You were all kind enough to help me with suggestions for my trip to Napa, so I thought I'd write a report and tell you what I chose and how it went!
For lunch during our first day of tasting, we ate at the Rutherford Grill, right on Highway 29 by Beaulieau Vineyards. This was suggested by our tasting companions.
The wine list was, of course, excellent, and we shared a bottle of Shuetz-Oles Zinfandel. Delicious! And zin goes well with BBQ...
I just checked the restaurant website and was redirected to Houston's (the chain) website. Hmmm.... Are they owned by Houston's? That would explain the phenomenal grilled artichoke appetizer I got (I've only ever had one so good at a Houston's in LA). Minimally dressed artichoke given a good char on the grill, and meltingly tender at the heart. It came with a mayo-based dipping sauce, but was so good on it's own that I never quite got to the sauce.
My boyfriend got the $3 Cornbread-in-a-skillet, which was the best value-per-calorie food I have ever eaten. A medium-sized skillet full of delicious, crumbly-but-still-moist cornbread, studded with real corn kernels and a little buttery inside. Mmmm. It fed four of us with extra left over.
My boyfriend and I shared the ribs, which were the requisite falling-off-the-bone tender, and not overly smothered in BBQ sauce, either. Ours came with excellent, buttery, creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables, but the default is for it to come with fries and coleslaw.
My friend Dave got the prime rib, which was perfectly cooked and juicy, served with horseradish sauce and jus. I only got a little taste of it, so I can't write voluminously about its wonders.
Be warned... the portions are HUGE. Sharing is key.
My boyfriend and I also visited Domaine Chandon, for a more upscale, romantic experience. Also, we really like tasting menus with matching wines, and Domaine Chandon has a 9-course one for $135/person with matching wines (the first four being champagne!). We didn't realise it, but Domaine Chandon has a new chef, and so it was actually a lot more avant-garde than we expected.
The amuse was a lobster & pink lentil soup with creme fraiche: sort of lobster-bisque-like, but not as silky. The granular texture of the lentils was felt instead, as well as a subtle note of their flavour. It was pretty good, but not amazing.
The first course was called "chilled lobster salad". It was, in fact, a hunk of lobster meat encircled by tarragon gelee and topped with a mini-scoop of olive oil sorbet. When we cut off a chunk of lobster and a thin sliver of the gelee and put a thin smear of the sorbet on it, it tasted exactly like chilled lobster salad. But if we put too much of the gelee or sorbet on our fork, it just tasted weird and the texture really threw us. My boyfriend thought this dish was too wierd for him. I got the the reference, but didn't think it was all that enjoyable to eat.
The second course was root vegetable gnocchi. Three small gnocchi at the bottom of a bowl, over which kombu (a thai broth of some sort) was poured. The broth was very good and salty in the way that miso is salty... it really seasoned the gnocchi well when you took a spoon of the two together. The gnocchi were carrot, daikon radish and turnip, and were deliciously destinguishable and perfectly textured. Both this and the lobster course were served with Domaine Chandon's drier Etoile.
Now we got a pour of the sweeter rose champagne and got the third course: a column of fois gras mousse topped with a "tablecloth" (thin square sheet) of tamarind-flavoured gelee and two small balls, one of green apple and one of daikon radish. A tamarind sauce and a kabosha squash puree were spread on the plate artfully beside the fois gras column. Like the first course, this course required skilled eating. A bite of apple with fois gras and a bit of the gelee was good. A bit of fois gras with the squash puree was good. But arrange your fork poorly and you got too much gelee or too much tamarind flavour or too much rich mousse with no acid to balance it.
Fourth course: skate wing rolled in sushi-roll shape with endive leaves as the wrapper. Topped with caramelized endives. Really delicious and quite simple, especially as compared to the previous dishes. There was some sauce, but I've forgotten what it was, which shows how unmemorable it was.
The next course was kobe beef, two ways. First, as perfectly cooked rare medallions and second as a thin slice of carpaccio. The beef was delicious, in both forms. Again, not as crazy of a dish as the first dishes had been. The beef was served with a Petit Meunier, which is a red grape most often used in white sparkling wine. Rarely is it seen as a monovarietal still wine. It was delicious! I wish I could give you more adjectives, but at this point I was being affected by the charms of the food and wine.
The cheese course was mind-blowingly delicious St. Marcellin. It was intensely rustic and nutty with a fruity flavor. Paired perfectly with the wine and was really outstanding.
The next course was really a palate-cleanser of rhubarb sorbet with bits of pear compote. Good but not outstanding.
Last came dessert, pineapple upside-down cake with ginger ice cream. Really delicious, and fitting with the sort of comfort-food-desserts trend that's the rage right now (i.e. serving jelly doughnuts for desserts, etc.) I had to try to explain to my (Swedish) boyfriend the concept of an upside-down cake and why it's not a right-side-up cake. It was a funny discussion. Ginger ice cream is ALWAYS awesome.
So that's it! Delicious!
Thanks for the suggestions, SF 'hounds!
P.S. Wineries I went tasting at that I would recommend: Duckhorn (try their interesting new Paraduxx zinfandel blend), Grgich Hills (don't miss the Fume Blanc!), Cakebread Cellars (nearly unmarked... next to Turnbull on 29 in Rutherford).