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The French Laundry


What did we do for our 5 year wedding anniversary? We went to one of the best restaurants in the world…the French Laundry owned by Chef Thomas Keller!! How did we get a reservation? See below. It was a gorgeous July day in the Napa valley when we arrived for our three hour lunch. As we entered we were welcomed, congratulated on our anniversary and promptly escorted upstairs to our table. We were the first to arrive to the small dining room. As our waiter described the menu the other 4 tables in our area filled with guests from China, Florida, Arizona and New York but no VIPs or celebrities. Due to the close proximity of the tables it was easy to hear the conversations around us especially the woman who decided she was going to make and receive phone calls during the first half of her meal (she did keep them short but still so rude!).

Deciding what to order was easy as we were not going to do any of the supplements and for the few courses that we had a choice we chose one of each so we could try everything served that day. Mike instantly fell in love with the 100+ page wine list presented on an Apple ipad (the technology not the prices…). He decided on two half bottles to accompany our meal. We started with a Lazy Creek Riesling and ended with a Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel. Together they ran about $125 and were some of the cheapest bottles on the list which brought our total bill to $720. Both wines were wonderful but the Black Chicken blew us away so much that we are going to visit the winery next week.

The menu for 7.8.2011

Amuse-bouche #1
Gruyère Cheese Puffs

Amuse-bouche #2
Salmon Tartare atop a Crème Fraiche Filled Poppyseed Cone

Course #1
“ O Y S T E R S  A N D  P E A R L S ”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

Course #2
S A L A D  O F  H A W A I I A N  H E A R T S  O F  P A L M
Lychee, French laundry Garden Cucumber and Greek Basil

Course #3
A T L A N T I C  C O D  “C O N F I T  A  L A  M I N U T E”
Brentwood Corn Mousse, Summer Squash, Parsley Shoots and Demi-Sec Tomatoes

Course #4
S W E E T  B U T T E R – P O A C H E D  M A I N E  L O B S T E R  T A I L
Charred Leek, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Piedmont Hazelnuts and Vanilla-Sauternes Emulsion

S A N T A  B A R B A R A  S P O T  P R A W N S
Green Mission Fig, Young Coconut, Hass Avocado, Red Jalapeno and Cilantro

Course #5
L I B E R T Y  F A R M  P E K I N  D U C K
“Confit de Canard,” Steamed Bun, Nantes Carrots, Radish, Edamame and “Sauce Japanaise”

D E V I L ‘S  G U L C H  R A N C H  “E P A U L E  D E  L A P I N”
Summer Pole Beans, Smoked Garlic Puree and Hobbs’ Bacon “Jus”

Course #6
S N A K E  R I V E R  F A R M S  “C A L O T T E  D E  B O E U F  G R I L L E E”
“Pommes Darphin,” Chanterelle Mushrooms “a la Greque,” Quail Egg and English Peas

Course #7
“B R I L L A T  S A V A R I N”
Pistachio “Pain de Genes,” Celery Branch and French Laundry Garden Strawberries

Course #8
N E C T A R I N E  S O R B E T
Earl Grey Tea “Granite,” Honey and Grilled Nectarines

Course #9
C A R A M É L I A  C H O C O L A T E  “ C R È M E U X ”
Gros Michel Banana, Georgia Peanuts, “Dentelle” and Salted Popcorn Ice Cream

“Î L E  F L O T T A N T E”
Lemongrass, Meiwa Kumquat, Black Sesame and Ginger “Anglaise”

ANNIVERSARY BANANA CAKE

M I G N A R D I S E S:
6 Truffles (hazelnut, cherry, ginger, meyer lemon, olive oil, peanut butter & jelly)
Cold Espresso with Cappuccino Foam & Sugar Doughnuts
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts from Hawaii

PARTING GIFT:
Shortbread Cookies

Our experience in photos:

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Lunch, like dinner, includes a couple Amuse-bouche items followed by 9 courses and concludes with Mignardises which are bite-size desserts. All the dishes were prepared perfectly and arrived at timely intervals. Mike’s favorite course was the devil’s gulch rabbit. He oohed and aahed through every bite. The thing I enjoyed most I hate to say was the desserts. Even though the beef melted in my mouth the caramel mousse with salted popcorn ice cream was off the charts. At the end of our meal we also received a small banana cake for our anniversary. As it was being placed on the table Mike told the server that banana was the top tier of our wedding cake which the server in turn said with a smile…we did our research. It was a nice coincidence.

About the service…you would think that a place that requires men to wear a jacket even at lunch (in California) would be uptight and stuffy, but our servers were all super friendly, down to earth and casual in their approach. They didn’t speak only when spoken to but engaged us in conversation about where we were from, how long we would be in town and what other plans we had while in town. We found that very refreshing.

Lunch vs. dinner… I was psyched that we got a reservation on our exact anniversary date but mildly disappointed that we didn’t get an evening seating. After finishing our meal we were extremely pleased that we had come for lunch because we were stuffed. We didn’t even finish half of our Mignardises and couldn’t imagine having to go to bed immediately following that food marathon. We couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. Another bonus was prior to the sweet portion of our meal we were offered the opportunity to stretch our legs. Being able to take a short walk outside in the sun and check out the garden across the street was just what we needed after 2 hours of sitting and probably not an option if dining late at night. I wouldn’t change a thing about our time spent at the French Laundry.

Rating:

Website: http://www.frenchlaundry.com/

How to get a reservation at one of the 16 tables? Perseverance is the key… just keep trying and you will get in. I read all the tips online about how to get an elusive reservation. It really was not as difficult as everyone says. It may not be the exact time you want but you will get something, especially if you are in the area for a long weekend… although booking a table for 2 is more difficult than 4+ because they have fewer small tables. 2 months to the calendar date I began dialing at 9:58am (they open at 10am) and was able to get through to a reservation agent by 10:20ish. On the two days I called all reasonable times for dinner (before 9pm) were taken but lunch and late night dining was available. I ultimately went with a lunch opening I found on opentable because Mike goes to bed early and I didn’t want him sleeping through dinner. On opentable reservations would randomly pop up between 9:30-10:20am. Another option is to have your hotel or credit card concierge call, but in my case both only got me wait-listed. I don’t think they are hitting the phone lines at 10am…

In the late 1920′s the building housed a French steam laundry

French Laundry on Urbanspoon

Black Box Wines

blackbox
I don’t discriminate even when it comes to wine… jug,bottle,box or can I will give anything a try. When Foodbuzz offered to send me a sample of the new Black Box wines I said, “bring it on!”  Black Box wines feature 9 varietals from all over the world. Each box holds the equivalent of 4 bottles for a very reasonable $22-32. I was hoping to receive a Cabernet or Riesling, but alas a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand showed up at my door. Mike and I rarely drink Sauv Blanc as I prefer a sweeter white wine but it is the summer so on a hot afternoon we had a glass.

Here are our tasting notes
Color: pale gold
Aroma: floral, melon
Taste: crisp, dry, acidic, bitter with a metallic/tin like finish

We disliked the harsh aftertaste it left in our mouths so this was not a wine we would break out and drink on its own. It needs to accompany food. We used the remainder of the box to cook with and it was fantastic. A favorite dish was a clam linguine. I would be up for trying other Black Box wines.

Website: http://www.blackboxwines.com/

Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2009

Our friends over at FoodBuzz were extremely generous and gave Mike and I tickets to the second annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza. This is one of the premiere culinary events in the Country with over 60 celebrity chefs and 250 Wineries. It is the ultimate Foodie weekend and we had a fabulous time!

We went to the following events:

  • Thomas Keller Cooking Demo
  • Vérité Winery Bordeaux Blends Wine Tasting
  • Farm-to-Table Lunch
  • Lexus Grand Tasting – Saturday

We will blog in detail about all of these soon, but in the meantime here is a little taste of what’s to come…


*to turn the music off, click on the speaker in the top left corner

Rubicon Estate Winery

rubicon

The Chateau

I was amazed to find that Mike had never been to the Coppola winery in Napa since his favorite filmmaker is Francis Ford Coppola. Mike told me he had tried a couple Coppola wines in the past and was not overly impressed so he didn’t have an interest in visiting the winery. Well, I thought it was time to check it out.

When we arrived at Rubicon (formally named Niebaum Coppola Winery) we were instructed by the parking attendant/security guard to go inside the Chateau and pay our guest fee. There was a $25 per person entry fee which included a tasting of 5 wines, a guided tour* and access to the Chateau’s museum and exhibits. We had about 50 minutes before our tour so we walked around the museum and then had our tasting. The ladies that were pouring in the tasting room that morning were a hoot. They were friendly and fun. Rubicon Estate is where Francis has decided to exclusively showcase all his higher end wines. Mike and I were blown away with the selections. The Zin was robust but not overly peppery like so many other Cali Zins. The highlight was the “Rubicon,” a Bordeaux style red that uses only organically grown estate grapes. It’s mild enough to drink now or will age perfectly for another 15 years. Another thing that impressed Mike was that the wines were not overpriced… just like his favorite winery, Phelps. As we finished our tasting the tour started.

The 30 minute tour took us on a walk around the grounds and explained the history of the estate. It was very educational. We learned that Coppola has moved all his lower end everyday wines to a 2nd winery called Rosso & Bianco in Geyserville, CA (it’s currently being remodeled but I’m sure we will make a trip soon). The Rubicon estate was beautiful and a landmark not to be missed. Our visit went surprisingly well. We arrived with no expectations and left with a couple bottles of wine and a wine club membership so we will be returning.

coppolahome

Front yard of the Coppola Family Home --straight ahead behind the mass of trees is their house

*Note: If you want to take the tour that’s included with your entry fee sign up early! The tours run 3 times a day (11:30,1:30,3:30) with only 20 people and its first come first serve. When we arrived at 10:20am we were the last 2 people that made the 11:30am tour. I would suggest coming in before 11am and signing up for whatever time you want.

Website: http://www.rubiconestate.com/

Chateau Montelena Winery

chamont

After seeing the movie Bottle shock Mike and I were curious to check out one of the wineries that put Napa on the map. The Chateau is nestled in the hills of Calistoga. They definitely took some creative license with the film since the drive up didn’t look at all familiar. The estate on the other hand was as beautiful as it was on screen. For $15 we got to taste the following 4 wines: the Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate Zinfandel, and Potter Valley Riesling. I was kinda bummed that we didn’t get to try a Chardonnay. The wines didn’t disappoint. They were all yummy. We ended up bringing home a bottle of the Zin. After the tasting we were sent off with a map of the property so we could go on a self guided tour. We took a quick walk around the grounds as it was a gorgeous day and the vines were filled with colorful fall leaves. It was fun to visit a place with such rich history.

Tasty Tip: By the way, the tasting fee is not waived with purchase which I find chintzy.

Tasting Room Hours
9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily
(except major holidays and the third Saturday in May)

Website: http://www.montelena.com/

Sauvignon Blanc Steamed Mussels

I was in the mood for mussels. I order them at restaurants all the time but have never made them at home. I didn’t think it would be so easy. Once you take the time to clean them the actual prep/cook time is minimal. Mike and I picked up 2 lbs of farm raised black and New Zealand green lipped mussels for $10 at Whole Foods market. What a deal! We got a mixture because we didn’t know which was better. Now we know… go for the green lipped, they were much more meaty and sweet. I like my mussels drenched in garlic. The recipe I used only asked for 1 measly garlic clove. I used 3 and when I make this again I will probably use 4. We served this up with a side salad and crusty garlic bread (yes, more garlic). Excellent meal.

Recipe link

Village Bistro and Wine Bar

If you want to grab a cheap bite after a movie or work stop by the Village Wine Bar at Santana Row. They have a slammin’ happy hour every night from 3-6pm (weekends too!). Almost all small plates and cocktails are $6! The only downer is you have to sit in the bar area which is small and can get crowded. But the wonderful selection of wines by the glass and appetizers are worth the pushin’ and shovin’.

Recommended eats: crispy Calamari, Heirloom Tomato flatbread, cheese stuffed figs and the crab cakes.

Website: http://thevillagebistro.net/

Bottle Shock

© 2008 Unclaimed Freight

Mike and I spend a good amount of time in Napa so we of course had to see Bottle Shock. When I saw the previews I was a bit worried that a movie about a 1976 wine tasting competition between the hippies of Napa and the wine snobs of France could get boring fast. Fortunately this was not the case. As it is not heavy on wine mumbo-jumbo those who are not fans of the grape juice will be able to enjoy the film, and those that are will love the film. Check it out before it leaves the theaters. See Mike’s more in-depth review here.

Film website: http://www.bottleshockthemovie.com/

Joseph Phelps Insignia Blending Seminar

Mike’s kind of a wine connoisseur. Before we met my wine of choice was a glass of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill or Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel. Growing up in an alcohol free home I missed out on Wine 101. Over the years with Mike’s guidance my palate has changed. These days I find myself liking Red Blends, Cabs and Rieslings. Mike’s favorite winery in Napa is Joseph Phelps. He has been a preferred club member for over 15 years. Whenever we are in the valley tasting Phelps is always on our list because they have informative seminars, friendly staff, reasonable prices, a beautiful location, and most important fantastic wine.

On our latest visit we took the Insignia Blending Seminar which discusses the different elements that make up a bottle of Insignia. For those of you not familiar with Phelps wine, Insignia is its award winning proprietary red blend. The class started off with a tasting of 4 other Phelps wines: ’06 Viognier, ’05 Pinot, ’05 Syrah & ’05 Cab Sav. Then we moved on to the 5 wines that made up the 2004 Insignia. Once we tasted the components we were free to create our own blend of Insignia by mixing the various wines provided. We had lots of fun and wine…but my Insignia concoction didn’t compare to the original!

Tasty Tip: call ahead, all tastings/seminars require an appointment. If you are member pack a lunch and reserve a picnic table.

Website: http://www.jpvwines.com/

Le Papillon

For our 2 year wedding anniversary Mike and I dined at Le Papillon. Mike’s parents had given us a gift certificate for Xmas and we decided this would be the perfect occasion to use it. Le Papillon opened in 1977 and was one of the first fine dining French restaurants in Silicon Valley. As we were seated at our table the first thing I noticed was that the restaurant was unusually quiet. Although the room was half full you could hear a pin drop. I guess everyone was deeply enjoying their food. I whispered to Mike “Are we allowed to talk?” This would soon change…

The moment we ordered a well organized food parade began. Starting off with THREE Amuse bouches: first cheese and duck, second shrimp in a citrus vinaigrette and third a tomato gazpacho. Three blissful bites. Next came our starters. We chose to share the Pan Seared Maine Day Boat Scallops with Hazelnut Polenta and Preserved Lemon. It was simply fantastic. I then moved on to my Lobster Bisque with Sweet Corn Timbale and Mike dug into his Baby Lettuce Salad. When I have ordered this bisque at other establishments it’s always a light shade of pink this time it was a deep brown. It was super rich and flavorful. Hands down the best bisque I have ever had.

For our main courses we both chose fish. We attempted to keep things light because we knew we were having dessert. I chose the Braised Sturgeon and Mike the Grilled Turbot. Again, both dishes were magnifique. Cooked and presented perfectly. Then came our two beautiful desserts. The Soufflé Grand Marnier with Fresh Berries and the Banana and Chocolate Torte (pass up a banana dessert–no way!) We r-e-a-l-l-y over ate.

The food and service was superb. The only negative for the evening came at 7:30pm when a large family arrived with two kids under age 4. This was a recipe for disaster. The tykes were tired and restless. They spent the night running around the table, clanging dishes and whining. I don’t hold the restaurant responsible for the unruly children but instead of a sign at the front door that says “No cell Phones” maybe it should say “No children under 8”. I like kids but when you are paying $140 per person you don’t expect to view an episode of romper room.

That aside, Le Papillon was an extraordinary eating experience and a grand way to celebrate two years of marriage. I’m sure we will be back for future anniversaries.

Note: Sorry for the lack of pictures but I took the night off…

Rating :

Website: http://www.lepapillon.com/

Le Papillon on Urbanspoon

Crimson

Crimson is hidden in the corner of a strip mall on Los Gatos Blvd. It’s really not a great location but worth the time to find. As soon as you walk in you will know why the restaurant is named Crimson. Inside it is covered head to toe in red decor. My favorite being the beautiful fresh red rose at each table. Crimson is a Green Certified restaurant serving ingredients direct from local farmers. We arrived on Tuesday July 8 for their weekly $30, 3-course prix fixe menu. We had heard about it over a year ago and we finally decided to go. After looking at the menu Mike and I ordered one of everything so we could try it all.

Prix Fixe Menu – July 8, 2008

The Starters
– Black Mission Fig and Charentais Melon Salad with Gorgonzola, Candied Walnuts, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar
– Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad, with Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Garden Basil and Lemon Oil
These both were wonderful. I especially liked the warm sweet figs. I’ve never had figs prepared like this before.
The Main Courses
– Herb and Dijon Mustard Marinated Prime Rib with Cabernet Au Jus and Garlic Mash
– Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon with Delta Asparagus, Jasmine Rice, and Organic Lemon Butter
Again, two delightful and hearty dishes. Just because this is a Prix fixe doesn’t mean small portions. We both had to get doggie bags. We never have to do that…

The Desserts
– Mixed Summer Berry Bread Pudding
– Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Berry Sauce
The mousse was silky and rich. The bread pudding was a little doughy — the only miss for the night. 5 out of 6 dishes were on point.

With the economy as it is it’s getting harder to justify all our lavish dinners out. This $30 Tuesday is one of the best deals in town!

Tasty Tip: don’t forget to fill out the form that comes with your bill to get on the weekly email list.

Crimson on Urbanspoon
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Fun Wine

While wandering around the Vintage Wine Merchant store at Santana Row Mike and I noticed a display of wines for under $10. The low price is not what caught our attention it was the labels on two of the bottles. One was called Bitch and the other Pure Evil. As we chuckled we then saw a sign that said Bitch, a Grenache, and Pure Evil, a Chardonnay, received 90 point ratings from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

For that price and rating we purchased a bottle of each. Turns out they didn’t taste half bad. Pick up a bottle or two if you know an Evil Bitch.

Both are produced by R Wines in Australia.

Cafe Beaujolais

Café Beaujolais is a California French restaurant located in a restored Victorian Farmhouse. This would be the destination for our one dinner out in Mendocino with Mike’s cousin and wife. The restaurant has been a town staple since 1969.

We started the night with the following appetizers; seafood bisque, crab cakes and butter braised beets with micro greens. All were good but the award winning crab cakes seemed to get the most admiration. Our main courses included:

-Pan Roasted Quail, Organic Greens, Sparrow Lane Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette, Candied Walnuts, Cashews and Dried White Figs

-Pan Roasted California Sturgeon Fillet, House Made Tagliatelle, Truffle Emulsion Sauce, Wild Mushrooms, Beets and Snap Peas

-Salmon with Raspberry Chile Sauce, Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus

The boys had stellar remarks for the salmon special. The sturgeon also deserves some props. For dessert we ordered the Cherry Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, the Coconut Cream Pie and House Made Fruit Sorbets. Everything was delicious.

My only complaint was that the server wasn’t very knowledgeable about the entree ingredients or the wine we ordered. This is unusual in a small well established restaurant. Despite those minor setbacks we had a wonderful evening.

Shots of the Eats (click to enlarge):

Rating:

Website: http://www.cafebeaujolais.com/

Goldeneye Winery

If you ever travel through Anderson Valley make sure to stop at Goldeneye Winery for a tasting of their world class Pinots. Goldeneye is owned by the Duckhorn family so you know they produce some outstanding wines. While in Mendocino we decided to do a day of Pinot tasting and Goldeneye was our first stop. We had made a reservation to take their Estate tasting session which is a 45 minute semi-private tasting (8 people max) that discusses the winery’s history and production process while tasting wines paired with a selection of cheeses, nuts and dried fruit. This was one of the best tastings I have been to. Our host was knowledgeable and friendly and the setting was breathtaking. At $20 per person this was a steal compared to Napa. You will find that many winery tastings in the Valley are low in cost or completely free.

Tasty Tip: Before you arrive pick up a picnic lunch and sit and enjoy the magnificent views of their vineyard.

Hours: open daily
11:00am – 4:00pm
Website: www.goldeneyewinery.com

Cin-Cin Restaurant and Winebar

On a whim Mike and I decided to check out Cin-Cin, the replacement restaurant for Cafe Marcella in Los Gatos. We were big fans of Cafe Marcella. When Mike and I started dating it was the site of our first night out at a restaurant that didn’t have paper napkins. Cin-Cin has only been open about a month and seems to be doing well. The evening we went they were relatively full. I really like the new look and feel. It has a very eco friendly vibe from the wicker-like chairs to the bamboo walls and floors. They also tout an organic menu. It took some time for us to go through the menu as it is pretty extensive. It’s filled with wine by the glass, wine flights, beer, specialty cocktails, appetizers, small plates, large plates and sides. Our server did a good job of explaining the majority of the menu items; I guess a new restaurant feels the need to do that. The thing that stood out to Mike and I were the wine flight options. See those three large glasses above… those were $9 TOTAL! Even if only two out of the three were any good the price was unbelievable. Mike was further impressed that the flight glasses came labeled. Usually glasses are dropped in front of you and you have to try to remember what is what. We started our meal with the mushroom empanadas with truffle oil. I found them to be lacking in flavor. For the main course I chose the braised lamb shoulder with mint fava bean puree and fingerling potatoes (is it me or is everyone serving fava beans these days?). Mike had the pan seared salmon with fingerling potatoes and fennel confit. We both enjoyed these dishes, the lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender. To finish things off we had the cheesecake beignets AND the coconut sorbet. The beignets came with a honey/hazelnut dip and a milk chocolate dip. Both desserts were fantastic, my only complaint was that there were 3 beignets. I have a pet peeve about receiving servings in uneven numbers. The chef should recognize that most likely there is going to be an even number of people at a table so give 2 or 4 not 3. I dislike having to cut things in half to share (by the way this was also the case with our empanadas).

Overall the food was good but nothing spectacular. I can definitely see myself dropping in for wine and dessert or to share some small plates with a group of friends. There are a number of large tables as well as a lounge like area with low couches. Cin-Cin seems like a prime location for a gathering.

Rating:
Website: http://www.cincinwinebar.com/


Caprese Salad

A couple times a year we have a wine & food night with friends. The evening consists of decadent food and many bottles of fantastic wine. This time Mike and I were assigned the salad course.

I attempted to make the Caprese Salad Mike and I ate at Enoteca San Marco last month. I had found an adaptation of the recipe online. I will admit I didn’t have time to make the pesto so I picked some up at Whole Foods. It was fresh and had the exact same ingredients the recipe called for but it was not as garlicky as I would have liked.

The 2 hour roasted tomatoes turned out well but didn’t have the same consistency as I remember at Enoteca. Enoteca looked and tasted more like stewed tomatoes.

Final verdict: No complaints from the foodies but I think I could do better.

You can find the original recipe in Mario’s cookbook:Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home

Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc is a fairly new restaurant in Yountville from the famous chef Thomas Keller (the French laundry/Bouchon). When you enter the building you will feel as though you stepped into a Pottery Barn catalog. The decor is casual and homey yet hip and fun. Ad Hoc is billed as a family style restaurant which usually means everyone at your table orders a few dishes and you share. Here, things are done a little different… Ad Hoc serves ONE 4 course menu every night which you share at your table. So whatever the chef decides to make, you eat. There are no choices to be made. When I first heard about this unique business model I was highly intrigued. With that said I expected every dish to be prepared flawlessly and guess what?…they were! Every morsel was perfectly seasoned. I could actually taste the salt and pepper in every bite.

Here is the menu we were served on May 10th, 2008 ($48/per person):

First course – Frisee salad with beets
I absolutely love beets so I was totally excited about this salad. It was delectable. It was simple yet refined. When you have fresh ingredients you can’t go wrong.

Second course – Stuffed pork with rice, barley, baby carrots, asparagus and apple compote
Mike was drooling…The pork skin was crisp and salty and the meat tender. The veggies and rice were a perfect accompaniment.

Third course – Goat cheese with pinenut brittle and blackberry jam
A combination I would never think of was a symphony in my mouth.

Fourth course – Thin pastry with baked bananas topped with strawberries and vanilla bean ice cream
I don’t know if you notice from previous posts but if a restaurant offers a dessert with bananas and ice cream Mike and I order it. We adore banana anything. It was like this menu was tailor made for us.

The one and only thing I did not care for was the music blasting in the dining room, it really contradicted with the homey vibe they wanted the restaurant to portray. Don’t get me wrong the soundtrack played throughout the night was great but extremely loud. I found it hard to talk with the friends at our table. Around 8ish the music and lights were turned down which was much appreciated.

This was the best meal of the weekend and probably the best I have ever had in Napa. I hear the evenings with fried chicken and chocolate brownies are to die for. Unfortunately, they only post the menu the day of so you can’t plan ahead. It’s the luck of the draw. Make your reservation (far in advance) and keep your fingers crossed. But really unless you are a picky eater I don’t think you can go wrong on any night.

Side Note: We were told by one of the servers that Ad Hoc originally was a temporary fix until Keller could open a burger and half bottle joint but it became so popular that it had to stay. I’m so glad it did!

Rating:

Website: http://adhocrestaurant.com/

Keller cookbooks:
The French laundry
Bouchon

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

Solbar at Solage

I had heard rave reviews about Solbar the restaurant in the new Solage resort in Calistoga. A bit off the beaten path, Solbar is an interesting mix of hip Napa style and a tropical island. The dining area is split in two — indoor and outdoor. It’s very open and airy and when you are inside you still feel like you are outside, as one main wall is open to the patio. Very much like you would find in a Hawaiian restaurant. Our group of 6 decided to sit on the patio next to the beautiful fire/water display. Mike and I had dinner with 4 friends so we sampled the majority of the menu (Hi- DB, CB, R & JB). We started off with a couple orders of the flatbreads & spreads to share and a bevy of unique mixed drinks. The breads were light and flavorful and the drinks refreshing. The appetizers that followed were the sliders, a mixed green salad and I had the asparagus soup. No complaints there. The dishes were enjoyed by all. Dinner then arrived for everyone except me. I had ordered the sliders as my main course and the kitchen forgot them. No worries …I was actually not super hungry that evening — for a change. Our server was very apologetic for the mix-up and she removed the charge from the bill. Other entrees included the yellow fin tuna, barbecued pork buns, pasta with fava beans and roasted lamb. When my sliders with bacon, cheddar and ten-hour onions arrived they were not all that they had been built up to be. Prior to coming I had a bunch of people tell me to try the sliders. They were tasty but a bit bland, they needed a sauce of some kind (maybe it was left off in the rush to get to my table?). I actually prefer the sliders at the Paragon restaurant in San Jose. For dessert we had the cinnamon sugar doughnut holes and a mix of house made sorbets. The sorbets were the hit of the night. Some were still talking about them the next day.

The food was good but the setting was magnificent. It was a great spot to hang out with our friends. I would go back to have cocktails and dessert anytime.

Rating:

Website: http://www.solagecalistoga.com/dining/index.shtml

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

For our first night in Napa we decided to check out Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. The owner Cindy Pawlcyn, is the James Beard award-winning cookbook author, Chef and owner of Mustards Grill, so we knew it would be good. It was a beautiful evening so we chose to sit outside on the small patio under a large 100 year old fig tree. Light Jazz music pumped through some speakers. Don’t expect a loud, mardi gras like environment. Some colorful hand blown drinking glasses and rooster signs are as crazy as you will get. Cindy’s serves up home inspired dishes in a charming rustic setting.

Mike and I started our meal by sharing a warm spinach salad with smoked apple bacon, caramelized onions and pouched egg. It was nice and the vinaigrette dressing gave it a tangy kick. For the main course Mike picked the smoked duck with fritter and I had the pan seared halibut with fava bean mash, pickled onions, asparagus and artichokes. Both dishes were remarkable!! Check out those photos, they were almost too pretty to eat…but we did 😀 . Mike’s duck was HUGE. The skin was crispy and the meat juicy, it had been cooking all day in a wood burning oven. My halibut was cooked to perfection, light and flaky and the artichokes were magnificent. I love fresh artichokes not the marinated kind in a jar. These were soft and buttery like when I make them at home. Even though we were stuffed we couldn’t pass up a dessert called Campfire pie. I didn’t get a photo because we tore into it as soon as it hit the table. Picture marshmallow fluff filled with peanuts and chocolate chips on top of an oreo cookie crust placed in the oven so it had a meringue like finish. Sooo scrumptious.

I actually enjoyed Cindy’s more than the beloved Mustards. It has all the elements for a perfect restaurant: comfortable atmosphere, awesome food, attentive and fun staff plus very reasonable prices. I can’t wait to go back.

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Website: http://www.cindysbackstreetkitchen.com/

Cindy’s cookbooks:
Big Small Plates

Mustards Grill

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Del Dotto Wine Caves

We have been going to Napa for many years. For the first time we decided to check out the Del Dotto Cave Experience & Barrel Tasting as it was recommended by a friend. The tour starts off with some history about the winery owner, some background about the caves and info on the different kinds of oak barrels. A guide then takes you into the caves and you taste their red wines directly from the barrel. Following the barrel tasting you return to the winery and sample a few bottled wines along with chocolate truffles and cheese. Our guide was fun and knowledgeable and the wines were good. The tour lasted 1 ½ hours. You taste over 15 different wines so be prepared to be buzzed!

Tip: Make a reservation, not a walk-in situation ($40 per person)

Website: http://www.deldottovineyards.com/

Double Helix Wine Bar

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If you’re in Las Vegas and looking for a wine bar, stop by Double Helix in the beautiful Palazzo Hotel. They offer VERY generous 2 and 5 oz. glasses of wine from around the world. Due to their unique preservation system they are able to offer highly sought-after wines not usually poured by the glass. Mike was impressed by the selection. A light menu designed by Emeril Lagasse is also available if you are hungry. At the moment the hotel is not completely finished so Double Helix is not overcrowded which is rare in Vegas. This is a great find — check it out before it becomes well-known!
Double Helix Wine Bar & Boutique on Urbanspoon

Plumed Horse Restaurant

plumed horse

For Mike’s birthday we went to the Plumed Horse in Saratoga. It recently re-opened after a lengthy remodel. The lodge like decor has disapeared and has become ultra modern. The dining area is fairly small. There are ~17 tables packed into a single room. It looks like there will be more areas to dine but they are not ready yet. Pretty unbelievable, but Mike and I were probably the youngest couple in the place. Those that were younger where having dinner with family members. The restaurants clientele is probably older because of the hefty price tags on the menu. Come to think of it, I think I even saw a couple coats and ties on some of the men. Who wears a suit to dinner in California anymore?

Let’s move on to the food…the evening started off with a complimentary Amuse-bouche from the head chef. We received a tiny mug that contained an artichoke and prawn soup. A single roll and butter was then served to each of us by one of the many assistant servers. (I’ll go into more detail about that later). Mike ordered our wine from the extensive wine list. You will see the new 1,800 bottle wine cellar as it is a prominent design element. plumed horse wine cellarThen we sat and waited for our first course to arrive. I don’t know if they were really busy or if they don’t like to rush things but there was a slight time lapse between courses. It also could of been that we were REALLY hungry. We had a 8pm reservation, which we never do, but because of things planned during the day this time fit our schedule. For the first course I chose the crab and asparagus bisque and Mike had the butter lettuce with radish and pine nut vinaigrette. My crab and asparagus bisques came in separate pouring vessels and were presented table-side. When poured into my bowl it looked like a yin/yang sign…very artistic display. The soup was good, nothing spectacular.

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Michael Chiarellos NapaStyle Wine Club

napastyle logo

If you’re looking for an inexpensive wine club to join I urge you to consider Michael Chiarellos NapaStyle Wine Club. Mike and I have been members for 1 year and are extremely happy with our quarterly shipments. We receive the Cucina club which includes 6 bottles (red & white) from around the world for $90! What makes this club unique is that within each box delivered are recipes to go with each wine and suggestions on what types of foods they will pair well with. These are the kinds of wines that you can open up and enjoy immediately…no need to store in a wine cellar for years or wait for a special occasion. So far we have received 24 bottles and only 1 or 2 did I not care for. Michael Chiarello is a well known chef and proprietor of a small family winery so his recommendations are reliable.

Tasty Tip: There currently is an offer for $25 off your first shipment on the website.

Website: http://www.napastylewineclub.com/

Cool Chiarello items:
Napa Stories Wine Journal
Napa Stories: Profiles, Reflections,and Recipes from the Napa Valley

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