Monday, November 29, 2010

Eatin' and Drinkin' in Napa

Napa is exactly what you'd expect - rolling hills, lush vineyards, great food, great wine. The lovely Miss C and I stayed at the Wine Country Inn in the St. Helena section of Napa. Country-ish, our room's decor had lot of chickens - statues, quilts, pictures, etc. No TV. Our two favorite parts were the fireplace already setup with wood, kindling and paper, and the private patio with an outdoor jacuzzi about 20 feet from the grapevines with a great view. Each night they have a mini-tasting in the lobby from a local vineyard and we tasted a sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa, a nice dry red, right up there with a sangiovese from Italy. We stopped there the next day and grabbed two bottles, but unfortunately time didnt allow us to take the tour - the place is an actual stone castle with a moat! If you go, consider adding this to your agenda.

The first night we dined at Go Fish in St Helena (the inn offers a free shuttle service to local restaurants!) and it was amazing (see pics below). We were seated in a romantic and comfortable banquette with pillows. I ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc from St. Supery and it ended up being my favorite wine from the trip. Some sauvignon blancs are too citrusy or too fruity, but this was perfectly balanced, full of flavor and we vowed to get to their winery in Napa and buy a few bottles. Our driver told us to order the lobster sushi roll which is not on the menu, so we did and it was unique and delicious (and $33!) A long roll with ahi tuna and crab, avocado and topped with chunks from half of a cooked lobster tail! We also ordered the ceviche of the day, sea bass marinated in citrus for 20 hours, then tossed with a light tomato broth, onions and spices. Rounding out the meal was a dish one rarely sees outside of Hawaii called poke. It's sort of like steak tartare but using ahi tuna. In Hawaii it's served in a parfait glass topped with avocado and various other elements depending on the restaurant. Go Fish's version was a burger sized serving on a plate with ginger, baby carrot, tobiko, pine nuts and a sprinkling of a potent spice called, if I remember right, tobuhiko? Something like that. I asked the waiter about it and a few minutes later he showed up with a small scoop of it in a plastic cup for me to take home. Waitstaff everywhere need to take note how a simple thing like that endears diners to the restaurant, and also adds to the the tip.

The next day we went to Sterling Vineyards because Miss C's friend hooked us up there and we rode the tram up to the winery. A simple self-guided tour with tastings set up throughout, and we had several excellent wines. Below are shots of the huge wooden barrels and they also had a patio with amazing views.
We bought a few wines here - I'm not a chardonnay fan, but their's was light on the oak, not cloying, and it's always good to have a chard on hand for guests. The surprise hit was Malvasia Bianca ($30 bottle) Spicy flavors of ginger, nectarine, pear, tangerine, with a nice finish of lemon-lime. Not as sweet as a dessert wine, and I'm not partial to sweet wines in general, but this was so unique and tasty we had to buy some! The sommelier suggested serving it with spicy foods or bleu cheese, but not one that's too salty. We were thinking a rich cheese platter, crackers, fruit, figs, with some good friends outside in warm weather. Highly recommended if you can find it. We also picked up some of their reisling and if memory serves, a cabernet sauvignon as well.

We drove to TV/book chef Michael Chiarello's restaurant, Bottega, for lunch. A beautiful, rustic place with attention paid to every detail. Even the water was served in hammered copper cups rather than glasses, a unique touch. For an app I got the charred octopus with potato and greens and C got butternut squash soup. I guess butternut squash was big at the farmer's market because I ordered a special, tortelli stuffed with it. Not sure why they called them tortelli, they were actually ravioli - light sauce, filling was full of flavor and not too sweet. C got skirt steak with pommes frites, salad and a zesty red pepper chimichurri sauce.

Dinner was at Market in downtown St. Helena. A medium-sized, rectangular, casual restaurant with a fairly large bar, which is where we sat. At this point we went with small plates, and I got some local oysters, fresh and delicious, and a lobster roll with asparagus, avocado and mango with an awesome dipping sauce of basil and mint in a light oil. We also got a dungeness crabcake loaded with crabmeat and lightly fried, with roasted white corn. For dessert we again went with our driver's recommendation and got the house specialty butterscotch pudding - cool, creamy, sweet and a must-get if you eat here.

Our last winery was Peju, a family owned green/organic vineyard. The server was very friendly and informative and we sampled about 7 wines. I wasn't terribly impressed with most of them, but the cabernet sauvignon and syrah were good. Then he broke out their "Fifty/Fifty" a small run blend of merlot and cabernet that was outstanding. I asked if they had any of their reserve wines open that we could sample and he brought out their reserve cab and it completely blew away their regular cab, not even close. We got the 50/50, about $75 or 80 to save for a special occasion, but not the cab reserve which was over $100.

If you go to Napa, I suggest you go for 3-4 days at least. We crammed in alot because we only had just over 2 days and then were off to San Fran. There's plenty to do - many wineries to choose from, great restaurants, spas (we had an amazing scrub and massage in our room) and Ol' Faithful geyser is nearby, too! And of course, you'll need some chill time from all that food and vino!