A short one and a half hour drive away, Napa Valley is probably my favorite spot for a short weekend getaway. It’s any foodies and wine connoisseurs’ favorite playground, but it’s got lots more to offer for anyone who isn’t as interested in the food and wine scene – famous spas, beautiful golf courses, ample antique and boutique shopping, magnificent architectures, and just miles after miles of open spaces and grape vines.
We arrived in Downtown Napa around 8:30pm on Friday night. Went to Oenotri for a late dinner. Lovely decor and ambiance. Big wooden tables, glass water jar, brick oven for pizzas, and a daily changing menu featuring local and fresh ingredients.
We split a pizza (with pork sausage, caramelized onion, hot pepper, aglio rosso, and wild arugula), and shared a cheese plate and dessert. They used both apples and crispy Asian pears to pair with the cheeses, the walnut bread and candied pistachio were great. The Nocciolo cheese was my favorite. Dessert was an apple crostata with salted caramel gelato (I’m all over anything salted-caramel). The cocktail was very unique, it was called the “Smoke and Mirrors”, it’s sort of like an Old-Fashioned but they added a “smoked” ice cube.
Saturday morning, a nice stroll around the Riverfront in downtown Napa, stopped by Annette’s Chocolate, visited the Napa General Store, walked by Sweetie Pies but didn’t get to try their pies this time, and saw Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant.
displays full of truffles. So many choices!! I took home some salted caramel, port truffles, and spicy chili truffles.
Bottles of chocolate liqueur and chocolate wine sauce. Liquid goodness!
A quick drive to Yountville for lunch. There was no line at Bouchon Bakery so we picked up some macarons and pastries to enjoy for the busy week ahead. All the desserts looked so good but I only bought the ones that would keep and survive the drive back, so no eclairs and meringue tarts. Our usual favorites are the signature chocolate bouchons, macarons, chocolate almond croissants, and the filled donuts.
The seasonal flavor this time was gingerbread macarons. They were so good, instantly transported me to my happy holiday-state.
Lunch was at Chef Michael Chiarello’s acclaimed restaurant Bottega. This meal made my top 10 list of most memorable meals.
Beautiful and inviting decor. Wine country style building, sky lights, large windows and open spaces. Very friendly and professional service.
Instead of oil and vinegar, this Parmesan spread was served with the complimentary bread. Umm, can ALL restaurants do this please? I believe you can buy jars of this at Chef Chiarello’s store NapaStyle, but I found the recipe online – Salsa di Parmigiano. Yes, I’ll be making this on a regular basis now.
Crispy Monterey calamari with aioli nero. Loved that the meyer lemon was grilled, this added more flavor to the juice.
The Bottega Gimlet with St. Germain Elderflower and basil.
Potato dough raviolo, filled with spinach and ricotta and a farm fresh egg yolk. Topped with fried sage, freshly shaved black truffle, and browned sage butter. When I saw this on the menu, I think I said “omgomgomgomgomg” out loud. I’ve been wanting to cut into one of these and have the egg yolk oozing out. Is it weird I think about this kind of stuff all the time?
Here it is!! As perfect as I imagined it would be. The idea here was to mix the runny egg yolk with the browned sage butter and make a thick sauce for the raviolo.
My husband got the twice-cooked pork chop, served with stewed plums and crispy kale chips. We both agreed that this was one of the best piece of pork we had, and it was cooked to perfection. Ordering a pork chop this thick in restaurant is very risky as it can be easily overcooked. This was very tender and juicy, and did I mention tender? This dish is perfect for any serious meat-eaters, as the pork chop was HUGE.
Half-way through our meal, our waitress came to us and said “guess what? I didn’t think they’d be doing souffles today, but they are!” How can I say no to a chocolate-almond souffle? It takes 20 minutes to fire so we promptly said yes.
The creme anglaise was poured table-side, then topped with some candied hazelnut crunch. My husband and I didn’t say a word to each other for two minutes, just focused on gobbling this up. It’s rich, chocolatey, decadent, and that liquid center was just delicious! It’s hard to find the right words to describe this, but this was THE perfect chocolate dessert for me.
After lunch, we attended a cooking demonstration at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.
The cooking demos are held on Saturday and Sundays at 1:30pm and costs $20. The classroom will fit up to 50 people but we had a very small group of five that day, the chef brought us bar stools and we all sat right up by the counter.
The dish of the day was smoked venison taco with achiote marinade and pickled onion. We learned the ingredients for a basic achiote marinade, the secrets to crunchy pickled onion, and how to smoke meat in a non-enameled cast iron pot.
Our instructor Chef Bobby Childs (no relation to Julia Childs) was very informative and fun to talk to. He’s aspired to be on TV one day and we’re convinced that he will be.
We enjoyed our taco with a glass of Greystone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.
Because my husband is slightly allergic to alcohol, so when there is just the two of us, I don’t like to drag him to go wine tasting with me. Last time we checked out the famous Tuscan-style castle/winery Castello di Amorosa, this time we went to a lesser-known castle at Chateau Montelena, located in Calistoga. There is a lake and a courtyard with pagodas, probably a nice spot for picnicking on warmer days. Wine tasting starts at $20/person.
We then drove to Mumm Napa to check out what’s new and exciting. I belong to their wine club so I gotta check in and get my complimentary tasting! Mumm makes exclusively sparkling wine and uses “methode traditional”. Last year I received a bottle of the 2005 DVX in a shipment and it was one of the best bottle of sparkling wine I’ve tasted, although I am not exactly an expert on this subject. It’s about $65/bottle, not quite”affordable” if I was to keep it on hand all the time, but I was determined to get a taste of it again. We ordered the DVX tasting, which consists of ’05, ’06, and ’07 vintage of the DVX blend. We also went for another favorite of mine from Mumm – the sparkling pinot noir.
Can you spot the glass of non-alcoholic chardonnay juice?
Watching the sunset while sipping on some fine bubbly stuff. I could get used to this.
After the tasting, we needed a break from all the wining and dining. We went to walk around the Oxbow market and hopped on a holiday light trolley. The trolley drove all around town and we saw some beautiful lights and decorations.
There are apparently a list of houses (that are covered with decorations) that people go see every year.
Oh we saw so many. This is one of them, with its own snow maker!
A late 9pm dinner at Mustards Grill. I was freezing from the two-hour open-air trolley ride, so I ordered the hearty rabbit red wine stew. Joe of course got the burger. We also ordered the onion rings with house-made sweet ketchup, which was out of this world. They were more like onion strings, fried to perfection with just the right amount of breading. The handful of scallions was the cherry on top!
We headed back early the next morning, but managed to squeeze in a short trip to the outlets. Came back just in time for my baby niece’s one year old birthday party! Time flies!
Here are some of my favorite spots in the Napa Valley:
Ad Hoc /Addendum
Culinary Institute of America- Greystone
Dean & Deluca