Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mini Honeymoon - Napa

Originally Posted on 11/08/06

Starting Friday (11/17), Justyn and I took the day off work to go to Napa for a "pre-honeymoon" kinda of thing. He had made reservations at the Oleander House on Highway 29. We needed some time off to spend some time together and enjoy the food and wine here in Napa. We actually stayed in Yountville, the town where Bouchon & French Laundry are based in.

Our first day here was spent relaxing at the bed & breakfast and talking to the owner.
For dinner we went to Bouchon. We got to the shopping center where Bouchon was located. It was still pretty early. I was wearing a red turtleneck, black slacks and these VERY paintful stilleto boots that Angel and I bought together before the wedding. Ouch. Let me just say that I will never wear these boots again, unless I know that we'll be sitting most of the time. Justyn and I walked around the stores (which were closed) until it was time to be seated at Bouchon.

By 7:30PM, we were seated in a very tight booth. Justyn asked if I wanted to sit in the booth to which I declined. I absolutely hate being confined in a tight space. Our table was right next to the bar. The restaurant ambiance was very loud, but not intimidating. Our waiter was nice and outgoing, but not overwhelming. We got pistachio nuts (which were fresh roasted) and bread with unsalted butter (Clover). The butter and bread were extremely good. I'd have to say that it was probably the best bread and butter I've ever had. The nuts were.... meh. I like pistachios, but there was nothing special about them.

Before I even got to Bouchon, I had read many good things about the restaurant from Tony Bourdain's book (A Cook's Tour) to general reviews about it online. My expectations were really high. I mean... come on.. it's one of Thomas Keller's restaurants. It's gotta be good. With that said, I already knew what I wanted. Gigot d'Agneau (roasted leg of lamb with yellow corn polenta & summer squash in a thyme jus). Justyn ordered the Boudin Blanc (white sausage with potato puree and sauteed prunes). I also ordered a bottle of the house Cab ($60).

While we were muching away on their delicious bread, butter & pistachios, we chatted away about mundane things and about the restaurant. Although Justyn had to squeeze in between tables to get to the booth seat, while I comfortably sat opposite to him in a chair, the ambience was nice. It is afterall, a bistro. I didn't expect a high class, stuffy kind of place. I had been told not to expect that. Expectations...

The waiter came by a couple times to replenish my wine glass with the wine that I had ordered. I kind of wish that he didn't pour so many times, so I could bring the wine back to Oleander House and enjoy it while taking a bath. Oh well.

Finally our entrees arrived. Justyn's dish looked awesome, as you can see below. Mine... hmm. Not so impressive. I expected a lot more than what is shown below. Taste wise, blah. I ordered my lamb "medium well". For you foodies out there, that was my mistake. I totally froze when the waiter asked me how I wanted my lamb to be cooked. Ideally, I would've wanted the lamb to be cooked medium rare.. Oh well, live and learn. Justyn and I swapped samples of our dishes. His was suprisingly very tasty, while mine was.... blah.

I think what happened is I overhyped Bouchon, thinking that it was going to be the best meal I ever had. Unfortunately, you can never walk into a favored restaurant with that mentality. You'll just end up being disappointed. As for French Laundry, I think you can walk in there with the highest expectations and never be disappointed. So says our wine guy at Milat winery.
I passed out after eating at Bouchon and woke up thinking I had to go to work. That pretty much ruins any chance of sleeping in. Justyn and I took a shower before breakfast was served downstairs. By the time we got ready and showered, it was already 9:00AM. The host of the house had a brulee of oatmeal with fruit on top, sausage (which tasted of apple), puff pastry with apple & fresh diced fruit. Now... I'm not much of a breakfast person, but I can tell you that the oatmeal brulee and sausage were very tasty. The fruit and puff pastry were definitely not my thing. I ate what I could as to not embaress the cook.

Justyn and I did our thing and soon we were on the road. The host of the Oleander House had highlighted some wineries that she thought would be suitable for us. The nearest one to us was called Peju, which I had gone to before. The wine tasting went OK, but I felt like the wine host treated us like clueless idiots. Thanks dude! We still bought a Cabernet Sauvignon & a Merlot from them. The next winery we hit was Whitehall. This winery is a somewhat common one so I didn't expect much. The wine hosts were very familiar with their product and treated us well. The only thing I bought from there was the dessert wine (Muscat).

The winery after that was Milat. Now, I have to say... we were pretty buzzed at this point. The owner greeted us very warmly and told us exactly what we were diving into. He also asked us about dinner the night before, which I answered, Bouchon. He gave that place an "F". I was a little shocked and dismayed at his reaction to Bouchon. I didn't think it deserved an "F", but who knows. I could be wrong. The first wine we started with was a Chenin Blanc (white) which smelled very good, and tasted good. He served us another white and a couple other reds all the while being very chatty. I loved his sense of humor and stories about the various restaurants he had tried. The last wine we tried out was a Port which was very good. I ended up buying the first and last wine we tried there.

(OK, I'm back at work now and my memory isn't serving me well)

After Milat we decided to get lunch before hitting Sterling winery. At Whitehall we were recommended to go to a local grocery store called something Sunshine. They had a bunch of deli foods to choose from. Since we were going to Bistro Jeanty for dinner, we decided on a light lunch. I had Italian Wedding soup and a puff pastry with carmelized onion and blue cheese. Justyn had a grilled cheese sammich with curried butternut squash soup. We decided to eat lunch at Sterling, unfortunately, they didn't have a license for picnics (WTF?) so we ended up eating on a bench outside of the gondolas. Lunch was pretty good although we got some dirty glares from some FOBs. Whatever.

The gondola ride cost $20, but that also included the tasting and a promise of nice views. The ride up was a little shaky and I was scared every time we hit a bump. Finally we made it to the winery which was perched on a hill overlooking Yountville. It was really pretty. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. In the tour was also a detailed look on how to make wine. That was pretty cool. Unfortunately, the wine was not so good. We walked around with our tasting glasses and ended at an outdoor patio where we finished with the last two wines. After that we walked right through the shop and back to the gondolas for the ride down.

I was a little tired at this point, so we decided to go back to the Oleander House to rest. I took a nice hot bath and read magazines until dinner time. The keeper of the house and the owner of Milat raved about Bistro Jeanty, so I was really excited. I read reviews online and nearly everyone recommended the tomato soup. OK, I know what you're thinking. Tomato soup is tomato soup. It's really nothing special. All I have to say is, don't knock it until you've tried it. We got to the restaurant which is on the same road as Bouchon. It was really cute and bistro like. We opted to sit outside under a heat lamp since it was a little chilly. Some of the reviews complained about the service, but our waiter was very prompt. I even dropped my fork and another one was placed within a second. We ordered the infamous tomato soup with a puff pastry baked on top, cassoulet (duck confit, white beans, sausage & bacon) and steak and frites (fries).
The tomato soup arrived at our table and we dove right in. HOT!! I was overly excited to try the soup and burned my tongue a bit. This is the best tomato soup I've ever had. Maybe even the best soup ever. If you ever get a chance to visit Bistro Jeanty, you've got to have the tomato soup. Mmmmm... just thinking about it makes me drool. We finished the soup and our entrees arrived about 10 minutes later. The cassoulet was good but a tad bit salty. Justyn's steak was near perfect and the fries were really good. Probably the best fries I've had to date. I kinda wish I ordered some fries at Bouchon to do a comparison since Bourdain claims that the fries there are better than what they serve at his restaurant. Oh well.

Sorry for the crappy pics...

We polished dinner off, well, I barely made a dent in mine. The portions were huge. I was stuffed and decided to end dinner with a Beautiful (cognac and Grand Marnier). I was suprised the waiter didn't even bat an eye when I told him what I wanted. With a heavy buzz and full stomach, we walked back to our car. The plan was to go see Casino Royale after dinner, but when we got to the theatre, the parking lot was horrendous. We decided not to watch the movie so instead we went back to the Oleander House. Justyn surfed teh intarweb, while I read a magazine. I don't remember passing out, but I did. I woke up about 5:30AM, needing to pee. I chugged some water and went back to bed. We woke up around 7:40AM, showered and packed.
Breakfast today was the same sausage but with a blueberry bread pudding. Yum... After breakfast we loaded the car and Justyn paid our tab. I needed to get a bottle of wine for a friend, so we went back to Peju. Justyn liked the Merlot so much that we bought another two bottles. The wine guy recognized our return and let us try a reserve Cab (I think). The bottle of wine was listed at $105 which is crazy, but there was a reason for the price. The wine was really good. After our last tasting in Napa we went to Bouchon Bakery to get a loaf of herbed ciabatta bread. I also ordered what I consider the best house coffee I've ever had. It was rich and very dark. Mmmm...

After the bakery and shopping around, we were on our way home. The traffic was really crappy due to the fog and slow stop lights. Eventually we made it home around lunch time. We decided to eat the leftover cassoulet with the bread. Leftovers really are better than the first time around. It was still salty, but the bread helped cut that.

We watched Scrubs for a while and Justyn decided to make dinner (open faced chicken sammich with pesto and tomato). I had to go to a moderator's meeting in Mountain View, so I ate some frozen foods and went on my way. The meeting was cool. We talked about current issues and stuff and at about 9:30PM, I went home. I watched some more TV and then went to bed.

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