Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Napa Style, Sans Douche Bag

It was a fortuitous coming together of circumstances--some consecutive days off with girlfriend Charlie, some promotional deals at a nice bed and breakfast (Bordeaux House), and Yountville being only 45 minutes away. So I got home from work, packed up some stuff, and headed across the Carquinez Bridge to Vallejo, American Canyon, Napa, and Yountville.

Stay the fuck away, glassy winged sharpshooter.

Checked into the b&b early, which left us with a few hours before our 8:30 reservation at Bistro Jeanty. A stroll through Yountville yielded not a damn thing so we settled in at the bar at Redd after a small sidestep to an art gellery that showed that you can in fact make queer landscapes look somewhat okay.

We had dinner plans elsewhere, though in hindsight Redd was perhaps the more intriguing choice. Extensive a la carte menu, also available as a tasting menu. California cuisine to be sure, but with a subtle Japanese influence that was appreciated. Very nice wine list and well-priced, all things considered. We split a half-bottle of the Schloss Gobelsburg "Steinsetz" gruner veltliner which was excellent, and phenomenal with the one appetizer that we split, an asparagus and (scant) green onion tempura with bonito soy dressing. It was really tasty, light fluffy tempura batter around tender (but fully cooked) asparagus. Not much spring onion in the mix though, and the whole dish was a bit salty, especially when paired with the soy (salty) and bonito (salty) sauce. Still, it was freakin' tasty. In addition to the regular menu, there's a concise bar menu with somewhat more quotidian (and drink-friendly) options.

Moving along, we arrived at Bistro Jeanty for dinner a bit early and was promptly seated. Simple and to be expected French menu with a poorly conceived wine list. French wines and some typical Napa suspects. Nothing bad, of course, just really unremarkable for a restaurant of such regard. Got a bottle of Trefethen riesling for kicks.

First course, Charlie had a petite salad of beets and arugula. It was good. The escargots, which came highly recommend, were remarkably flavorless, though dragging bread through the butter and herb leftovers was fabulous.

Entrees stepped up where appetizers left off. Charlie's coq au vin was rich, redolent, and melting apart. My cassoulet, which I had to send back the first time because it was cold in the middle (I got a complimentary glass of wine while I waited), was oppressively rich. It was delicious, to be sure, but it was also a huge bowl filled with white beans, two andouille sausages, some bacon, and a whole confit duck leg. It was a lot of freakin' food.

Despite the obscenity that was our entree portions, we still got dessert. A nice tarte au citron with smooth creamy meringue was quite pleasant.

A quiet stagger home did little to help me digest the uncomfortable quantity of pork and beans in my stomach and I spent a fitful night dreaming about prostate exams and dragons.

Morning presented us with breakfast at the bed and which was surprisingly pleasant. Spinach and egg casserole was the highlight. Hardboiled eggs were very very green. Fruit salad featured watermelon with a lot of residual pith and peel.

We hit the road and dropped in on a few wineries. Martini is always a good stop. Nice tasting room, pretty good wines (steer clear of the wine list stuff and try the winery exclusives), and nice folks. The long-time tasting room mainstay, I forget her name, is retiring at the end of May. It's the end of an era.

Another mainstay of any greatest hits stop in Napa is Mumm. Great champagne cellar, even if (despite their claims of being "pure Napa) most of their grapes come from Carneros. The winery-exclusive flight was tasty. Good art gallery as well. Eclectic Ansel Adams collection in the permanent gallery and an always interesting new photographer in the rotating gallery.

We stopped at Duckhorn which was awkward. Despite the fact that we made reservations, we were headed off at the tasting room entry by an unpleasant woman who made us feel decidedly unwelcome. I informed her that we had a reservation. We were told to pay the $20 tasting fee in advance, directed to a table, and waited for a young man to come and pour the wines. Despite his assurance that we could flag him down should we have any questions, he disappeared from the tasting room entirely. After finishing our flight, we waited for someone to come back and talk to us, see if we wanted to buy wine, etc. but to no avail. So we left.

Spent some time strolling in St. Helena and Calistoga, only to discover that these towns don't really have anything worth going to (other than restaurants). Stop off at the CIA's Greystone campus was productive, mostly resultant of a Le Creuset sale at the shop.

Hunger finally turned up so we went to Auberge du Soleil. Not for the fancy-pants reastaurant or $1200 a night hotel, but for the rather pleasantly priced bar. Beautiful space, nice deck with a phenomenal view, and, I'll be honest, really good food. The menu doesn't change much (at all) but the food is great. Charlie had a chicken panini that was tender and tasty. I had the duck confit pizza which was retarded rich but retarded good.

Plus, beyond anything else, it was relaxing. Even if we had to listen to a string trio play "Champagne Supernova" as a party prepared for a timeless wedding that will be remembered forever and ever. Or at least for eight months until they get divorced, because really, "Champagne Supernova?" Christ.

That basically concluded our Napa excursion. We laughed. We cried. We made fun of people relentlessly. And at the end I learned a valuable lesson. Cassoulet dreams are even weirder than burrito dreams. Remember that.

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