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Trip Report to Zuzu in Napa, Meadowood in St. Helena, and Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford

smiles33 | Jun 20, 201507:32 PM

I thought I'd share a trip report. DH and I celebrated our anniversary in Napa/St. Helena on a quick overnight trip without our kids. Last year, we did French Laundry for lunch and Meadowood for dinner for our anniversary. Meadowood was so amazing that we decided to go back again this year for dinner, with a lighter lunch beforehand.

On our way there from the Bay Area, we stopped at Zuzu in Napa. We were pleasantly surprised by the lunch. The website menu is slightly different than what we had, but we ordered 8 items (4 cold tapas and 4 hot tapas). The waitress did say that most couples ordered 4-6, but we are big eaters and were tempted by so many options. Sadly, paella is only available after 4 pm, so we couldn't order any paella. We did get (and finished every bite!) of:

- ceviche (not on the website menu, some sort of coconut milk/citrus base and I believe it was squid): this was delicious and refreshing, perfect for a warm summer day and the squid was just the right texture, tender and not overly chewy!
- Boquerones (Spanish White Anchovies, sliced Egg & Remoulade on grilled Bread): I was delighted with this dish, too, since I'm normally not a fan of anchovies but this was well-balanced and not too salty/fishy
- Plato de Jamón; Assorted Spanish Jamón Ibérico: I can't recall the accompaniments but this was amazing. We haven't had jamon iberico before and enjoyed the 3 varieties.
- Artisanal cheese plate (not on the website menu, I had a bold blue cheese whose name I didn't catch, paired with honeycomb and dulce de membrillo): great pairing and I enjoyed the honeycomb
- Grilled octopus and dainty baby carrots (not on the website menu): this was delicious, but not enough octopus (I think we had the equivalent of 3-4 slim slices that were 2" long, almost exactly the same size as the baby carrots)
- Bacalao (Salt Cod drizzled with White Truffle Oil & Garlic Crostini): this was the STAR of the meal, as neither DH nor I expected such a surprise. The texture of the fish was light, almost like a fluffy serving of mashed potatoes, and it had subtle yet complex flavors (I do love white truffle oil). We would make the drive back just to eat this!
- Braised Pork Cheeks (two squares of fatty meat that tasted like crispy pork belly and a cold sparerib): this was disappointing. The squares were all fat, without much (if any?) lean meat but the cold sparerib was the worst of it (not tender and really should have been cooked longer).
- Gambas al Ajillo (Fresh Gulf Shrimp with Garlic, Piquin Chili & Smoky Pimenton): I think this is the same description of the gulf shrimp we had. They were mushy and did not taste good. It was our last item, so it was a sad way to end what otherwise had been a wonderful meal.

If we had skipped the last 2 hot tapas, and only have the first 6, we would have said this was an outstanding meal.

Dinner at Meadowood was pleasant, but DH and I both found ourselves remarking that the best part of the meal were the amazing cocktails that Sam the bartender makes. As I commented last year, this is an artisan who loves his craft. I had a strawberry cocktail to begin with, and he modified it slightly as I mentioned I like my cocktails fruitier. It was delicious but I was just blown away by my second cocktail, a watermelon cocktail that was perfect for the warm evening. I would have happily had several more, but had to stop there since I was the designated driver. DH, on the other hand, had 4 delicious cocktails made with ginger beer. The first cocktail with ginger beer was on the menu and DH asked for something different with ginger beer for his second cocktail and then had 2 more of that custom recipe. We were joking on the drive home that we should have asked Sam to make one to go for him, too! DH liked them so much.

Per the souvenir menu, I had:

borage oyster leaf mignonette
dayleaf prawn caviar
potato cooked in beeswax sorrels
abalone eggplant peppers
cucumbers braised in coastal grasses cod collar
smoked cod oyster nettle
duck tea chrysanthemum dill
coal seared foie raw rhubarb
grilled lamb marigold plum
curds whey last year's peaches basils
olive oil blueberry millet
bahri date walnut oil
the garden, candied
chocolate chestnut

Since DH is lactose-intolerant, some of his choices were modified. For instance, when I had an amazing peaches and house-made ricotta cheese dish, DH had greens from the garden with some sort of very light dressing (his half-joking quote, "Am I eating weeds?"). DH had 2 substitutions: he had the salad "du moment" (the inspiration for his quote above re: "eating weeds) and julius roasted dates winter citrus for dessert (a very tangy frothy dessert, which DH did not enjoy as he dislikes citrus/sorbets).

I think the highlights were the prawn stuffed inside a flower (what a surprise!), the bahri date dessert (which had nutty chocolate-like flavors), the potato cooked in beeswax, the duck tea chrysanthemum broth, and the peaches.

We kept wondering why we weren't more satisfied with the meal. Perhaps our trips to NYC have spoiled us--we absolutely loved Jean Georges, Daniel, and Eleven Madison Park. Chef Kostow's food is creative, service is impeccable, yet some tastings were a bit too "precious" for us this visit. Both of us blanched when having the "the garden, candied" which consisted of several garden vegetables that had been candied. The borage oyster leaf mignonette was a small bundle of greens meant to mimic the taste of an oyster--and we were instructed to pick it up with our hands to eat. I would rather have had an exquisite raw oyster.

It reminded me of our disappointing meals at Manresa, Plumed Horse, commis, etc. where we felt like we left hungry and unsatisfied (despite ordering the tasting menus!). I think we just don't like garden-centric meals (we're just not that into vegetables!) and when the meat/seafood dishes don't knock it out of the ballpark, we are left disappointed.

The next day we finished the quick getaway with brunch the next day at Auberge du Soleil. That view is stunning! We had the 3 course meal. It comes with a complimentary cocktail, so we both had a bloody mary (with a housemade mix and Ketel One vodka). It was more subtle and complex than a typical bloody mary made by less talented bartenders, with a nice spicy kick at the end. I started with the Potato Gnocchi (Potato Gnocchi, Wild Mushrooms, Pea Shoots, Parmesan Nage) while DH ordered the Foie Gras (Sautéed Foie Gras, Chocolate Pain Perdu, Cherries, Cocoa Nibs) which was a $15 supplement above the $65/person menu. I do love gnocchi, but the star here was definitely DH's foie gras. The flavors sounded a bit disjointed to me, but the sweet, savory, bitter, and tangy notes all came together well.

DH had the Northern Halibut, Onion Crust, Spring Vegetables, Fava Bean Sauce while I had the Duck Confit Hash, Slow Cooked Farm Eggs, Mâche, Red Wine Sauce. He loved his halibut, commenting that it was perfectly prepared and seasoned. I thought the duck confit hash paired brilliantly with the silky slow cooked eggs and red wine sauce.

We ended with dessert. Since they all had cream and DH hates sorbet, he just ordered the blueberry shortcake dessert to go for our daughters to enjoy. I enjoyed every spoonful of the chocolate parfait (it's not on the website, but chocolate pudding, toffee crunch, and a sliver of shortbread cookie provided crunch and saltiness to the sweet silky smooth pudding.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary!

Manresa Bread
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