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Trip Report - French Laundry, Redd, Cyrus, Ubuntu, Peony (long)


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Trip Report - French Laundry, Redd, Cyrus, Ubuntu, Peony (long)

Miss Needle | Jul 15, 2008 10:10 PM

Hi. Thanks to everybody for helping me plan DH’s 40th! We had such a great time. Just wanted to report back on our very short, but lovely trip. We fit in a lot of eating during a weekend. Sorry, no pics – I forgot my camera at home. Warning – This is pretty long so I’ll first give you an outline of what we did. You can do a search on this post if you just want to read more about certain restaurants.

Schramsberg Winery
French Laundry

Wild Flour Bakery

Oxbow Public Market

Napa Valley


Great. It was incredibly informative and the caves were very interesting. I probably got a lot more from it as I’m a novice when it comes to wine and DH is more of an intermediate. But he even said he picked up a few things. Did a tasting of four sparkling wines (just took one sip and DH had the rest as I was driving). They were all pretty good, but my preferences were for the J Schram and the Reserve (the pricey ones, I’m afraid). The history behind the winery was also fascinating. The guy giving the tour had a great sense of humor and extremely likable. Would highly recommend, especially if you’re into sparkling wines.


It definitely did not disappoint. We had a wonderful meal there, and I have to say that I preferred it over Per Se. I've read reports about how Per Se's service is much better than French Laundry. But I have to say that I've had the opposite experience. This may be due to the fact that when I was at Per Se, 1/2 of the room was filled with visiting chefs. While we got good service, it was by no means as great as what we experienced at the French Laundry. I think the waitstaff was too busy dealing with the visiting chefs. The head waiter was fabulous and explained every little thing about the food (which I really digged). This is what we had. We got our own individual course for some of the courses. For other courses, we shared so that we could try as many things as possible.

***Gougeres -- well-cooked with a creamy center

***Cones with salmon tartare -- I could eat at least 10 of them

***Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Californian White Sturgeon Caviar -- really delicious and probably one of my favorite courses

***Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm with Jicama, English Cucumber, Cilantro Shoots and Haas Avocado -- very well composed salad

***Moulard Duck "Foie Gras au Torchon" with Bing Cherries, Tokyo Turnips, Watercress Leaves and Australian Black Truffles -- the truffles really came out in this dish

***Sauteed Fillet of Pacific Kahala with Compressed belgian endive, green grapes, marcona almonds, mizuna and pickled red onion "aigre-doux" -- the waiter was explaining that the endive was compressed in a vacuum sealer to remove all bitterness -- delicious

***Japanese Bigfin Squid with Akita Komachi Rice, green asparagus, nasturtium, candied pine nuts and black pepper gastrique – absolutely visually stunning dish; the squid was scored and charred and looked like a piece of art; personally, I thought the rice with the candied pine nuts was a bit too sweet; I think this was DH's favorite course of the evening

***New Bedford Sea Scallop "Poelee" with English peas, French Laundry Garden Red Radish, Romaine Lettuce and Eureka Lemon Puree -- probably my favorite course of the evening; perfectly seasoned and balanced and the scallop was perfectly cooked; peas were definitely freshly shelled

***Liberty Farm Pekin Duck "Pastrami" with caramelized savoy cabbage, caraway seed melba and "1000 Island Dressing" -- Thank goodness the 1000 Island Dressing was in quotes because I hate the stuff; but this was really good. The duck was sous-vided and was meltingly tender. This was probably my second favorite course of the evening

***Tartare of Kuroge Beef from Shiga with Beech mushrooms, Broccolini, Lily Bulbs, Perilla and Spicy Mustard -- this was probably the only miss of the evening because they were heavy-handed with the salt; a bit difficult to eat; the waiter told us the beef was about 80% fat -- so it was more about the texture than the flavor (which was mild); I think I'm also a person who prefers a stronger flavored beef -- so that may have contributed to me not being crazy about the dish as well. I understand that they may have added more salt because the beef was mild – but it went over the edge for us.

***Elysian Fields Farm "Selle D'Agneu Rotie Entiere with "Petit Sale," Jacobsen's Farm Summer Squash, Oven-Roasted Roma Tomato, Nicoise Olives and Greek Basil -- perfectly cooked and loved the complements; DH thought the oven roasted tomato was too assertive, but I thought it went really well; not really the largest fan of a sun-dried tomato as I find it too sour and astringent; oven roasted tomatoes really brings out the sweetness

***Beecher's "Flagship Reserve" with Golden Corn, Piquillo Peppers, and Tarragon Pudding -- I think I've already had too many courses by this point because I can't remember what a "flagship reserve" was; do remember the tarragon pudding and thought it was quite lovely but DH didn’t like it because of the anisey flavor; Ok, just spoke with DH who reminded me that was the cheese course; it was good but I think I prefer cheeses on their own as opposed to a composed cheese course

***Cantaloupe Sorbet with Compressed Melon and "Muscat de Beaumes de Venise en Gelee" -- Pretty good considering I don't like cantaloupe

***Lingot de Chocolat en Mousse de Malt Croustillante with Candied Spanish Peanuts, Popcorn Sherbet and Caramel -- delicious; the popcorn sherbet really tasted like popcorn; goes really well with chocolate; corn and chocolate go really well together – somebody should invent chocolate covered corn on the cob; maybe I’ll try it when we start getting some good corn in NYC

***"Regal de Fruits Rouges Au Romarin" -- Rosemary scented genoa cake, "creme patisserie" and summer berries -- I really liked this a lot; am a big fan of rosemary in savory and sweet dishes

***Mignardises -- we were so full that they boxed this for us to take home along with the menu (otherwise I wouldn't have been able to tell you what I ate because it became one big blur); we also received a couple of packages of delicious shortbread cookies made with vanilla bean.

I nursed one glass of Dr. Loosen reisling for the entire meal. DH had a glass of rose in the beginning, then had half bottle of pinot called Copain, Kiser Vineyard-en haut, Anderson Valley 2004. Not really my style of wine, but he liked it a lot.


After our French Laundry experience, we biked for a few hours so we would be able to eat later on that night. We were deciding between Martini House and Redd, but decided on Redd because the menu looked more interesting. We got there after 9P and were surprised that there were no tables and no room at the bar. Room was extremely noisy but it was OK. We waited for a few minutes and two seats opened up at the bar. We shared a bunch of small plates:

***Yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, chili oil, fried rice -- very good, light and refreshing; the fried rice was interesting but DH had issues as it tasted too much like mochi (he hates mochi)

***Glazed pork belly with apple puree, burdock and soy caramel -- probably my favorite dish of our meal; well cooked and scrumptious

***Crisp sweetbreads with potato and ramp hash, sauce gribiche -- wasn't too crazy about it; the sweetbreads were not crisp; they were pretty soggy; but DH liked it – I don’t think he met a sweetbread that he didn’t like

***Wolfe ranch quail, warm farro salad, poached egg, garlic cream, frisée, bacon bits -- delicious; quail well cooked and went well with the farro; poached egg was perfect

***Carnaroli risotto, maine lobster, meyer lemon confit, truffle oil – absolute huge miss; risotto was overcooked and mushy; for the price we weren’t expecting a lobster claw, but did expect more than the three pieces of mealy lobster that were literally the size of pencil erasers (no hyperbole here); the lemon was way too assertive and threw off the balance of the dish; the risotto shouldn’t be sour (and meyer lemons aren’t very sour)

***Sweet corn fritters, cherries, vanilla bean ice cream -- delicious; I've hated corn in Asian desserts but really liking it in Western desserts

I didn’t drink at all. DH started off with a glass of rose and then got a ½ bottle of pinot from the Willamette Valley – Domaine Drouhin. I tasted his wine and wasn’t too fond of it at all. Then again, I’m not the largest red wine person as I have problems breathing if I drink too much. I think it’s the histamines from it. I’m fine with white.

I was wondering if I was disappointed in Redd because I was comparing it to the French Laundry. Perhaps that may have played a factor. I tried to be cognizant of the biases and expectations I may have and tried to be as neutral as possible. For example, I can see how one can be totally swept away by eating at the coveted French Laundry or be totally disappointed because their expectations were too high. Actually, I shouldn’t say I was disappointed with Redd as I enjoyed most of our food. But there were a couple of misses, ESPECIALLY that lobster risotto. I didn’t know if the lobster was mealy due to it being in the lemon for too long or because it went bad. DH and I both had GI issues afterwards – but it could definitely be due to the fact that we overindulged that day. But in general, a mealy lobster is not a good thing, whether it’s from being a bad piece of seafood or from it being in acid for too long. Service was overall pretty good. I liked our female bartender that served us. She was warm, professional, nice and friendly. I wasn’t too crazy about the male bartender. Even though he didn’t really deal with us, his friend was sitting at the bar next to us, and the bartender was pretty much shouting at him (I think he was drunk) which kind of disrupted our meal and showed a lack of professionalism. I may expect this at a college bar but not in an establishment like Redd. The female bartender was also friends with the guy next to us but managed to talk to him in a reasonable tone and remain professional for the entire time we were there.

We originally planned on going to Mixteca for lunch the next day but couldn’t due to logistical concerns with returning our rental bikes by 10A and being in Freestone (Sonoma) for a spa appointment at 11:45A. So we just ate breakfast that our cottage served us instead. We were still really full from last night that it didn’t matter we skipped lunch. So sorry I don’t have a report for you guys about that or about the Aguascalientes Gorditas and the pastry shop on the same block. I did ask the guys at French Laundry about Mixteca. They haven’t heard of it, but said that the FL workers like to go to Villa Corona in Napa (not the other location – said there’s a huge difference) for Mexican food. They said if you go in the mornings on the weekend, they have some good menudo.


After our spa treatment in Freestone, we shared a scone from Wild Flour Bakery, an organic bakery right across from the spa. I guess I made the mistake of getting a white chocolate lavender scone (because I thought it sounded interesting) as DH thought it was like munching into a bar of soap. After a few bites, he got over the lavender thing and finished the entire scone. But I thought it was really good – very well made. I tried a sample of one of their wood-fired cheese breads and wished that I could get a loaf. It was heavenly! But I knew it would go bad so I passed.


We then headed to Healdsburg to go to Cyrus. My goodness! It really was a wonderful experience. We opted for the Chef’s tasting menu as it sounded really delicious. DH just requested that he get the seared foie gras instead of the torchon. So here were our courses.

***Canapes – umami broth of kombu and shitake; some small deep-fried fritter and three other dishes that I forget at this point; they were designed to hit all the five tastes – umami, salt, sweet, sour, bitter. Delicious.

***Amuse Bouche of Cucumber Gelee with a small salad – As not being the biggest fan of cucumber, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. It was cool and refreshing, but I liked the salad more. DH really liked his gelee.

***Chilled Ratatouille Soup with Olive Oil, Poached King Salmon – this was very delicious; The salmon was poached in olive oil and was so tender; it was served with a couple of pieces of fried salmon skin which added a necessary crunch component to the dish; and the ratatouille soup – I could have eaten bowls of it; outstanding dish

***Salt Cured Foie Gras and Peach Torchon, Toasted Crumpets – Delicious. How can you screw up foie gras unless you overcook it that all you have is a pool of duck fat? Peach went beautifully with the foie.

***Seared Foie Gras with Cherry-Almond Doughnut – Yum! I think cherries are my favorite fruit paired with foie gras. As this was not on the tasting menu but on the regular menu (DH requested this), they served him a HUGE hunk of foie gras as they couldn’t make the dish any smaller due to trying to have it in balance with the doughnut.

***Poached Lobster with Local Egg, Spring Onions, Uni – Unlike Redd, this lobster wasn’t mealy at all; perfectly cooked with a perfect poached egg. It was topped with a piece of Santa Barbara uni and uni emulsion. You could really taste the uni throughout the dish. I wanted to lick the plate. In fact, I was sopping the juices and sauce with my breads (which were all wonderful; most were piping hot).

***Duck Breast with Sweet corn and chanterelle mushrooms with spiced duck jus – This was DH’s favorite dish. Really delicious, and I can’t think of a way this dish could be improved. Corn was so fresh and sweet.

***Wagyu Beef with Kombu and Cherry Tomatoes, Ponzu – I was a bit skeptical when I saw the beef paired with kombu. There’s a Korean dish called seaweed soup which calls for seaweed cooked in a beef broth. I always preferred the ones made with clams as I thought the flavors went much better. But I was wrong – wonderful dish.

***A selection of artisanal and farmhouse cheeses with breads and fruits – Ah! The cheese cart. I love a good cheese cart. They had some great choices. I don’t remember exactly what cheese we received except that we had six – a mild goat’s cheese, a luscious triple-crème, a runny tart cheese served from a spoon, a white Cheddar, a cow’s milk blue and a sheep’s milk blue. We were shocked by how much our waiter gave us. She told me she tends to be heavy handed. They were all expertly chosen and accompanied by a raisin walnut bread, zante grapes, figs, nuts and a dried fig nut cake.

***Strawberry Verjus Soup with Yuzu Parfait – Perfect refreshing course; It was really good.

***Chocolate Beignets – they were filled with salted chocolate ganache and served warm; Delicious

***Mignardises – I had one piece of dark chocolate truffle and something else and couldn’t do any more. They gave us a couple of brownies in boxes to take home and put some migardises in the box for us.

I again nursed a glass of reisling – forgot the name, and wasn’t as good as my Dr. Loosen that I had in French Laundry. I didn’t even finish it. Btw, Dr. Loosen’s reislings are really well priced and I think it’s a fabulous bargain for what you get. DH ordered the half bottle of the ’89 Nuits-St-Georges, Domaine de l'Arlot "1er Cru Clos des Fôrets Saint Georges." Ok, I’m not a red wine fan but this one was outstanding. Too bad I was driving. Otherwise I would have had more than two sips. This was also DH’s favorite wine he’s had on this trip. It was also the most expensive as well.

The service there was really wonderful. We faced a potentially sticky issue from the start, and they were able to accommodate us very gracefully. When we were first seated, there was some pretty nasty BO coming from the table next to us. The people were dressed very casually (short-sleeved shirts and shorts, I think) and seemed like they came for dinner after a full day of activity. I have a very sensitive nose and wasn’t too keen on enjoying a multi-course meal with the BO lingering around us, especially when I’m paying Cyrus prices. This reminds me of the recent BO thread on one of the boards. I just said that I had to wash my hands as soon as I sat down, found the hostess and explained the situation as best as I could (it’s really hard to put something like this tactfully). They just smiled and said that they would handle it and find another table for us. The sommelier said that this was the best way that I could have handled it. So we got moved right next to the cheese cart, which was more than OK by me – this stink I can handle. I was glad that they were able to do this without the BO table getting suspicious as I would hate to make them feel self conscious. I also found our head waiter absolutely wonderful. She had so much knowledge about food and was such a gracious woman. I loved her so much! She told me she’s really passionate about food, and it definitely showed. And another thing about the waitstaff that I particularly enjoyed was that they all had a great sense of humor. They were able to skillfully mix in incredibly professional service with some humor. At the end of our meal, they also presented an envelope which contained a card of our name, the date and the menu (including the substitution that DH made). How thoughtful!

While I should have just enjoyed my experiences at French Laundry and Cyrus for what they were, it’s very difficult not to compare them. I thought service and food was excellent at both restaurants. I would have to give the nod to Cyrus because FL did have a miss in one of their dishes. And I have to say that I can tell you what my favorite courses at the FL were but can’t say the same about Cyrus because all of my courses they were favorites! I really adored every single thing (well, maybe with the exception of the cucumber gelee – but that’s my issue, not the restaurant’s) and everything was really consistent. FL had more highs and lows. Seems that reservations at Cyrus are a lot easier to come by than at FL, and the prices are a lot lower as well. If one is vacationing in the Napa Valley, I would highly recommend taking a trip out to Healdsburg just to eat at Cyrus. It really is worth it. I also wanted to mention that you will be absolutely stuffed after the Chef’s meal at Cyrus. Portions are a lot larger than at French Laundry.


The next day for lunch, we headed out to Ubuntu. We sat out on the patio and shared the following courses:

***Rosemary lemonade – great combo; perfectly sweetened

***Chickpea fries with romesco sauce – Absolutely scrumptious! I loved the romesco sauce that I ate it plain with a spoon.

***Baby beets roasted in nectarine juices served with speckled quinoa, ficoide glaciale, hazelnut – Delicious. Roasted beets well done.

***Radishes with chevre and nori with mustard and banyuls vinaigrette, black salt – I’m not the largest radish fan but DH loves it. Really liked this version. He said he would have preferred the radishes a bit thicker than thinly sliced.

***Cauliflower in a cast iron pot – So this is what I’ve been hearing about! Wow! Quite a revelation! Custardy, creamy and so good. I loved it, but definitely more of a fall/winter dish. I found a recipe online and look forward to trying it when it gets cooler.

***Deep-fried egg, smoked potatoes and gribiche – Really good. I would have preferred the egg more runny (didn’t run at all, but yolk was still moist), but still a solid dish.

***Vanilla bean cheesecake in a jar – Delicious. Not as heavy as most cheesecakes.

***Mini carrot cupcakes – Good, but a bit too sweet for my taste. It was covered with a vegan cream cheese and a roasted, sweetened mini baby carrot.

I’m glad that we ate here as it was different. Overall, the food was delicious. And light compared to the pigging out we’ve done the past couple of days. I found the cauliflower dish really new and interesting. I’ve eaten at L’Arpege in Paris, a three-star restaurant that specializes in vegetables. So I’ve had really wonderful preparations of vegetables in the past. While Ubuntu wasn’t exactly three star Michelin, it was very good for the price point. Lunch at L’Arpege was in the four figures – this was a LOT more affordable. I won’t do L’Arpege again (unless I win a multi-million dollar lottery or something like that), but would definitely eat at Ubuntu in the future. I know a lot of you guys have been recommending this place to carnivores, saying it’s a very unique experience. It is indeed very unique. However, as I was eating here, I imagined a lot of our die-hard meat eating friends not being very happy, in spite of the delicious food. Perhaps it’s because we were eating off of the summer menu as most of the stuff was on the lighter side. While I personally think it’s great, I don’t think it’s for everyone.


We also headed out to the market on that day. I’ve read some controversy about this market. As a tourist, I have to say the location is a bit out of the way for most tourists. That said, it’s a great small market. The Fatted Calf store was great and picked up some salumi to take home. I wish I could have taken home some pate but it would have never survived the trip. And there were no cooler bags to be sold anywhere in the market. I also picked up a couple of Andante Cheeses. The French cheese guy is a great asset to the shop – very upbeat, charming and friendly. The arepas looked interesting but there was absolutely no way we could eat anything. I also wanted to try some tobiko ice cream. Maybe next time. I also picked up some stone fruits at the fruit vendor there. So good and much better than anything I can find in NYC. I’d rather have these fruits than chocolate. I envy you guys for your produce.


We then drove to Oakland to visit DH’s grandmother. Her favorite restaurant is Peony so we went there. She did the ordering and got the set meal for 4 people which costed $76. This is what we had:

***Soup with bok choy – soothing; it was nice to eat some leafy greens in bulk

***Yang chow fried rice – good with shrimp, asparagus and roast pork and egg

***Rock fish cooked with broccoli and ginger – nice, bland dish; After all this rich food, I was craving something simple and plain

***Frogs with bitter melon in black bean sauce – good, but I was leaning towards the blander dishes; the bitterness from the melon was actually quite refreshing cutting into all the oil of the dish

***Soy sauce chicken – again, well cooked; perhaps a little overcooked for my taste; I like it when it’s silkier but still delicious

***Red-cooked pork belly – ok, this pushed me over the edge; way too salty and too syrupy sweet for my taste; I think I would have appreciated this more if I didn’t gorge myself over the weekend

***Red bean dessert soup – refreshing in some ways; was prepared with dried tangerine peel which helps with the digestion; had a few spoonfuls; DH has issues of eating beans in dessert form so he just took one spoonful

***I only count 7 dishes. I’m thinking that there must have been one more dish as Chinese consider 8 a lucky number. But I really can’t think of what the 8th dish was. I ate too much over the weekend that it really was a big blur.

Honestly, we were NOT hungry at all. We had stuffed ourselves this weekend that the idea of eating another multi-course meal did not sit well with us. But we painfully shoveled the food in our mouths as we didn’t want to insult DH’s grandmother. But we still couldn’t eat a lot. That 96-year-old woman ate way more than we did!

Afterwards, we were extremely uncomfortable from eating and drinking (for DH) way too much this weekend. When we got to the airport to catch our red eye, we found out that the plane was delayed for 3.5 hours! So I ordered some club soda and DH got ginger ale to settle our stomachs a bit. I think we’re going to be eating really blandly and simply for a while to counteract what we did on this trip. But we had an awful lot of fun doing it.

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