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Dining in Napa, Sonoma, North Bay, and Sacramento

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'mktye said:

dry.gif I've never understood the fascination with In-N-Out. Good burgers, but not worth driving an hour+ to get one (and I know people who have!). I actually prefer Carl's Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger to In-N-Out. Of course, after eating either, I feel as if I am about to keel over for the next day or so! tongue.gif

But back to DC-Area burgers (on which I have nothing to add because I have not eaten a burger in the almost 2 years we've been back here)...

yes, when I finally got around to having an In n Out Burger for the first time last year I was a little underwhelmed - good but not the life changing experience some had painted it to be

on the very same trip though I did find the best burger I have ever eaten....at a roadside diner somewhere in Napa:

Taylor's Refresher 

---

[The above link is now broken. For the benefit of readers across the country: In 2010, Taylor's Refresher morphed into Gott's Roadside, resulting in a contentious family feud - details can be found here, and for those pining away for the Taylor's of yesteryear, here's a remnant of their old menu.]

Screenshot 2017-03-04 at 4.35.56 PM.png

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Last month my wife and I went on a whirlwind eating adventure in the Napa Valley,that included everything from a In-and-Out Burger to the French Laundry.

Last year my wife and I visited Per Se and had a amazing dinner that we believed could never be topped. Well it looks like Thomas exceeded himself with our French Laundry meal. Part of this may have to do with the whole Yountville setting. One of the most beautiful small towns I have ever seen full of flowers and smiles,and street sweepers who drive up and down the road with nothing to sweep.

As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by Jen and Larry who treated us like long loss friends. We were escorted to our table in the downstairs dining room and I was kind of surprised by how small and cozy it was. It does not have the grandeur of Per Se,but yet I felt that it suited my style more. I have no doubt that Thomas wishes nothing to distract one from the cuisine.

I also fell in love with the china,as each course was presented on a different style plate. Also, all the truffles were grated table side,and had an amazing flavor and aroma for this time of the year.

Let me start with the menu and comments below:

Warm Gruyere Gougeres

Cornet of Marinate Salmon with Red Onion Creme Fraiche

Wonderful way of starting. What can I say!!

SOUP

Puree of Avocado with Sweet Peppers (wife)

Puree of Carrot with Medjool Date (me)

Cool, Refreshing, and the pure strained essence of what they are.

CAVIAR

Oysters and Pearls (me)

Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters

and Russian Sevruga Caviar

Cauliflower Panna Cotta

With Beau Soleil Oyster glaze and Russian Sevruga caviar(wife)

Oysters and Pearls is a classic dish that is brilliant. This was the first time tasting the Cauliflower Panna Cotta,and it was delicious.

TRUFFLES

White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard

with a Ragout of Black Perigord Truffles (wife)

Eggs Perigourdine

Poached Arcuna Hen Egg with Thomas English Muffin,

sauce Hollandaise and Black Perigord Truffles (me)

SALAD

Salad of Hawiian Hearts of Palm,

Pearl Onions and Mint Oil (wife)

Warm Salad of Roasted Cepe and Chanterelle Mushrooms(me)

My wife loved the Hearts of Palm Salad,and I was in mushroom heaven.

PASTA

Hand-Cut Tagliantelle with Black Perigord Truffles (wife)

Carnaroli Risotto Biologico

with Grated Black Truffles and Truffle Cream(me)

Two wonderful courses,and hard to pick which one I enjoyed more. Batali should take lessons from Keller as far as I am concerned.

The Tagliantelle was presented in a flying-nun hat type bowl.

The Risotto was creamy with a slight bite to the rice;executed perfectly.

FISH

Salt Encrusted Bronzino,

with Spanish Capers,Fennel and San Marzano Tomato(for two)

Presented to the table whole in a salt crust and taken to the kitchen to be plated. One of our favorites of the night

LOBSTER

Maine Lobster Tail Pochee Sous Vide (me)

Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Crystallized Fennel Chip,Sweet Peppers,

and Sauce Noilly Prat

Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster,

Silver Queen Corn Pudding and Summer Truffles(wife)

My god just the thought of this lobster gives me a tingle. Both surpassed my lobster at Per Se by being more flavorful and tender. The Fennel chip can replace the potato chip,and the sauce Noilly Prat was to die for.

Saute of Moulard Duck Foie Gras,

Cream of Arrowleaf Spinach, Oeuf De Caille Poche Au Vinaigre De Champagne

Frisee Lettuce and Applewood Smoked Bacon Gastrique (wife)

FOIE GRAS

Peach Melba

Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine, Masomoto Family Farm Peach Jelly,

Pickled Peaches, Marinated Red Onion, Melba Toast

and Crisped Carolina Rice(me)

I had the Peach Melba at Per Se, and I'm curious if this dish may have been invented by Cory Lee as he is now at the French Laundry.

MEAT

Rillete of Rabbit,

Ginger Glazed Santa Rosa Plums and Melted Endive (wife)

Pork and Beans

All Day Braised Hobb's Shore Pork Belly,

Cassoulet of Early Summer Pole Beans and Whole Grain Mustard(me)

The rabbit was moist and succulent, and just wonderfully accented with the plums.

I bet the beans were supplied by our own Rancho_ Gordo that came with the pork belly. I made a mental note to order some in the future.

MEAT

Snake River Farm Calotte De Boeuf Grillee,

Roasted Cepe Mushrooms, Braised Cipollini Onions, Crispy Bone Marrow

Scallion Salad an Sauce Bordelaise(for two)

My god,being in the restaurant business I must have thrown away hundreds if not thousands of these caps. Surely I will pay for it one day as I meet my keeper. This dish was also presented whole,and plated in the kitchen.

CHEESE

Abbaye De Belloc

Roasted Heirloom Beets,Beet Vinaigrette

and Frisee Lettuce (ME)

Adante Dairy Acapella with figs

and Fifty Year Old Balsamic Vinegar(wife)

Thomas has been criticized over his cheese course by some in the past but I have no complaints as they were both delicious.

ICE CREAM

Thyme Ice Cream with Warm Olive Oil (me)

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Valhrona Chocolate(wife)

The Thyme Ice Cream was presented with a thin chocolate shell covering the bowl, in which the warm olive oil was poured over to melt. Both were smooth and satisfying!!

SORBET

Hayden Mango Sorbet,

Yuzu Scented Genoise,Goma Nougatine and Black Sesame Coulis (me)

Napa Valley Red Verjus Sorbet,

Szechaun Pepper Gelee, Raisin Puree, White Verjus Emulsion

and Vanilla Marinated Muscat Grape (wife)

By this time we were really full,and had been at the table over five hours. But these sorbet's were wonderfully refreshing,and added a much needed wake up call for our palate. I especially enjoyed the Verjus Sorbet.

DESSERT

Coffee and Donuts (both)

Cappucino semi-fredo with cinamon-sugared donuts(for two)

I have been reading about this signature dessert for years,and it exceeded my expectations in every way. As full as I was I could of ate a half a dozen.

CHOCOLATE

Valrhona Bitter Chocolate Souffle

Dry Apricot Marmelade and Mascarpone Sorbet (me)

Tentation Au Chocolat Noisette Et Lait,

Milk Chocolate Cremeux,Hazelnut Streusel

with Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts(wife)

At this point Larry said to us,"its chocolate" and not a living thing. You dont have to finish it if you dont want to. We struggled but did,as it was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

Mignardises to Go

For the wine lovers reading this I apologize as I did not receive a print out of the wines served. We had a pairing which had to be eight to ten different wines,which started with champagne.

A few comments on the service:

What can I say about Larry the maitre d'. He is a man at the top of his game and just as much part of the French Laundry experience as the cuisine itself.

Our main server's name escapes me as I believe it may have been Joe but he could not have been more professional,and had a personality so warm that one would think we known each other for years. Another young server named Jeremy I believe, was fantastic. After spending years in the restaurant business I would have paid this young man half my own salary to keep him in any restaurant I managed. He is that much of a asset to any front of the house. I can understand that I may be a minority,but I enjoy engaging in conversation with staff, and they were very open and friendly to the point where I would of loved to pull up a chair and have them join us.

Before leaving I had the oppurtunity to have my second kitchen tour of the night and meet Thomas as he and the staff were discussing the next days menu. He could not have been more gracious as we talked for fifteen to twenty minutes,and also was kind enough to take a photo with us. Keep in mind it had to be at least 1:00 a.m. at this time. A unheard of time for most chefs of this caliber to be in the kitchen.

This truly was a meal of a lifetime that will never be forgotten.

Robert

Edited by robert40

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September. I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share. They just prefer simple food done well.

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

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Here are a couple of places that they might enjoy:

Up the road from Napa in St. Helena:

Market -- Good food in a relaxed place.

Taylor's -- Great tuna burger and they have a decent wine list.

In Napa:

ZuZu -- Tapas with foods from Spain, Portugal, and the Mediterranean region.

Celadon

Pearl -- I did not get a chance to dine here, but it was very highly recommended by many different people on my last trip out there.

In Yountville:

Bistro Jeanty -- French bistro food. The steak tartar is wonderful.

Edited by mdt

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I'd second Market as being just what you say you're looking for. The "Champagne" battered fish and chips and the "Very Adult Macaroni and Cheese" were both as good as I've ever had.

Taylor's was fun - a roadside stand with picning tables serving some food that you would expect from a roadside stand (burgers, hot dogs, shakes) and some you wouldn't (the tuna burger MDT mentioned, for example). But my usual word of warning - don't go in the late afternoon if you have an evening reservation at the French Laundry. It took me four courses into my evening meal to get over the effects of the chili dog I had.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

Meadowood is near St. Helena, and if your parents have access to a car, have them consider John Ash & Co. at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, which is about a 45 minute pleasant drive over into Sonoma Valley. We each have our own idea of fancy pants - this is not the French Laundry - very pretty setting amidst the vineyards, and fabulous wine country food.

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My last trip there I enjoyed Pilar in Napa and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. Cindy's, in particular, has a very laid back, welcoming vibe.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

I was in Napa earlier this year and had a fantastic dinner at Bouchon. I expected it to be more fancy-pants than it was, but was pleased with the comfortable, casual atmosphere. The food is incredible (the oysters are a must) and the neighboring Bouchon Bakery is a great place to pick up some treats.

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My parents are attending a wedding at Meadowood in Napa in September.  I could really use any non-fancy pants restaurant suggestions you might be able to share.  They just prefer simple food done well. 

Cost isn't really an option (although some moderately-priced suggestions would be welcome), but I really want them to enjoy this experience and not walk into every restaurant feeling intimidated.

I highly recommend Martini House in St. Helena. Really excellent food with an open kitchen along the back wall. Very nice bar downstairs. They had a great sommelier, but he zipped off to the French Laundry (who can blame him?) http://www.martinihouse.com/

Another great option would be Terra, also in St. Helena. Check out the sites for more information: http://www.terrarestaurant.com/

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

I have had several good meals at Bistro Jeanty which is right up the street from FL. You cannot go wrong with Bouchon. If you are up in St. Helena you might want to stop in at Market.

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I'll second the Market suggestion in St. Helena.

FWIW, I always found the wineries in Sonoma, much "friendlier" than most of the ones in Napa and usually less crowded as well.

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I've enjoyed tasting at Pine Ridge.

For dinner, Zuzu in Napa is fun for tapas, but maybe you're looking for something a little more upscale?

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

Bouchon is overrated IMO. It's good decent fare, but there are much better options in Napa Valley. If you kick up you price limit just a tad, go to Terra. You will not be disappointed.

As for wineries in Napa Valley, you might try heading up to Neal Family at the extreme Northeast end of the valley. They are kind of up on the mountain a tad... If you're willing to head over to Sonoma, I'd suggest Bella (certainly not the 'best' wine or winery, but the folks there are very friendly and the place is beautiful. I'd suggest a picnic there on their grounds.

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If you want nice scenery, pack a picnic and head up Oakville grade, off of 29, to Diamond Oaks. They have a beautiful wooded picnic area that overlooks the valley. The view really can't be beat. You do need to buy a bottle of wine to eat there, but they have a couple of good reasonably priced merlots and chardonnays. As a disclaimer, my sister's boyfriend's family owns the place.

I'm also partial to Cakebread and Grgich Hills which are close by on 29. Avoid Coppola.

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I love Frank Family Vineyards in Napa. Their tasting room isn't much, but their wines are really great.

However, Sonoma wineries often have less expensive tasting fees, and their wineries aren't nearly as crowded.

You can pick up a gourmet picnic lunch at Oakville Grocery. Marvelous!

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I am going to SF area and want to spend one day/night up in Napa. Anyone know of some of the best wineries to tour around (nice scenery; not super tourist; friendly)?

Anyone know of a place to get a good meal (can't afford FL, but was thinking of hitting up Buchon)?

thank you.

jonathan

Bouchon has some pretty good dishes here and there (the boudin blanc in particular) and is open very late unlike most of the other restaurants, but there are much better dining options. The best new restaurant in Yountville is Redd named after Chef Richard Reddington, formerly of Auberge du Soleil and Masa in SF. Excellent place - reservations likely required.

Farther north in St. Helena, definitely try Market as previously suggested or Martini House. Both are outstanding in their way and offer dining at the bar if you're interested in a more casual experience. Market appears more homestyle since it offers things like Mac & Cheese, but believe me, it is the best M&C you will EVER have. They refer to it as adult-style and one dish easily serves two. We stopped in for lunch and had it along with the fried calamari made with tempura batter which also included fried red jalapenos and cactus (nopales) -- very unique twist and delicious with two sauces. The mac & cheese is made with Hobbs bacon and a local white cheddar from Fiscalini. Some sour cream and many different herbs & spices really make it extraordinary. Note that the co-owner (former head chef and recipe-creator) is Doug Keane who now spends much of his time over in Sonoma Valley at his restaurant Cyrus in Healdsburg. Doug is one of Food & Wine's 10 Best New Chefs so he knows how to cook. When you can splurge, I recommend Cyrus instead of French Laundry. It's pretty amazing. Also stay in the hotel where it is located if you can (Les Mars Hotel)

I posted previously about Martini House and after a recent re-visit (two weeks ago), it's as good as ever. They do extraordinary things with mushrooms of all types. Beau and I make a special trip to visit them every time. If you sit at the bar downstairs, see if Patrick is working the bar. If so, you'll definitely have a good time.

Wineries on the Silverado Trail are a lot of fun to visit -- most are much smaller than their counterparts on the more touristy Highway 29 side of the valley. Some of our favorites are Vincent Arroyo for excellent Syrah and Petite Sirah, Zahtila for Zinfandel and Casa Nuestra for the VERY low-key hippie-ish atmosphere. Good fairly inexpensive wine all around. They're all up on the northern end of the Silverado Trail. For the scenery, travel a bit further south, also on the Silverado, is Joseph Phelps which has good wine and amazing scenery. It's a huge operation so you'll be there with more than a few other visitors, but the views from the porch are lovely. More upscale than the three previously mentioned.

If you want to stay further south on the Highway 29 side and stay on the upscale side, Cardinale is a beautiful place with great wine and really lovely 360' valley views. If you can meet the winemaker, Chris Carpenter, you're in for a treat. Cardinale also offers Atalon and Lokoya wines.

You should consider stopping into the Oakville Grocery located in, of course, Oakville. EXCELLENT wine selections in the back from places you'll either not have time to visit or that don't offer tours/tastings. Don't let the hordes of tourists packing into the place be a deterrent. Dean & Deluca in St. Helena has an outstanding collection of local wine as well, but lacks the charm of Oakville Grocery which also offers great hot & cold deli sandwiches & other food items.

Wow... too many choices. Regardless of where you go, I'm sure you'll have a great time and be sure to post about your experience.

-Camille

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...You can pick up a gourmet picnic lunch at Oakville Grocery. Marvelous!
I'll 2nd that suggestion.

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love the oakville grocery suggestion, also the market one and terra.

thank you all. my head is spinning.

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love the oakville grocery suggestion, also the market one and terra.

thank you all. my head is spinning.

you could also check out this cia greystone student's blog - lots of restaurant reviews (bouchon, girl and the fig, etc)

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you could also check out this cia greystone student's blog - lots of restaurant reviews (bouchon, girl and the fig, etc)
Keep in mind that one day will not really offer enough time to spend in both valleys, so there is that choice between NV and SV with all the other valleys north of them (Alexander, Russian River, etc.) If in the town of Sonoma, then I enthusiastically second the suggestion by AlliK for 'The Girl and the Fig'. HIGHLY recommend their eponymous cookbook as well. I've been cooking my way through it and have been impressed with everything in it thus far.

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I love Frank Family Vineyards in Napa. Their tasting room isn't much, but their wines are really great.

I will second the recommendation for Frank Family. The people are very friendly and they make a very nice Chardonnay (not your typical CA Chardonnay).

After you pick up lunch at Oakville Grocery, head over to La Famiglia winery, buy a bottle of their wine, and enjoy one of their picnic tables [marriage proposal is optional, but it worked for paula and me :) ].

Jarvis is probably the CIA of Napa vineyards. You need to make an appointment for a tour, and the whole operation seems clandestine; however, the tour was pretty cool since the entire winery is built into the side of a mountain.

We missed the tour of Joseph Phelps. However, we did a tasting that included a very generous (and very free) pouring of their Insignia wine, for which they normally charge $10 per glass.

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I would also highly recommend touring Sonoma or Silverado Trail wineries -- they are generally less crowded, charge less (or nothing) to taste, and are more friendly/receptive. In Sonoma, I've had good experiences at Cline (very generous pours & many wines available to taste), Kunde, Gary Farrell, and De Loach. For something different, you could stop by Viansa -- an italian-themed winery in a beautiful location. They also have lots of food products to sample. The wines are relatively inexpensive and you can taste some lesser-known varietals such as arneis, primitivo, charbono, dolcetto, aglianico, etc.

For dinner, I've had good meals at Brix and the CIA (mentioned previously).

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After you pick up lunch at Oakville Grocery, head over to La Famiglia winery, buy a bottle of their wine, and enjoy one of their picnic tables [marriage proposal is optional, but it worked for paula and me :) ].

The La Famiglia winery was sold and is now the property of Diamond Oaks. The picnic tables are still there and the view is still awesome!

Congrats on the marriage proposal there . . . I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to do it.

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