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Trip Report (LONG)

eatyourveggies1 | May 6, 2008 08:44 AM

Day 1
After checking in at the Fairmont after 11:00 p.m., Scala’s Bistro was our closest option still serving food. It was nothing great. What they dubbed as their margarita pizza was far from that and really just a cheesy (not even fresh mozzarella) mess, but food and wine was much needed after 8 hours of travel. I regret that we dropped more than $100 of our eating budget on two pizzas, a salad, and a few glasses of wine. Next time, I will do more research in seeking out above-par late-night places.

Day 2
We began Saturday morning with a walk to the Ferry Building, and the real eating extravaganza officially began. We kept our reservations at The Slanted Door after some back-and-forth, and we actually enjoyed our lunch. The Ginger Limeade (for me), Saison Dupont (for my husband), and Slanted Door Spring Rolls were a great beginning. The spring rolls were crispy and quite satisfying. Next we split the pho bo soup (really good and helped my husband’s head cold), and then shared the cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. Noodles were bland, and actually, quite absent of crab. I was certainly hoping for more with that dish. Overall, it was a nice lunch spot and fun to watch the market crowd through our window seat. Pho and Ginger Limeade were the highlights of the meal.

For dessert, we stopped by Recchiuti for fleur de sel caramels. Wow is all I can say. I wish I could savor one—just one—every day. We also tried the tarrgon grapefruit and honeycomb malt, and bought some burnt caramels from their artist’s series home for gifts.

Alembic on Haight was the perfect place for an afternoon libation and snack. If you’ve never watched their mixologists in action, it is quite a show from. They are true artists. In addition to quirky cocktails and artisanal liquors, Alembic has a great wine and beer list. For a snack, we ordered the beet carpaccio, and it was one of the best things we ate on our trip. The yellow and red beets had an unbelievable texture. Not mushy at all, with a nice bite. They were topped with some crumbled goat cheese and micro greens. Amazing! We also enjoyed the proscuitto-wrapped, goat-cheese stuffed dates. This place was memorable.

Dinner at Delfina. We arrived for a 10:00 reservation, and were told our table wasn’t ready. The staff was very apologetic, sent us to the bar for a drink on the house, and constantly kept us updated on our table. We really didn’t mind the wait, and enjoyed watching the crowd. Once our table was ready, the wait staff immediately brought us French fries seasoned with fried baby sage leaves and rosemary and warm Castelvetrano olives (I’m hooked, and don’t have a source for them at home). These were great treats, and once again, on the house. The salad special that night was cold asparagus topped with a Prosecco sabayon cream. The cool crisp asparagus and creamy sabayon sauce was a great pair—another trip highlight. Our table ordered the California halibut with melted leeks and meyer lemon caper butter; Tuscan-style spareribs with cannelloni beans all’uccelletto; and the Strawberry Mountain Ranch hanger. While the halibut was quite nice, it was probably the weakest entrée. The ribs were fantastic, with the meat slipping off the bone. We ended the meal with a pot of French press; profiteroles with espresso gelato, warm chocolate sauce, and candied almonds; and Warm Scharffenberger chocolate budino with Murcott mandarin, house-made mascarpone and hazelnut croccante. Overall, it was a really great meal, the staff was very attentive and gracious, and the ambience upbeat and fun. I would definitely recommend.

Day 3
Sunday hangover brunch at Perry’s on Union Street. We really just parked our car and headed to the first eating establishment we saw. Bloody Mary’s and Eggs Florentine helped the head. Nothing amazing.

Dessert was a vanilla on vanilla cupcake and double chocolate cupcake bite to go from That Takes The Cake.

I did the unthinkable and cancelled our Ad Hoc reservations. Before checking into our cottage in Napa, we stopped by the Oxbow Market for some picnic-dinner goods. We enjoyed our cottage after a long day and one of the best picnics ever. We had warm Castelvetrano olives, warm white beans, a St. George cow’s milk cheese, and Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from the Oxbow Cheese Merchant. Pork Rillettes from Fatted Calf Charcuterie, a baguette from The Model Bakery, steamed artichoke from grocery store in Yountville, and, for dessert, a stash of Recchiuti fleur de sel caramels. Wine was a pinot from Magnet. Perfection.

Day 4
One of the luxuries of our cottage at Napa Valley Cottages was a basket of pastries, fruit, and fresh juices from Bouchon Bakery delivered to our front porch each morning. Each morning was like Christmas. I couldn’t wait to see what the Bouchon elf delivered. No day was the same, and each was equally mesmerizing.

After a morning tour and tasting, we stopped at Rutherford Grill for lunch. It was not that impressive, and I regret not eating at Taylor’s or Mustards. I had a fish sandwich (can’t recall what kind of fish), and my husband had the burger. The redeeming factor was that we wondered across the street to the St. Helena Olive Oil Company after lunch. We shipped home Extra Virgin Hornberger Estate Rutherford olive oil (very bright flavor with peppery finish), and raspberry flower honey from Katz & Company. Still savoring both of these finds.

We made it a Bouchon day from start to finish, though I was a bit skeptical after having many locals that day tell us that we should try Bistro Jeanty instead of Bouchon. But we really did have a fantastic dinner. We began our meal with chilled mussels that were served with cocktail sauce and a Dijonaise. The mussels were refreshing and addictive. I ordered the Coquille St.-Jacques: sea scallops with asparagus, Marcona almonds, piquillo peppers, Serrano ham, and a chorizo green garlic broth. The sweetness of the scallops was really nice with the vibrance of the chorizo green garlic broth. My husband ordered the Plats de Côtes de Boeuf: slow-braised beef short ribs with spring onions, horseradish pain perdu, and red wine beef jus. This dish was so incredible that I couldn’t help but steal bite after bite. For dessert, we ordered espresso and a coffee-infused pot de crème. The pot de crème was intense, and luscious, and creamy, and all that it should’ve been. The service was at Bouchon was not good, and it was very evident that there weren’t enough servers in the dining room, but we were patient, and the food allowed us to leave with a positive experience.

Day 5
Before exploring Sonoma, we started another day with our Bouchon basket and French press coffee.

We stopped through the town of Healdsburg for some exploring and found that many of the town’s restaurants (Cyrus, Dry Creek Kitchen) were closed for lunch. We opted to sit outside and snack at Oakville Grocery, since we missed it during our day in Napa. A sandwich and pizza revived us for afternoon tastings in the Russian River Valley.

On our way back through the town of Sonoma, we stopped by the El Dorado Kitchen for a glass of wine before checking out the Tuesday farmers’ market on the square. I believe this was the first Tuesday market of the season, and I wish we could’ve stayed longer. The vibe was great with everyone hanging out on blankets, listening to music, and enjoying wine. I was very impressed by the plump asparagus, soft colors of farm eggs, fresh flowers, honeycombs, and vendors selling brick oven pizzas and Gold Rush Kettle Corn. But it was time to get back to Napa, and our final meal at Ubuntu.

After all of the press and rave reviews of Ubuntu in recent months, my expectations were high, and I was very anxious to check out the hype. It did not disappoint. We brought our own wine that we purchased in Sonoma earlier in the day, and ordered a glass from their wine list while we waited for our bottle to chill. The atmosphere and music was as pleasant and relaxing as I expected.

My husband and I tried the 6-course garden menu to get a real feel for the restaurant and its potential. The amuse-bouche was a chilled green garlic vichyssoise with aged black garlic, SHEEP SORREL, and fingerling. What a way to get the taste buds going! A month later, I still dream of this creamy, garlicy taste of heaven morning, noon, and night. Next we had radishes with local chevre and nori, banyuls vinaigrette, smoked salt, and HONG VIT. I’ve never seen such a colorful and varied selection of radishes, including black radishes and tiny icicle radishes. Next we had carrots, tangelo, and mache: a crumble of dried carrot, almond, and mace. While this course was nice, nothing really stands out in my mind. The next course brought the much-talked-about cauliflower in a cast-iron pot with “our vadouvan” and CORIANDER SPROUTS. This dish was memorable, and I understand why it is a signature item, though many seem to disagree. I oftentimes judge a dish by whether or not I wake up the next morning wanting it for breakfast. Cast-iron cauliflower would’ve been a superb send-off breakfast. The “main dish” of the evening was smoked Anson Mills grits with a slow farm egg, Blue Bottle “red eye” gravy, and BORDEAUX SPINACH. While this dish was very flavorful and filling, it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I live in the South and eat this type of dish on a regular basis. I was hoping for something more revolutionary and adventurous. However, this might just be the adventure some West Coast palates are looking for. When the dessert—a Scharffenberger chocolate soufflé with ROSEMARY ice cream and candied hazelnuts—came to our table, I was more full than I had been our entire trip. And an entire soufflé to myself was way too much. But indulge I did. Our meal ended with a treat of pate de fruit and a homemade saffron lollipop.

The service was excellent throughout the evening, including a nice description of each course served. We were never charged a corkage fee, and my husband thinks it is because he asked for more bread at one point during the meal, and we were told that they were out. I look forward to returning to Ubuntu in the future, and I hope they will stay at the top of their game.

Note: The capitalized items were from Ubuntu’s biodynamic garden.

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