’ feel. The turquoise-colored awnings at the bar are a whimsical accent that mimic an open garage door overhead. The seating is predominantly in the covered outdoor trellis space and feature brightly colored chairs and tables.”

The indoor dining room has large windows on two sides and a glass system on the third side that can be opened up to have this “indoor-outdoor” feel…It can also double as a private dining room or meeting room.

Bara noted that the team has noticed a trend of both “bringing the outdoors in” as well as taking the restaurant outdoors, especially in locations like California, which House of Better’s design acknowledges.

“The restaurant was designed from the beginning to be an indoor-outdoor concept so the outdoor spaces are 100% integrated into the original design,” Bara said. “The bar seats are outdoors against the bar building, covered by metal awnings above. The main dining area is an outdoor covered trellis space equipped with misters during warm weather and heating lamps during chilly times. There are shades that come down to protect against the afternoon sun as well as any inclement weather. Guests also have the option to dine anywhere in the resort’s ‘backyard’ by taking one of the colorful Fermod folding bistro chairs and tables off of our ‘chair wall’ or using a picnic blanket offered to all patrons by the hotel. There are also pre-arranged picnic tables and Adirondack chairs throughout the property where patrons are free to dine.”

Using this time as an opportunity, Bara is confident that the industry will follow, generating creative ways to design for dining.

“We think this year will be the year of innovative outdoor restaurants,” Bara said. “We’ve seen individual igloos and other protected private outdoor spaces that are both COVID-friendly and fun. We are looking forward to continued innovation around outdoor seating that will be applicable even when the pandemic is over.”

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