Oct 2, 2011
Aside from all other useful information I gathered from Sex and the City, I referenced the episode where Mr. Big moves to Napa, to shape my expectations about the place. Although, a golf then an outdoor jakuzzi scene didn’t give me enough visual information, the place had to be heaven on earth for a man as snob as he was, to leave a glamorous life in New York. The line Carry pulled on him when he broke the news to her, when you're tired, you don't go to Napa, you just take a nap'a, was going to ring in my head all the way. Yes, I am one miserable, ignorant, popular-culture-driven individual whose conceptions are shaped by television series; you don’t have to write that in the comments section.
Forget what I said about Sex and the City and elevate yourself to concentrate on the actual matter: I went to Napa to taste Napa wine. But the idea of Napa thrilled me more for its high class, world-renowned restaurants like those of Thomas Keller than its vineyards, to tell the truth. The French Laundry considered arguably the best restaurant in the world was certainly the most intriguing destination out there. However, it didn’t take us long before we realized that we sadly don’t really belong to that group of people who can secure reservations at the French Laundry when they call two months ahead. We were even ready to embrace the repercussions of dining in restaurant classified as “extremely expensive”: such as dining on cheese and bread for the rest of our nine days in California, which apparently wasn’t enough of a compromise to qualify for the French Laundry. I was both shattered, and relieved to that end.
The French Laundry
When we spotted The French Laundry on Washington Street in Yountville, we were enchanted like hysterical tourists seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. We pulled over, leaving my stupefied brother in the car who doesn’t share the least of our enthusiasm with food and went inside to see what we had been deprived of. As soon as we saw Maitre D’hôtel, Doğa conveyed our frustration to him about our failed reservation attempts, to which he matter-of-factly responded by saying that thousands of people around the world share that same destiny. Feeling all comforted and loved, we cruised in the beautiful small garden under his guidance and in between tables that were being prepared for the lunch seating. On the way out, we ran into people who shared another destiny, arrive. A hearthbreaking moment to remember...
Thomas Keller's signature was scattered all around Yountville, with his Ad-Hoc, a casual family restaurant with a daily menu, Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery next door. Guess whose food were we able to lay hands on? That’s right, the Bakery. Which, I suspect, was designed to help rejects like us to cure their bruised self esteems. By having a bite of something with Keller’s signature on, we worldly can have something to tell when we get back home, too. Otherwise, someone explain me the 50 feet line in front of this bake shop.
Tourists posing in front of Ad-Hoc and Redd next door.
On a rainy day, to kill time in between two tasting reservations while there was not enough time for a proper sit-down lunch, we went to see what this Bakery was about. I was curious to find out the answer to two things: how different were Bouchon’s financiers than the ones I make so proudly and diligently at home? Second, were its macaroons really worth of taking boxfuls home, like we’ve seen so many local tourists were doing?
Some Bouchon Bakery goodies
The financiers were really really good, meaning, I don’t want to sound too assertive but, they were very much like the ones I make. But the first financiers I tasted in my life and fell in love with were those ginger flavored ones at the tea room of Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. I had written a whole post about them including my conquest in discovering their recipe. Their macaroons were also the best to my taste, quiet ironically even lighter and airier than those of Ladureé, the creator of macaroons. I may awfully be wrong and inexperienced with what constitutes a perfect macaroon but to my liking, I’m so sorry, Bouchon Bakery’s were too dense. And I should just stop there before I get myself into trouble.
Macaroons of Bouchon
We ordered the irresistible French baguettes in the showcase with ham and gruyere cheese followed by three types of macaroons and financiers for our sweet tooth. The girl behind the counter asked whether we liked our baguettes warmed up, I said yes, expecting the cheese to be melted and ham to be warmed up. But I swear to God I didn’t think for one second that she would flatten the fresh crunchy bread between the toasters, and oh she did!
Things we couldn't taste at Bouchon and financiers under quality control
We left the shop completely disappointed with our flattened rock hard baguettes, with the rain pouring hard on us. With Doğa next to me still pissed at me for my absentmindedness, I worked on my sandwich in the car. Not the most classy Keller experience perhaps but hey, here I have a story to tell.
Brix located in St Helena awaited us for lunch. The view of its 2 acres of gardens, vineyard and the orchard seen from the back porch where we were seated, had gotten even more peaceful with the crisp, post rain weather. I ran to the kitchen which was conveniently exposed, and inconsiderately wandered around blocking waiters’ ways to take some photos. The kitchen was the most tastefully decorated one I had seen so far with wooden rustic appliances and green tiles. I rushed back to the table before someone broke my heart and told me to get out of the way.
Kitchen of Brix
Although we thought we had enough time until our wine tasting appointment in the afternoon, our food arrived so delayed that we could barely enjoy our mains properly, let alone order dessert. I’m not even going to complain about the cold grilled salmon: a mistake that can happen anywhere as busy as Brix.
The menu of Brix uses seasonal fruits and vegetables cultivated in the Brix garden. Vines from Brix owners, Kelleher’s family vineyards are sold in the wine shop located inside the restaurant. We ordered tempura of green beans grown in the garden to share. I had organic chicken served with barley which I liked. We left Brix in a rush, yet happy and comforted thanks to its beautiful scenery.
Take Redd as a lover who is perfect on all aspects but simply can’t make you fall in love with him. The bar looks like temporarily in service that fails to put you in the mood while you are having your aperitifs; the dining section looked as though they had just moved in that morning and still had some moving in to do. White walls coupled with fluorescent lightning was unappetizing and insipid. The decoration had to be intestinally designed to keep guests’ attention focused on food. With me, this effect had backfired; I was distracted with the dullness of the ambiance, asking myself if this really was the permanent location for this Michelin star restaurant. (I know one thing Michelin star restaurants I visited so far have in common: the lack of spirit in their ambiance, with the exception of Ubuntu, the topic of my next post.)
The menu comprises of French food with Californian influences, similar to those restaurants we had visited in Pacific's Edge in Carmel, RN74 in San Francisco, Seagrass in Santa Barbara and Brix of the previous day. Bombarded with same style of high-end food, we had become numb and oblivious to the type of food Redd was serving, no matter how exquisite and perfectly concocted they were. Us the spoiled beings lacking gratitude... I was so fed up with restaurants to the extent that I was almost looking forward to home cooked food. So I blame my state of mind for the lack of my excitement with Redd.
If Redd were a restaurant in Istanbul, it would probably pass for one of our favorites. Due to the factors above, I can hardly recall the things we ate. Not that there was any imperfection in any aspect: everything was flawless, the quality and elegance of both food and service was top notch as one would expect from anywhere with a Michelin star. Wasn’t there anything worth remembering? Oh yes there was! Dessert. A wonderful ending is enough to turn the tables, even in a lousy dinner so in Redd it made a perfect polish for an elegant meal. The chocolate pudding with corn fritters was to die for. It disappeared in seconds: that’s why I could only capture its empty bowl.
I never thought an Italian restaurant would make such a stunning impression on me. Reserving our last evening for Bottega, made me feel both relieved and secure but also a little uneasy about why would we want to waste a meal in an Italian Restaurant. I had no expectations whatsoever and was pleasantly surprised and impressed.
I hate taking photos in the evening. Although I refrain from using flash, simply the look of it distracts people in other tables who are obviously there to enjoy a romantic tasteful evening. That’s why I couldn’t capture more of rusticity of Bottega although I wanted to. Its brick walls, pottery and copper cups were all complimenting parts of the out of-the-box image of Bottega.
It was a breath of fresh air, seeing things like beets, english peas, polenta and crabs in an Italian menu instead of the usual old caprese, bruschetta or Carpaccio. Everything on the menu seemed metamorphosed with the magic wand of Bottega. I ordered a classic: gnocchi with ricotta and pecorino. We got excited for the pea buratta but apparently many others did too; they ran out of it. We gave prosciutto wrapped fritta with pear soup a shot. Fairly inventive. But what blew us away was the French fries coated with truffles, sage and parmesan. Not knowing where to locate this in our course, we ordered it to share and I didn’t mind eating them with my gnocchi. Combining ingredients so rare and elegant as truffles and parmesan with something as crude as French fries was something many would consider inappropriate even outrageous had rendered an unworldly treat. A daring move that can be put to practice in an Italian restaurant only in the United States, I believe, makes it enough to admire Bottega, among all other things.
Oxbow Public Market
Here is a casual market where you can enjoy good food from gourmet burgers to oysters, from French cheese with local wine, to organic ice creams and coffee. You might have to circle the place five times before deciding what to eat. Unless it is the weekend when there is an open produces market just outside, there is a grocer inside with anything you might need. You can wonder inside the second hand, antique kitchen utensils shop or buy a box of truffle salt in the spice shop. This place can keep you and your stomach busy a day long. In fact this is where we were going to be each and every day, had we get a chance to eat and spend all our money at the French Laundry. Not a bad scenario at all.
Auberge du Soleil
Auberge du Soleil had triggered our curiosity way back when we were searching for a place to stay in Napa on the web. The four digit room rates raised our eye-brows as well as its pretentious name. On a day of driving here and there thanks to the luxury of GPRS, we typed in Auberge du Soliel and drove ourselves to this magnificent lodge. The kind receptionist proposed to show us their one of a kind suit which I assume, is mostly visited for display rather than stayed at. The suit's rate is approximately 1500 dollars a night and I'd say it would be worth it if you were one of those lucky ones who get to eat regularly at the French Laundry. You would miss all other Napa attractions though, as leaving this terrace and the sweet condo decorated so tastefully in color orange, would be out of the question.
A tiny note:
Had I have stars like Michelin I would grant them to restaurants I find most creative and unprecedented, not particularly because they are excellent or elegant. I would give most stars to Ubuntu, the topic of my next post, and a couple to Bottega. These reflect my objective opinion however, contrary to what the name of blog suggests, I’m no gourmet. So please consider my comments as friendly advice and pay attention to the reviews on Zagat and opentable.com instead. ‘Cause I’m just a blogger, what do I know?
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
1(707) 944 2380
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
1 (707) 944 2487
6528 Washington Street
Yountville, California 94599
1 (707) 944 2253
7377 St. Helena Highway,
Napa, CA 94558
1 (707) 944 2749
6480 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
1(707) 944 2222
6525 Washington Street, A9
Yountville, CA 94599
1 (707) 945 1050
Auberge de Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
1(707) 963 1211
Oxbow Public Market
610 & 644 First Street,
Napa, CA 94559