Weekends like this past one make me really miss college. A LOT.
I’m always a little nervous when I return to a restaurant that I loved the first time. What if the quality has deteriorated? What if I was just really hungry? Did I just happen to order the best things on the menu? What if my second time is an off day? So many questions run through my mind.
Crispy Duck Confit with Lentils and Foie Gras Meatballs
Glazed Pork Belly, Apple Purée, Burdock, Soy Caramel
Steamed Pork buns, Hoisin, Vegetable Slaw
Braised Shortrib, Bacon, Cipollini onions, Fingerling potatoes, Red Wine Jus
Caramelized Diver Scallops, Cauliflower Purée, Almonds, Balsamic Reduction
Henry and I first dined at Redd for lunch in October, 2009. We loved it and couldn’t stop raving to our friends and family about our wonderful experience. Fast forward about two years and we returned for dinner with a couple of friends, fully expecting Redd to knock their socks off. But… that didn’t exactly happen. Perhaps my expectations were too high or my tastes have matured/palate refined or even a combination of both – overall, I was disappointed with our meal.
We started off with oysters and appetizers to share.
The pork belly was one of my favorite dishes the first time around and for that reason, I ordered it again. And thankfully, it was as good as I remembered! The risotto was delicious as well, making it difficult for me to have to share it with 3 other people.
Sauteed Skate, Onion Fondue, Summer Beans, Hazelnut Brown Butter $28
Petrale Sole, Coconut Jasmine Rice, Clams, Chorizo, Saffron Curry Nage $28
Prime New York Steak and Shortribs, Salt Potatoes, Bacon and Mushroom Ragout $32
Liberty Farms Duck Breast, Shelling Bean Cassoulet, Bread Crumbs, Thyme Jus $29
The best entree of the table was the skate with brown butter… WHO DOESN’T LOVE BUTTER? TELL ME! TELL ME!
Everything else, however, just fell flat. The saffron curry nage left a bitter after-taste and the short ribs were tough and stringy. I was most disappointed with the duck; it was overcooked, the skin was not crispy and the amount of bread crumbs over the cassoulet was just ridiculous.
After being let down by the entrees, I wanted to pass up dessert. But since we were (unofficially) celebrating Henry’s birthday, we ordered two to share. I liked the butterscotch pudding more than the beignets because it was lighter and not as sweet.
Oh, btw, it didn’t help any that a lady sitting 10 feet away from us was throwing up UNDER THE TABLE. It was her bachelorette party.
6480 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
Just like NYC, I never intended to visit SF every year, but things just worked out that way. Last Thursday, Henry and I packed some clothes and snacks and made the 6.5 hour drive up north. We spent the weekend in the city by the bay (+ side trip to Napa, OF COURSE) with a couple of good friends.
In SF, we stayed at our usual spot: Coventry Motor Inn. Upon checking in, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the room was completely renovated (new carpet, new memory foam beds, tv, etc)! And the best part was the price remained the same as before! I LOVE this place for being budget friendly, having FREE parking, and for its great location.
Our first night was spent eating dinner at Leopold’s and getting drinks at Horseshoe Tavern. Not only was the food at Leopold’s delicious, the co-owner Albert is totally awesome! I spoke to him briefly on the phone and since we were staying close by, he graciously offered to put my name on the list and provided an approximate time a table would be ready. Doing just that would have been good enough for me, but after dinner, Albert thanked us personally for dining at his restaurant and even remembered my name!
We tried to wake up early on Friday to avoid waiting a long time for brunch at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe. Unfortunately, I suck at waking up early when I don’t have work so we got in line at about 10:30AM and waited a little more than 1.5 hours for a table. BRUTAL. By the time we were seated, we were starving, thus …
Yes, the food was worth the wait.
After stuffing our face, we tried to fight off food coma by walking around Union Square. We then took the F train to Justin Herman Plaza for some urban zip lining!
The only downside is that you pay $29 for an experience that lasts less than a minute. It’s pricey, but it’s a cool thing to do if you’ve never zip lined before. It runs only in the summer and will shut down by the end of September. Hurry!!
After zip lining, we slowed things a bit by taking a leisurely hike at Land’s End.
The next day, we headed up to Napa for some wine tasting. I don’t like wine so that made me the designated driver and photographer.
And that was that. Another great trip up north.
My first time dining at Bottega was SO AMAZING, I couldn’t wait to go back! I had to try the Egg and Pork Belly Confit, which Tyler Florence showcased on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. We weren’t able to order this dish the first time around because it’s seasonal; it appears on the menu starting in July.
Good thing I didn’t have to wait too long.
We started off with one of Henry’s favorite wines (Buehler ’05 Cab) and a few appetizers: Polenta Under Glass, Monterey Calamari and of couse, Egg and Pork Belly Confit.
The polenta was just as delicious as last time, but the calamari, though tasty, was nothing extraordinary. Unfortunately, I wasn’t blown away with the Egg and Pork Belly Confit either. I LOVED the runny soft boiled egg, but unfortunately, the pork belly was overcooked. Oh well. I prefer braised pork belly over pork belly confit anyway.
Next up was pasta: Pappardelle Bolognese. The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly, but the meat sauce fell a bit flat. I expected it to be more flavorful.
We shared two entrees between 3 people because we didn’t want to over-stuff ourselves (which we ended up doing anyway). Since Henry and I had duck last time, we went for the Wood Grilled Lamb (with local figs and polenta). The polenta was delicious and the figs added a subtle layer of sweet that balanced out the gaminess of the lamb.
We also ordered the Smoked and Braised Short Ribs (with preserved Meyer-lemon spinach). The meat was very tender and the lemon lightened up the dish.
So even though our buttons were popping off at this point, we couldn’t leave without having dessert. I don’t remember the name of the 1st one, but who cares. Focus on the 2nd dessert: Zeppole al Lemoni – Italian donuts served with Meyer-lemon curd and Earl Grey infused jam. Hot damn, these were delicious!!!! I preferred the jam because the lemon curd was a little too tart.
I had put Bottega on a pedestal after my first time dining there. My second time brought Bottega back down to earth. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the restaurant and would recommend it to anyone. I just know that, other than the Confit of Half Duck and the Polenta Under Glass, most dishes aren’t the best I’ve ever had.
Verdict 2.0: 4/5
Bottega Ristorante Napa Valley
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1300
Since I’ll be heading up to Nor Cal later today, I thought this would be a good time to finally write about my last trip to Napa/SF (in October 2010).
Henry’s brother, David, is now teaching abroad in Korea. I planned a trip to Napa/SF as a last hurrah before he left. As with my trips of the past couple of years, this was heavily based on food and being a fellow fatass, David did not mind at all.
We started out in Napa and had some great burgers + yummy pumpkin milkshake at Gott’s Roadside.
We also lunched at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen during our stay. I was really excited about the duck burger, but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. The best item was the rabbit tostada appetizer.
Going to Napa can’t be all about food. We visited a few wineries, of course.
After our wonderful time in Napa, we headed down to SF to eat some more. I swear I would have gained a gazillion pounds if it weren’t for us getting some exercise by biking across the GG.
No matter how many times I’ve seen/driven/biked over the Golden Gate Bridge or whether it’s cloudy or sunny, I am still amazed by its beauty. It is definitely my favorite bridge in the world!
As you can see from the picture below, we clearly were not dressed properly for the bike ride over the bridge. The day started out cloudy with temperatures in the high 50s/low 60s. Because we exerted a lot of energy biking over some big hills, we weren’t really cold until we got closer to the bridge. The strong winds made it feel like the temperature was in the 20s! Good thing the sun finally came out in the afternoon or else we probably would have frozen to death on the bike ride back.
I always have a great time in the Bay. This weekend will be no exception 🙂
Napa/SF Eats & Wineries (+our verdict):
Gott’s Roadside, 4/5
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, 3/5
Firefly Restaurant, 3/5
Just For You Cafe, 3/5
I never thought much of him. I would occasionally watch his show, “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello”, but he never held my interest for an entire episode. It wasn’t until he appeared on Top Chef Masters that I truly started appreciating his culinary expertise.
Michael Chiarello is currently the Chef and Co-owner of Bottega Ristorante, located in Yountville, CA, where worthy competition such as Redd, Ad Hoc and The French Laundry are just right down the street. He was previously the Executive Chef/Founder of Tra Vigne in St. Helena. He has published numerous cookbooks, owns a small family winery as well as a catalog/retail store, NapaStyle. Even with all his success, Chef Chiarello has still managed to stay humble. When I told him that I LOVED his food, Chef Chiarello was quick to point to his Chef de Cuisine, Nick Ritchie, and teasingly said, “It’s his food. I just take credit for it.”
We started off the night with two appetizers: “polenta under glass” and “wood grilled octopus”. The polenta was highly recommended by Page Buehler (of Buehler Vineyards), and well, THANK YOU Page because the polenta was absolutely AMAZING! It arrived in a glass container (hence the name “polenta under glass”) topped with a parmesan crisp and caramelized wild mushrooms. Drizzled with a little balsamic game sauce, this dish was to die for! The polenta was rich, creamy and very well flavored. The caramelized mushrooms added a sweet, earthy element and the balsamic sauce complimented the mushrooms in sweetness while asserting its own presence with a bit of tartness.
The octopus was amazing as well. I loved the grilled flavor and I can’t believe how tender the octopus was!!
When our waiter took our order, we decided to have a “regular” entree and a “lighter” entree since we were also eating two appetizers. The “lighter” entree we chose was the Adriatic Seafood Brodetto (monkfish, mussels, rock cod & fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil crouton, paprika-saffron rouille). As you can see, brodetto is a fish stew similar to cioppino or bouillabaisse. One difference I noticed right off the bat was that the tomato broth of the brodetto was more rich and dense than a cioppino (which usually tends to be more thin and watery). All of the seafood was perfectly cooked, but the broth was by far the star of the dish.
Ok, everybody knows I have a thing for duck. I just can’t help myself from ordering it when I see it on the menu. So… what did we order for our “regular” entree”? Yup, Confit of Half Duck (mostarda di frutta, Forni Brown green, red win duck jus). Now, I’ve eaten duck confit at many restaurants and I can say, without a doubt, THIS WAS THE BEST DUCK CONFIT I’VE EVER HAD! The skin was brown and crispy while the meat was fall of the bone tender. Mostarda di frutta is a traditional Italian condiment of candied fruits bathed in a mustard flavored syrup. The duck was great on its own, but even better when eaten with the fruit; the sweetness of the fruit helped cut the saltiness from the duck. This was truly perfection on a plate. If I ever appeared on the TV show, “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Ate”, I would be raving about the duck confit at Bottega. LOVE.
We were already pretty full at this point, but pass up dessert? No way! We ended our meal with Chocolate Bourbon Tortino (banana brulee, roasted banana gelato, milk chocolate peanut butter bar). Basically, this was a high class Reese’s sundae! Though I found the tortino a little rich by itself, eating everything together in one bite was delicious! Henry loved the chocolate peanut butter bar!
At the end of the night, our waiter led us to the kitchen where Chef Chiarello was nice enough to sign our menus and take a picture with us. I can’t wait to come back to Bottega.
Bottega Ristorante Napa Valley
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1300
Perhaps I visited Thomas Keller’s restaurants in the wrong order; starting off with the best was probably not a good idea, tactically.
Last October, we made our way to the Foodie Mecca of the West, The French Laundry, and it was one of the best and most expensive dining experiences we’ve ever had.
This past March, I ate at Keller’s less expensive, more casual restaurant, Bouchon. The cooking techniques exhibited were superb; my duck breast was beautifully seared. The flavors, however, did not come together for me. So overall, the meal wasn’t necessarily bad, but I left unimpressed.
With these two restaurants down, that only left one more Keller restaurant to try on the West Coast: Ad Hoc.
Ad Hoc is located in Yountville, along with a few of my favorite restaurants: Redd, Bottega and of course, The French Laundry. Opened Thurs-Mon, Ad Hoc offers a daily changing 4-course dinner menu, served family style; brunch is also offered on Sundays.
Now, listen carefully folks!! Each night there is only one menu, only 4 courses offered, so if you don’t like what’s on the menu, you’re shit out of luck. I already knew that this was the concept of Ad Hoc, having done my research, and I was actually excited about going to dinner and not having to fuss over what to order. However, there were many people dining at Ad Hoc that night that just didn’t have a clue. I can’t believe how many times I overheard the waitstaff having to explain to diners that there was only one menu offered and that they would be happy to call another restaurant to help secure a reservation if the menu wasn’t to the diners’ liking. Moral of the story: do your research!
The appetizer of the night was a white shrimp and cucumber salad, dressed with a tomato vinaigrette. The dish was very refreshing and I would have raved about it, if it weren’t for the shrimp. I don’t think I’m being ridiculous by saying that peeling shrimp is a basic skill that every cook/chef should have, especially when you’re a chef at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants! It was very disappointing to have to pull out pieces of shrimp shell as I was chewing. This just shows poor execution and attention to detail, something I’m sure Keller would have disapproved of. What a bad start!
For our entree, we were served steak with onion rings and roasted broccoli rabe in an All-clad braiser pan along with a side of grits. I was surprised by the tenderness and juiciness of the steak considering it was a hanger steak. The onion rings were perfectly fried with the right amount of batter and I especially loved the crispiness of the broccoli rabe. Not only did the grits have great flavor because of the bacon and parmesan cheese, it also provided a great contrast in texture from the steak, onion rings and broccoli rabe.
At Ad Hoc, the third course is always a cheese course. We had Cowgirl Creamery’s St. Pat. The edible green rind comes from the cheese being wrapped in stinging nettle leaves (the stinging hairs are removed prior to wrapping). The cheese was soft and creamy with a mild flavor. I usually like stronger cheeses so I wasn’t too fond of St. Pat, at first. But when I paired it with the red onion marmalade, it was delicious! The sweetness of the marmalade really brought out the natural sweetness of St. Pat. Henry didn’t like the taste of the cheese so I basically ate everything!
Our final dish was a tres leches cake. Moist without being “soggy” and just the right amount of sweetness, this was a perfect end to a meal that started out imperfectly.
Even though the meal recovered from the shrimp mishap, I had to decrement Ad Hoc’s rating from 4 stars. It wasn’t something I could easily forgive or forget.
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
… continued from parte uno.
After our first day in wine country, we checked into the Arbor Guest House B&B, located near downtown Napa. We’ve had good luck with B&Bs in the past (Greenlake Guest House in Seattle and James House Santa Barbara) and this time was no different. We stayed in the Bella Vista room, which I believe is the smallest of the rooms available, but it was perfect for us. It was furnished with a comfortable queen sized bed, flat screen TV and a cute claw foot tub in the bathroom. There was a guest refrigerator downstairs in the patio area stocked with water, juice and soda. Hot water was also available in the dining room at night for tea or hot chocolate. Dan and Candy, the innkeepers, were very nice and though we didn’t go downstairs for afternoon wine and hor d’oeuvres (either I was napping before dinner or Henry was watching the Laker game), we heard other guests laughing and talking so I’m sure everyone was enjoying themselves.
Every morning, Dan and Candy provided us with a delicious breakfast to start our day. My favorite was the sticky buns!!
We spent much of our 2nd day in wine country around the Rutherford area. The first winery we visited was Cakebread, highly recommended by my coworker. Since Henry prefers red wines, he decided to make an appointment for their red wine tasting. After checking in, we were escorted to the small red wine tasting room. One man tended to 3 other couples besides us, so it was another, “this is such and such wine.. enjoy”. Since we were in such close quarters, it was really easy to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. The couple next to us seriously hyped up the wines too much; after each wine they tasted, we heard, “OMG, I love this”. And as if to confirm, the man pouring Henry’s wine also added, “this is such a treat.. you’ll love this”. Yea well, Henry didn’t love the $106 Dancing Bear Cabernet, but he did like the 2006 Merlot enough to buy it.
The 2nd winery we went to was probably Henry’s least favorite in terms of wine, but the property was beautiful and the overall experience was very relaxing. Frog’s Leap Winery proudly boasts that they grow all their grapes organically and are committed to the principles of sustainable farming. Tastings are held on the “porch” of the vineyard house. There is a long table that can hold large parties (or several smaller parties) and there are also smaller tables that wrap around the porch.
The wine tastings ($15) at Frog’s Leap included a plate of cheese, almonds, bread sticks and cranberries. SCORE!! I pretty much ate all of the cheese because I’m a fat ass.
Unimpressed by the wines, Henry and I left empty handed and we headed to lunch at the Rutherford Grill. I decided on this particular restaurant because it was the only one in or around Rutherford that caught my interest and having a 4.5 star rating on Yelp didn’t hurt. When we arrived at 2PM, the hostess told us that the wait would be about 40-50 mins for a party of 2, but the inside and outside bar were first come, first serve. I put my name on the list and quickly began to scope out the bar area. I was prepared to fight for a spot, but good thing it didn’t come to that because 3 groups actually left the bar at the same time!
We didn’t want to over-stuff ourselves so we shared an appetizer and an entree. This also helped us save a bit of money since even with just 2 items + drink, we paid almost $50! The spinach and artichoke dip was creamy, cheesy goodness. The ribs were fall off the bone tender, but had an overly smoky flavor. Overall, a good meal to hold us off until our much anticipated dinner: Ad Hoc.
The last day of vacation is always a sad one. The realization of having to go back to the “real world” left us with an unsettling feeling the whole entire day. We knew we had a long drive ahead of us, but we didn’t want to leave just yet so we made two pit stops: Trefethen and Boon Fly Cafe.
A month ago, my parents, Henry and I went to dinner at Mastro’s Steakhouse. Remembering how he first fell in love with Buehler during a previous trip to Mastro’s, Henry asked our waiter for another wine recommendation. Our waiter suggested Trefethen’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and sure enough, it was another instance of love at first sip. So, of course we had to visit Trefethen while we were in Napa!
Trefethen Vineyards, located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa, is HUGE!! A magnificent gate adorns the entrance and a drive down a lovely tree-lined street transports you to a 19th century winery building that houses the tasting room. Henry had a difficult time deciding between the Estate Tasting ($10/choose 4 of 8 wines) and the Reserve Tasting ($25/5 wines), but he ultimately chose the Reserve Tasting because it offered multiple cabs. Considering it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I was surprised that Trefethen’s tasting room wasn’t crowded. This totally worked out for us because Henry received excellent service unlike the other wineries we visited; he was also given an opportunity to have a vertical tasting of their 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignons (the 2006 was only offered with the Estate Tasting). Henry loved the wines and experience so much, he bought 3 bottles: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5L), 2007 O-K-D Five, 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I guess, we saved the best for last? Well, Henry still says that he loves Buehler just as much. Whatever 😛
I had made up my mind the night before to try Zuzu, a tapas restaurant, for lunch, so imagine my disappointment when we got to the restaurant and it was CLOSED! Stupid me, I didn’t pay attention to their hours listed on the website; they open at 4PM on the weekends. I had to think of a plan B quick and the first place that I thought of was Boon Fly Cafe.
Boon Fly Cafe is located in the Carneros Inn (so damn pretty, but WAY too expensive for us to stay there). The exterior is absolutely adorable! There are swings outside for people to sit on while waiting for a table and coffee is also available in case anyone needs a pick me up. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait; we were seated right away. Little did Henry know, I already knew what I wanted us to order before we were handed our menus; I studied the menu during the planning phase of our Napa trip. Henry and I generally like the same foods, so with little resistance from Henry, we ordered the “green eggs and ham” and the kobe beef burger.
“Green eggs and ham” consisted of poached farm fresh eggs wrapped in honey-cured ham on crispy hash browns with lemon leek cream. Oh my gosh, it was so freakin’ good! I love runny eggs so breaking my eggs and having the yolk soak into the hash browns before I took a bite was a real treat. The ham provided the perfect amount of sweetness and the leek cream added a bit of “Napa elegance”. The kobe beef burger with poppy-seed brioche bun was absolutely divine. It was unbelievably juicy and tender, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and was so much more flavorful than a regular burger. And did I mention the brioche bun? I love, love, love brioche; I use it to make my bread puddings. The richness/sweetness of the brioche pairs well with any burger in general, but even more so with a decadent kobe beef patty. Needless to say, we left with happy stomachs.
I can’t wait for my next trip especially since I’ve been averaging 14 hour work days. Le sigh.
Napa Food & Wine (+our verdict):
Bottega Napa Valley, 5/5
Cakebread Cellars, 4/5
Frog’s Leap Winery, 2.5/5
Rutherford Grill, 3.5/5
Honig Winery, 3/5
Ad Hoc, 3.5/5
Boon Fly Cafe, 4.5/5
After much anticipation, Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. There were a few glitches along the way: a shit-load of work I had to finish before I left for SF on Thursday, rain forcing me to cancel my original plans on Thursday and a weird allergic reaction to something during our stay in Napa. However, the delicious food and near perfect weather we had over the weekend more than made up for these slight inconveniences.
Henry and I didn’t leave for SF until about 12:30 or so because I had to take care of something at work. Even though Thursday was supposed to be my day off, it sure didn’t feel like it. I kept having to check my work blackberry during the day. Yes, I have two: work and personal blackberries. It’s sick, I know.
Rain was in the forecast for Thursday (which made me cancel my original plans to hike the Land’s End trail) and sure enough, dark rain clouds spotted the sky as we approached our destination. I guess we chased away the rain because we didn’t experience a drop of rain during our entire stay.
We arrived in SF just in time to change and get ready for dinner. We decided to revisit one of our favorite restaurants, Gary Danko. The first time we ate there was during our first trip to San Francisco together back in 2008. We fell hard and fast for Gary Danko and even though two years have gone by, it still remains as one of our most memorable dining experiences.
The next day, we ate brunch at Honey Honey Cafe and Crepery before heading up to Napa. Honey Honey Cafe is located on the corner of Taylor and Post and if you’re planning to drive here, expect to pay $3.50 AN HOUR for street parking (parking in SF is RIDICULOUS!!!!). The restaurant is pretty big by SF standards and fast-food-esque in the sense that you order and pay for your food at the counter and then pick a table to sit and wait while your food is brought to you. They have an extensive menu including the usual breakfast and lunch items as well as their signature sweet and savory crepes.
If Henry hadn’t knocked some sense into me, I would have ordered the Post Street omelette, which is basically a traditional Denver omelette with a San Francisco derived name. Henry made me realize that since we were at restaurant that specializes in crepes, perhaps I should order one of its namesake. Thus, I ordered the Half Moon Bay crepe (cheddar, tomato, mushroom and crab cake) and Henry ordered the Cancun burger (jack cheese, crispy bacon, tomato, avocado and salsa). Delicious!!
After brunch, we made our way to Buehler Vineyards for our 2PM appointment. Buehler is located in the mountains east of St. Helena, approximately a 6 mile windy drive from highway 29. The overall experience was unlike all the touristy wineries located along the 29 or on the Silverado trail.
Page Buehler, the son of John Page Buehler, Jr., gave us a tour of the property while explaining their general wine making process. It was just us and Page (and his cute dogs :)) so we felt really special to have all his attention. We made our way back to the office for a tasting and Henry ended up buying two bottles: 2008 Zinfandel, 2008 Reserve Chardonnay. He probably would have bought some of the Cabs, but he already has two bottles at home. Buehler is one of Henry’s favorites.
After Buehler, we went to one of the most touristy wineries EVER: V. Sattui. And well, it’s touristy for good reason: the grounds are beautiful (many weddings are held there), they have a great deli and cheese selection that you can enjoy outside on the picnic tables and oh yea, the wines themselves aren’t too shabby either.
After Henry had a tasting and purchased a 2008 Zinfandel, we bought a black forest ham panini, some prawns in mustard sauce and a salt cod cake and had a wonderful picnic outside.
To be continued…