It's hard to believe that I'm in my 30's, have lived in CA for a good portion of my life and yet have never made it to the Napa/Sonoma regions beyond the 101. Husband and I were in much need of some R&R so decided that wine country would be the perfect 3-day, self-indulgent getaway for us.
Like a diligent and obsessive chowhound, I combed through old posts for some good tips. It was interesting to witness the Napa vs. Sonoma split. In fact, many hounds seemed to steer inquisitive hounds away from Napa, favoring the more "quaint" cities of Sonoma and Healdsburg. I was conflicted but, in the end, I decided to stick w/ my instincts and explore Napa w/ a dash of Sonoma thrown in on our last day. I had never been to Napa after all, and I was proud to be one of the many first-time tourists.
We're not crazy though. We simply detest crowds and mob scenes (case in point: original Oakville Grocery at lunchtime). Therefore, we strategically chose to go from Sun. through Tues. hoping for a more "civilized" and truly relaxing experience. That turned out to be a very good call...
We rolled into town around 1:30pm and checked into our hotel, River Terrace Inn, just east of downtown Napa. After freshening up, we took the little trolley bus to downtown. Confirming that both Pilar and Zuzu were closed, we decided to try Bounty Hunter. More of a wine bar and retail merchant, they have a small but decent menu.
I ordered the house salad after being told that they were out of the beet salad, and husband went for the polar opposite--pulled pork sandwich. They have an extensive wine list, and I got a taste of one of their viogniers while Y got a glass of petite syrah. While my salad was very simple, all of the ingredients were hyper fresh and I loved that it was very lightly and evenly dressed w/ toasty pecans on top. Y’s pulled pork sandwich was more tasty than I predicted. Generous, moist chunks of meat piled high onto what looked like a housemade bun, complemented by a smokey, piquant sauce on the side. We were very content. Total pre-tip was around $30.
We then walked over to COPIA to get in a couple of hours of browsing before they closed at 5pm. I was worried that Y would be bored out of his mind, but he truly had a good time w/ the interactive displays and the demo and tasting on Crème Fraiche. It was also very cool to see and hear Melanie Wong on one of the tabletop video displays. The Edible Garden wasn’t as impressive or nicely maintained as I expected, but the gift shop was fun. Having already read through the Hungry Planet book, I enjoyed viewing their exhibit highlighting a number of the profiles in the book. Two hours was the perfect amount of time and worth the $5 admission fee. Staff were setting up for a wedding outside in the garden, so looks like one can rent the place for private events.
I read in the Mercury News that COPIA is shifting to more of an emphasis on wine, so it will be interesting to see how the center evolves these next years. The immediate area was a little lifeless and not the nicest walk back to our hotel, but the Oxbow Public Market is going up next door and is slated to open in the fall of this year. After returning home, I learned that a branch of Old Port Lobster Shack is located nearby. Anyone try the food here yet?
You might be wondering why I only nibbled on a salad for lunch but this one word will explain: Bouchon! We had reservations for 7:30pm, and I wanted to be sufficiently hungry. French bistro food is one of my favorite food genres; everything always sounds tasty, abundant, and rich. Walking around Yountville a bit before dinner, it felt like “Kellerland”—Disneyland for Keller devotees. With four establishments under his name and other projects in the works, he must own half the town.
Bouchon’s atmosphere is lively and hip, if not a bit contrived and lacking a little whimsy that I like. We were seated at a tight two-top closer to the bar area. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we ordered more food than we could normally ingest in one sitting because everything sounded so good. The portions here turned out to be very generous. The complimentary warm pistachios were fresh and addictive, but the pain d’epi (I’m assuming made at their bakery next door) was very disappointing. Chewy, hard, and flat in flavor, it reminded me of my early bread-making attempts. How could Keller approve of this?!
To start, we got the leek salad w/ egg mimosa and the pork trotter w/ mache and sauce gribiche. The leek salad was nicely chilled w/ a fruity olive oil vinaigrette. The chopped egg topping was lovely, but there were intermittent crunchy bits that were distracting which Y and I could only guess to be cornmeal (odd for this sort of dish). The pork trotter was breaded at the ends and pan-fried—enough said. The mache salad did not fall in its shadows though being gorgeously fresh and seasoned.
For entrees, I got the steamed mussels w/ fries, and Y ordered the roasted leg of lamb w/ ragout of coco beans, piquillo peppers, and lamb jus. The heavy pot of Maine bouchot mussels was everything I wanted: succulent, sweet shellfish and creamy saffron-laced broth. A cone of well-salted, crispy, hot fries made this carb lover very happy. Y’s lamb was nicely cooked and a very large serving, but I prefer thinner slices. The bean ragout was delicious and integrated so well w/ the lamb, but I didn’t detect any merguez sausage as outlined on the menu. I had a glass of sancerre while Y had a glass of syrah.
We were completely stuffed having eaten every morsel of food (except for that bread) but were seduced by the butterscotch pot de crème. Unfortunately, this was the major misstep of the meal and not the best way to end a generally enjoyable experience. It looked a little old and tired and tasted flat and too dense. Next time, I would skip dessert in lieu of trying more savories and some tastes from the raw bar. Service was professional and pacing was a bit faster than we prefer, but their obvious popularity means they need to turn those tables. Total pre-tip was around $115.
We rolled back to the hotel and rested up for the next day of wine tasting and more eating…stay tuned for Day 2.
Some photos from Day 1:
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