Located right in the historic Healdsburg Plaza, Goodnights restaurant has quietly become a beloved culinary destination. I recently had the chance to sit down with the talented Chef David Lawrence of Goodnight’s, the creative force behind this local gem. In our conversation, Chef Lawrence shared his journey, his culinary inspirations, and what sets Goodnights apart. Join me as we get to know the chef and explore the unique dining experience that makes Goodnights so special.
For more on Goodnights Restaurant, be sure to read about their fantastic cocktail menu here:
The Best Cocktails in Healdsburg
What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook?
My first memory of cooking was at school as a 13-year-old boy in home economics. I made a salmon fish pie in puff pastry with a parsley white sauce. I remember the teacher showed me how to fold it like an old-fashioned envelope where all the points come to the middle. She then showed me how to egg-wash it.
It was one of the best things I have ever made in my life. Everyone in the class was wowed too! I immediately fell in love with cooking. I took the dish home to my dad, and he was so impressed. I got lucky – I had a great teacher.
What is a knife you cannot live without?
I can’t live without my Wusthof knives – particularly my 10-inch Wusthof. This knife’s versatility shines through – from effortlessly deboning an entire carcass to delicately handling work like turning mushrooms or carving intricate flowers out of carrots. In my opinion, it truly stands out as the most flexible tool in the kitchen.
What is one ingredient you cannot cook without?
That has to be salt. Even desserts have salt. A good kosher or sea salt is the most important thing in my opinion.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you made in your first year in the culinary industry?
In my first job as head chef at 23, I wasn’t quite aware of the importance of teamwork in a kitchen environment. I had a tendency to take on too much responsibility without relying on those around me. It took me a short period of time to realize how important it was to not only trust, but also to depend on my fellow cooks. Now, I appreciate the essential value of operating as a cohesive unit rather than as isolated individuals.
We met years ago in San Francisco at 1300 and Black Bark BBQ. For those who may not know you yet, can you share more about your culinary background starting in England where you were raised in San Francisco and now Healdsburg?
I got my start with the Roux brothers – who had the only 3-star Michelin restaurant in the ‘80s at the time. Everybody who was anybody had gone through the Roux system. Being there was the thing that gave me the foundations and the standards that I live with to this day. It also allowed me to meet people from all around the world.
When I came to America, I bumped into someone who I had worked with at the Roux restaurants, which set the course for my life in this country for the next 35 years. I opened up a restaurant in San Mateo called 231 Ellsworth, which was a great restaurant. Then, I worked in restaurants in San Francisco until I opened up my own restaurant called 1300, which was an iconic restaurant in the early 2000s. It was open for 12 years.
Share more about the inspiration behind the menu of the new Goodnights Prime Steak & Spirits menu? It is a classic steak house but then has some fun unexpected twists such as a wedge Salad with a SPECTACULAR Green Goddess Dressing instead of the predictable wedge as most steakhouses offer.
It’s kind of a full circle for me to be back in another steak house and serve as the Executive Chef here ast Goodnights Prime Steak & Spirits. The first restaurant I ever worked in was a steakhouse in London that my Dad was working at. Here at Goodnights Prime Steak & Spirits, we created a standout menu that showcases our team’s meticulous attention to detail and passion. We offer a variety of salts, such as truffle, pink Himalayan, and Hawaiian sea salt, along with a selection of complimentary sauces, for guests to choose from. We embrace customer involvement – allowing them to cater to their palates and bring their desired flavors to life. This active participation by our customers is one of the aspects I appreciate most about Goodnight’s.
What is your favorite dish on the Goodnights Prime Steak & Spirits menu?
As an appetizer, it’s the pan-roasted shrimp dish, and the Ribeye is my favorite steak. The bone adds flavor. It’s a steakhouse staple.
What do you think is the most unexpected dish on the menu you suggest guests try?
Everything on the menu is definitely intentional but I would say the vegetarian cauliflower dish might be the most unexpected. It’s a whole roasted cauliflower dish that has its own seasoning called muhammara dressing. I knew I had to have a vegetarian option on the menu and this is a great one. The vegetarians that come really appreciate having a dish like that. Rather than just sides, there is an entire dish as a vegetarian option.
Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?
What is your favorite after-work drink?
I don’t drink much, so I would say my favorite after-work drink is a nice cup of tea! I try to enjoy a cup of tea right before bed. No Earl Gray tea for me – just a nice black tea. It’s something proper, and a “working-class tea,” per see.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
I like to go for a swim in the morning before work. It keeps me energized and flexible. That’s my secret to youth – don’t tell anybody!