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Restaurants & Bars 5

Napa Valley and San Francisco Trip Report

elmomonster | Jul 6, 200404:00 PM

We had a wonderful trip to the Napa Valley and San Francisco this past 4th of July weekend. We arrived on Friday night, staying in San Rafael.

On Saturday, we headed off early to the Napa Valley. Our first order of business was a light breakfast. We just happened to be driving through Yountville when we found Thomas Keller's Bouchon. Since it was early, and the restaurant was barely getting ready to open for lunch, we settled with a croissant and an oatmeal cookie at the Bouchon Bakery next door. The croissant was standard -- flaky, buttery and good. The oatmeal cookie was also nothing special. We washed it down with some orange juice while leafing through the local paper, outside in the courtyard. The total for our breakfast: $7.00.

Next we took the free tour at Domaine Chandon. The nervous tour guide (he said it was his first time), educated us on how Domaine Chandon sparkling wine was produced. He took us by the stainless steel fermentation tanks and bottling area - interesting information and the grounds of the winery was beautiful. But since we aren't wine drinkers, we passed on the wine tasting and got back on the 29 to Oakville.

By then it was lunchtime. We stopped at the Oakville Grocery, which was packed with people. The small cramped aisles of gourmet sauces and foods were even more claustrophobic with bodies trying to squeeze through to order food from the deli. We opted for a few strips of pecan crusted chicken and a crab cake, which were heated and served with their own sauces. A strong, spicy mustard was the sauce for the chicken strips, while a tart remoulade was the accompaniment for the crab cake. No complaints on the food, but thought the prices were a little steep. We drove over to the grounds of Neibaum Coppola and ate our food under the shade of their trees. Total for the light lunch: $7.50.

We then drove to Mumm Napa to take their free tour. The tour guide and the tour was excellent. Very educational and entertaining, complete with videos which gave us a great understanding of how their sparkling wine goes from the vine to the bottle.

Then it was back to Neibaum Coppolla to check out the movie memorabilia from Coppola's collection. Driving up north, we stopped off at St. Helena and checked out Sunshine Foods. This was a local grocery store with a great selection of picnic-ready foods. Too bad it was so close to dinner.

We then headed to CIA's Greystone restaurant for our 6 pm reservation. The restaurant was practically empty at 5:30 when we arrived, so we were seated right away. Our meal started with a wonderful crusty sourdough, served with softened butter. A ramekin of olives was also presented (but not consumed by my companion or I). The "Temptations" arrived. These were 5 little dishes set on a rack, meant to acquaint us to the tastes of the season and the area. Each of us got one serving of the following:

1. Smoked salmon on top of cream cheese and cracker topped with herbs.

- The salmon was rich with a hint of smoke

2. Skewers of pork and grape, marinated with spices.

- The Asian/Middle Eastern spices lent a complex sweetness to the tender pork meat. The grape provided a sweet and tart counterpoint.

3. Cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto.

- This was a simple, perfect combination of salty and sweet flavors.

4. Haricot verts sautéed in brown butter

- The haricot verts were fresh and crisp, the brown butter lending the right amount of richness.

5. Shot glass of spiced tomato gazpacho

- Refreshing and cool. The perfect palate cleanser to lead into the main course.

The main courses we tried were (see Hyperlink below for photos):

1. Wild King Salmon Niçoise salad. With Haricots verts, Yukon gold potatoes, sauce ravigote and quail eggs.

- The salmon was cooked exactly to order. The skin crisp and full of flavor. The salad and tomatoes provided a great compliment to the rich fish.

2. Seared Scallops topped with herbed butter. With roasted fingerling potatoes, sweet white corn and wild mushrooms.

- The scallops were nicely seared with caramelized crust. The corn was indeed sweet and crunchy, just barely cooked. The mushroom lent a lot of body to the whole dish.

Dessert was a sampler of 5 items. Among them, marshmallows infused with orange essence, mini crispy muffins, fruit bar concentrate, baked cookies with crème, and chocolate truffles.

We sauntered out of the CIA, our stomachs full and our pocket $96.00 lighter, but we were giddy from the experience. The food, the service (our water glass never got past half empty and used silverware/dishes were whisked away quickly), was all perfect to us. It was the highlight of our trip and we promised each other we would come back again someday.

On Sunday morning, after a two hour long hike in Muir Woods, we were hungry, and didn’t want to trek into San Francisco yet. So we ended up at House of Lee in San Rafael where we ordered 9 dim sum dishes. They were all good but, as expected, not in the same league as dim sum I’ve had at Sea Harbour back in Southern California. A list of what we tried: pork and shrimp siumai, deep fried sesame shrimp roll, baked BBQ pork pastry, short ribs with black bean, rice noodle with dried shrimp and scallions, shrimp har gow, bean curd skin with vegetable filling, egg custard tarts, and fruit pudding. Everything was ordered off the menu, so there were no roving carts, and each dish was piping hot. In fact, each dish came out so hot (especially in the interior), that I suspect the microwave was used for some of the choices (such as the suimai). Nevertheless, it was good enough for the two of us. My favorite was the fruit pudding. It had a light refreshing texture and a pleasingly sweet cantaloupe flavor. Each dish averaged about $2.20 and the total tab with tip was about $25.00.

For dessert we seeked out Marco Polo ice cream and tasted the cantaloupe, taro, and a mixed flavor of chocolate, pistachio, and vanilla (can’t recall the name at this point). The ice cream was as good as we’ve heard. The cantaloupe was my favorite. It was exactly the way I imagined a cantaloupe ice cream would taste like. I love this place and wished there were one like it in Orange County. A small serving (which was just the right amount of ice cream for me) was $2.20.

Dinner was at Japantown at the restaurant across the hall from Benihana. The exact name escapes me at the moment, but they served standard Japanese fare. Nothing spectular. The deep fried soft shell crab had too heavy of a tempura batter. The avocado and unagi roll was good enough. The boiled spinach though had a good flavor and generous portion size. The steamed clams were fresh, but I was a little put-off with the strong alcohol flavor of the sake broth.

That was my trip report. Thanks for the tips Chowhound!


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