The Restaurant at Meadowood
All impulsiveness aside, your “Set of Drifters” usually try to have a few things planned ahead of time when we travel somewhere new. This allows you to maximize your time in a place that you may be visiting for only a short while. For this trip, we had planned a lot of dynamic daytime activities, but we neglected to investigate the dinner situation altogether! On our first day in Napa we felt somewhat determined to seek out a hearty dinner in which we could possibly pair a juicy steak with a nice red wine. And if some mashed potatoes or something along those lines were to saddle up to the side of the plate, we certainly would not deny them!
Upon our arrival at our hotel, we assumed that we would be able to check the Internet to see what people were recommending around the Valley. (You know what they say about “assuming” anything.) Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t get on-line in our room at all! What we did have access to was a general list of restaurants in the area that mentioned only their respective types of cuisine and phone numbers. It was Doug’s turn to pick a restaurant so he looked down the list and thought, hmmmmmmmm, “The Grill at Meadowood - Regional Napa Valley Cuisine,” that sounds good. When in Rome, why not try the local faire?
Doug quickly phoned the number for the restaurant at Meadowood and asked for an 8:00 PM appointment. Naturally, he neglected to ask anything at all about the restaurant or its menu, but we had been driving and running around all day so we were really just ready to just relax and enjoy... anything, and boy did we!
Turning off from Silverado Trail, we drove up the side of the mountain to the gates of the exclusive Meadowood Napa Valley Resort. And even though it was pitch-black outside, we quickly realized that we were in for something special (and probably something expensive). We reached the parking lot and proceeded to the front door, looking to see if there might be a menu displayed outside, you know, in case it was somehow “out of our league.” Sadly, there was no such menu posted. One short moment later, the waiter welcomed us and quickly escorted us to our table inside the small, but swanky, dining establishment. (We immediately felt under-dressed in our Adidas trainers, but Napa locals swear by the Valley’s casual dress policy.)
Our waiter handed us a menu which did give us a bit of a shock at first. This was clearly a top-notch, innovative restaurant where “steak and mash” were not part of the repertoire. After looking at the eight-course prix-fixe tasting menu for $195 USD per person, we suddenly felt our stomachs, and wallets, tightening. So instead, we opted for the four-course option at $115 USD per person which offers a wide variety of selections from four basic uncategorized sections. (We realized as the courses came to us that the categories basically panned out roughly to include appetizers, entrées, cheeses and sweets, but when something is called “Impermanence of Citrus,” what are you really to expect?) While the menu may as well have been written in Sanskrit for all we could extract from its descriptions, the exotic flavors and aromas that would soon be served to us in a variety of equally intriguing vessels, would certainly make up for any confusion we may have had to struggle through.
To match our four courses, we also had a staff of four serving our table, constantly refilling our water glasses or dropping off freshly-baked bread rolls (a different one for each course). Then of course, there was the shuffling of the cutlery and plates to compliment each new unique dish or intermezzo amuse-bouche that would be served to cleanse our palates.
Fresh root crudite from the garden served on a “bed of snow” started out the meal. This was soon followed by an extraordinary smoked mackerel salad. Brady then enjoyed a roasted celery and garlic soup that was topped with tiny fried garlic roots that had to be the most delicate thing he had ever seen! The resulting flavor of the soup was nothing like he would ever had expected!
Our entrée of guinea hen was presented to us first before plated. Apparently it had been cooked in a meringue egg that resembled the birth place of Mork from Ork! Our warm and friendly waiter, and his younger female assistant, took great pains to describe the preparation of each and course, the results of which almost caused us to break out laughing at times. Amidst the non-stop silverware swapping, the strange decanters of thick sauces, and the even heavier wording of the plates’ descriptions, we felt as though we were in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit. When the final tray of “toadstool” mini-desserts arrived served on a bed of real moss plucked straight from the surrounding forest, we knew we were not in Kansas anymore!
(Shoot, did we just become “foodies” overnight?)
Ultimately, we loved this place. The concentration that went into each of Chef Christopher Kostow’s dishes produced flavors and startling textures that were so balanced and in harmony with one another. Although pricey, The Restaurant at Meadowood was truly a unique dining experience that we shall never forget! What we found out the following day (after finally getting reconnected to the Internet) was that The Restaurant at Meadowood is actually one of the top two eating establishments in Napa, right alongside Yountville’s famed French Laundry! (And here we thought we were going to the “Grill at Meadowood,” the cheaper lunch outfit down the stairs from the restaurant!)
The Restaurant at Meadowood accepts reservations daily starting at 5:30 PM. The restaurant is open until only 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday and slightly later (9:30 PM) on Fridays and Saturdays. (How else are they going to find time to make those meringue-encrusted guinea hens?) Set of Drifters tip: Make sure to check out the restrooms. Not only was this the only men’s restroom we have ever been to that features an entire sit-down lounge with leather chairs and magazines, but it also had the most delicious smelling hand lotion on offer.
The Restaurant at Meadowood - 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574, (800) 458-8080
While traipsing through the Petrified Forest of Calistoga (see “sights”), we got a call from our new friends Jan and Nancy whom we had met while ballooning above Napa the day prior. They had a special gift package in Napa which included a dinner for six at celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s two year-old restaurant Bottega. Since the two sisters were only traveling with one other person, their charming mother Ann, they invited us along for the occasion. We met later that night in Yountville in the midst of a torrential downpour.
While there may have been a mix-up with the timing of the reservation, all was soon forgotten as we sat down to our prix-fixe wine-paired dinner inspired by the different regions of Italy. The conversation flowed fast as a small staff of waiters took care of us for the next two hours. Scott was in charge, and he delightfully took us on a journey that began with a plate of sashimi cured on a slab of salt and sailed through five more succulent courses! The lamb chop was entirely intriguing and the braised short ribs were to die for. Of course, there were some sweets involved too! The zeppole al lemoni donuts were a standout, with their accompanying Meyer lemon curd and multiberry preserve dipping sauces, though who can really beat a chocolate ganache cake?
This was a very pleasant experience that reinforced what we had been learning all week long: living life to the fullest is about taking it easy, meeting new friends and enjoying what we all work so hard for! Oh yeah, one more thing. It’s really important to pair your wines with the right foods in order to suss out the vintage’s intricate subtleties. Enjoy this one kids!
Bottega is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Dinner reservations can be made Sunday through Thursday starting at 5:00 PM, though keep in mind the restaurant closes at 9:30 PM. Hours on Friday and Saturday are somewhat extended, 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Set of Drifters tip: Check out the cocktails at the bar! (See “sips” for more information.)
Bottega - Villagio Marketplace, 6525 Washington Street, A9, Yountville, CA 94599, (707) 945-1050
This roadside grill has got to be one of the best diner’s we have ever been to. Picture “Arnold’s” from Happy Days but with vegan beef burgers on egg bread rolls and gourmet garlic and parsley fries! We actually ended up hitting this place up twice in only three days as we needed something quick for lunch that didn’t have Napa’s typically high prices attached! (That’s not to say this place is necessarily cheap, but two people can certainly have plenty of food for about $22 USD.)
Established in 1949, the diner was formerly known as “Taylor’s Refresher.” (You can still see the old sign out front.) The Gott Family purchased the property a few years ago from the original owners and swanked up this ever-popular Napa institution. And believe us, it is popular. Both times we visited there was a line about six people deep at each of the two order windows. In the winter months, Gott’s cleverly adds a covered greenhouse so that patrons can still enjoy the gorgeous environs while chowing down on their gourmet BLT’s, Ahi Tuna burgers, and “White Pistachio” shakes. Oh, and did we mention they serve beer and wine?
Gott’s is open daily from 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM in the winter months and extends its closing time to 10:00 PM in the summer. You can be assured this place is raking in the dough!!
Gott’s Roadside - 933 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574, (707) 963-3486 (Two other locations reside in Napa proper and the Ferry Building in San Francisco!)
cheap/ quick eats in Napa/ Calistoga
Trust us, your stomachs will want to go crazy in Napa Valley, but your wallet may find that it has bitten off more than it can chew! If you are looking for some more basic lunch or dinner options in the area, you have to keep your eyes wide open. Aside from Gott’s (see above), we found a few spots which featured decent food that was clearly given the seal of approval from the locals.
One of these was the Yountville Deli. Here, you can choose from an assortment of meats, cheeses and breads to create your own sandwich. This is not necessarily a new idea, but in the midst of all this “foodie” pomp and circumstance, a basic high quality deli sandwich is certainly a welcomed treat for both your tummy and your pocketbook! Box lunches (at about $13 USD) come with additional sides like asiago bowtie pasta or the Yountville Deli’s own signature potato salad.
Another option is Golden Harvest, a Chinese outfit that happened to be located just next door to our hotel in St. Helena. While the ambiance inside was severely lacking, and the menu was really nothing special, the entrees were quite tasty and well-valued. “Set of Drifter” Brady, who usually does not like Chinese food to begin with, thought the Manchurian (crispy) beef was excellent! Golden Harvest is not the place to perform a wine-pairing with your meal, but if you are looking to save a couple dimes, or perhaps just need a change of pace from all of the heavy sauces and Epicurean fanfare that Napa Valley is so well-known for, this spot might be right up your alley.
Of course, if Mexican food is your thing, California is chock-full of great options to check out. One of Mexican restaurant in the area is called Puerto Vallarta. It’s tucked away just beyond the main thoroughfare in Calistoga (probably the last place you might expect it). The decor is paltry and the chips were a bit stale, but the enchilada/ taco combination was sublime, and the ingredients very fresh! Puerto Vallarta also offered the cheapest and fastest meal in the land! If you are scurrying off to your next wine tasting appointment and realize that you have got to get something in your stomach before you slurp down five different wine varietals, a visit to Puerto Vallarta may be a good idea. At our tasting, 45 minutes later, we asked the host what he thought of wine and Mexican food together. He seemed a bit stumped, but it certainly brought some humor to the table.
Yountville Deli - 6498 Washington Street, Yountvillle, CA 94599, (707) 944-2002, http://www.yountvilledeli.com/
Golden Harvest - 61 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574, (707) 967-9888, http://www.goldenharvestsh.com/
Puerto Vallarta - 1473 Lincoln Avenue, #B, Calistoga, CA 94515, (707) 942-6563