CA, Food, Restaurants

Napa Valley & French Laundry

{Swanson Vineyard}

{The vines at Spring time}

{Apple tart at Auberge du Soleil}

{Nickel and Nickel}

{Nickel and Nickel tasting}

{Wine cellar}

{Barn at Nickel and Nickel}

{Birthday at French Laundry}

When you’re a foodie, your mecca is Napa. I’ve dreamed of going to Napa for years and it’s been on my bucket list of places to go before I die. So you can imagine my giddiness when I finally arrived in wine country last Friday. As a gift to myself for my pending 28th birthday, I wanted to do this trip right. I was a fat kid in paradise. Driving through the valley, you can’t help but be in awe of the landscape. Lush rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. Even though I live in upstate NY and accustomed to this type of scenery, the valleys in Napa looked so different to me. The valleys were dotted with grape vines and bright yellow mustard plants. We learned later that they plant the mustard plants on purpose as a natural fertilizer. People in Napa try to be as green as possible. The mustard plants compensated for the lack of grapes on the vines, which I was sort of bummed about. O well, at least I was here.

Friday March 5th

Our first stop was Swanson Vineyard. You have to make a reservation in advance and it’s $55 per tasting. I know what you’re thinking…but it was my favorite tasting and well worth the money. We opted for the Harvey Tasting held in a beautiful coral salon. To your left is a stone fireplace from Provence (whatever that means), up ahead an antique chandelier, the place was decorated like an old world Parisian salon. The table was so unique and elegant. It was decorated with angels, swan decanters, and rose petals. We tasted 6 wines, 2 of which were my favorite from the whole trip. The petitie sirah and the tardif-their dessert wine, which I’m not usually a fan of but this one wasn’t syrupy like most dessert wines. Each of the 6 wines were perfectly paired with caviar on a yukon gold potato chip with a dollop of creme fraiche, artisinal cheeses, and a chocolate bonbon dusted with cumin.

One quick note to mention here…Napa is cab (short for cabernet sauvignon) country. This is a problem because I HATE cab. It’s too peppery and bitter for me. Every time I drink it I get a stomach ache. My favorite is pinot noir which I was told to go to Sonoma and Russian River Valley. O well, next trip.

Next stop was Peju. Very cute winery but the main attraction was Alan a white guy who raps, rhymes and mixes it up. He was hilarious. My favorite line was “chill it, fill it, kill it, don’t spill it.” I couldn’t even taste the wine because I was waiting for what he was going to say next. My 2 favorites were the 2006 Estate Zinfandel and Syrah.

The wines at Silverado vineyards were mediocre but the view was amazing. The winery looks like an Italian villa. It was worth the tasting to be able to sip wine and enjoy the view from the terrace. It was perfect. Last stop, Regusci Winery, a “ghost winery,” which means that it is still in existence after prohibition. I loved this place for the people and ambiance. There were a dozen dogs running around chasing each other. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there. While we were sipping the wine, we chatted it up with the staff about food, wine, dogs, the history of the winery. We talked to this guy (forgot his name) about the French Laundry. I could have stayed there all night listening to him talk about food. Apparently it’s really hard to get reservations there (wink wink). That’s what I love about Napa, everyone talks food. The people here are so willing to share and to point you in the right direction…they’re my kind of people. I’m not going to lie… at this point after 4 wineries, I’m a little tipsy. It was nap time and to gear up for the French Laundry…

~French Laundry~
When you dine at a place like this you hope that it’s better than the hype. You pray that it’s not the disappointment of the century. I can tell you that the French Laundry was the best meal I’ve ever had. Hands down. It was 9 courses of pure perfection. Each course flowed perfectly into the next. The portions were small but each element of every dish had such a high concentration of flavor that you didn’t need much. Each plate was like a work of art with all the colors, shapes, and textures working perfectly together. When you bite into every morsel you just want more. My 2 favorite courses were the first which was called “Oysters and Pearls-sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar. I was speechless. It was an explosion of flavors and textures in my mouth and I almost wanted to cry because it was so good. The oysters in the cream sauce were luxurious and creamy which was perfectly contrasted by the crunchy and saltiness of the caviar. The “moulard duck foie gras en terrine”- white honey, walnuts, celery branch and dijon mustard was $30 extra but worth every penny. It was accompanied by 3 kinds of salt one of which is supposed to be thousands of years old and warm brioche bread. Half way through, the waitress takes away the bread because it was too cold. You feel like a queen dining here. Even the butter was special. They served 2 kinds, one of which was from a farm in Vermont and I couldn’t seem to stop eating it on the warm brioche sprinkled with ancient salt. Ok, sweetbreads sounds like it would be a big bun with butter and sugar on it but it’s actually a savory dish. Sweetbreads are the thymus or pancreas in the animal. Whatever they are, they were delicious. It was crispy on the outside and juicy and tender in the inside. I’m not a huge fan of lamb but the lamb was perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy. The menu changes daily so if you forget what you ordered, you can only look at the menu online for one day. After 4 hours of dinner, 3 half bottles of wine, I was passing out at the table. Yes, I was that girl who couldn’t hold it together at the french laundry. The waiter graciously put the chocolates and shortbreads in a to-go bag. I didn’t even get to see the kitchen. Disappointment of the century… I can finally check this off my bucket list.

Saturday March 6th 

Since brunch wasn’t until noon, we hit up Thomas Keller’s other gem, Bouchon Bakery. We must’ve missed the rush because I turn around and there’s a huge line behind me. The bakery looks like a French patisserie. I can’t decide what I want because I want to nibble on everything. I settle on a chocolate croissant. You can’t go wrong with chocolate + croissant. We walked around Yountville which is a cute town that has one famous restaurant after the next. We stopped in Hope & Grace winery which to much of our excitement had a delicious pinot noir, a cute dog named Romeo, and very helpful Matt. He completely understood our dislike for cabs and we ended up talking about food for a while. On to brunch! Auberge du Soleil is a gorgeous hotel perched on a hill. Brunch was 3 courses for $55 and the view on the terrace is priceless. The yummiest thing I had was the duck confit hash over farm eggs. For dessert, I had the apple tart with vanilla ice cream. I can’t think of a better brunch. Definitely top 5 brunch experiences.
What do you do when you feel like a fat mess after brunch? Go wine tasting of course! By a recommendation of a friend, we made reservations at Nickel and Nickel. It’s $40 for the tasting and tour of the winery. It has a whimsical farm feeling. 3 of the buildings are actually old barns. The only problem that I had with this wine tasting was that all 4 wines were cabernets. Their sister winery, En Route has a yummy pinot noir, which they didn’t actually let us taste but we ordered it at Bottega during dinner. Speaking of Bottega…the celebrity chef here is Michael Chiarello. You would recognize him from the FoodNetwork show
, Easing Entertaining with Michael Chiarello or if you watched Top Chef Masters. His food is of Italian inspiration fused with Napa Valley cuisine. When you walk into Bottega, there’s a lot going on. On your left is a bustling bar where guests have a drink while waiting for tables and to your right is an open kitchen and 3 large dining areas. That night, Michael Chiarello was there talking to guests. I felt like a celebrity stalker, I kept following him with my eyes. As for the food, we shared the hand-cut saffron fettuccine with manilla clams, calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley, white wine and house-made egg pappardelle with veal, pork & porcini mushroom bolognese, rosemary and parmigiano-reggiano. Both pastas were really good. You can’t go wrong with fresh homemade pasta. I sat there contemplating the rest of my life. Why don’t I move to Napa and open a vineyard? I’m sure that same thought has crossed every visitors’ mind when they come here. The people are so laid back and happy and why wouldn’t you be? This has been by far the best foodie trip ever. I’m already planning to come back and hit up Sonoma.