The Restaurant at Meadowood – 12/26/09

The Restaurant at Meadowood
900 Meadowood Ln
Saint Helena, CA 94574

Continuing my tour of the food in the Napa Valley, a stop at The Restaurant at Meadowood was in order. Both The Restaurant at Meadowood and Cyrus are constantly compared to The French Laundry, as they are both two-starred establishments that have earned numerous accolades in their own right.

This restaurant is part of a large hotel and resort, the Meadowood. A lot of its produce is sourced from the gardens on the hotel grounds, and chef Christopher Kostow was recently named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine in 2009.

The decor is very clean, modern and elegant. I noticed that there were lots of windows and that this would probably be a great place for a lunch or early summer dinner with all that natural light coming through.

The restaurant offers a tasting menu, as well as an a la carte menu. We decided to sample a number of the dishes off the a la carte menu, as they sounded more appealing.

The kitchen first brought out a number of amuse bouche, including a cheese-filled pillow, baby beets in rye, and a parsnip custard with tea and matsutake mushrooms.

Our first course consisted of a tasting of potatoes and foie gras.

Tasting of Potatoes Bone Marrow, Smoked Sturgeon, Brook Trout Roe

I love potatoes, so this dish was a must. The one on the far right was like a tater tot, but cooked confit in pork fat. Definitely my favorite.

Foie Gras, Meadowood Garden Apple Four Preparations

The preparations are, from left to right: smoked, in a pastry-like tart, within a candied apple, and pan seared. By far the most interesting was the one within the candied apple, but I found the apple to be too overpowering. My favorite was the simple pan searing.

The bread service was one of the best in recent memory. There was only one option, a simple french roll, but each and every time it came out piping hot. Breaking into it released wisps of steam to reveal the very light and airy interior. The crust was crispy, but not overly so. Very nice.

Next came our entrees. We each ordered an extra course so that we could sample every entree on the menu.

Giant Humboldt Squid and Egg White Soy, Cauliflower, Swiss Chard

The squid was very nicely cooked and tender, but I don’t think the egg added too much to the dish.

Pacific ocean trout Garden vegetables, chicken broth

This was a great dish. The fish was cooked very well and was moist and succulent. The vegetables were also fresh and flavorful.

Poached and Roasted Wagyu Beef Chanterelles, Brescianella, Truffle

This was the most tender beef I’ve eaten in recent memory. It was rather mild in flavor, but melted in your mouth. It wasn’t quite as marbled and fatty as some of the wagyu beef I’ve seen, however.

Suckling Pig Quince Confit, Brussels Sprouts, Honey

There were multiple pork preparations here including the belly and tenderloin. My favorite was the tenderloin in the middle, which was wrapped in bacon – juicy and tender.

Pre-dessert – creamy sorbet with a mint granite

The first dessert was a dark chocolate custard. There was a very rich flavor, and the custard texture was nice.

Our other dessert was a tasting of citrus, which had a mixture of citrus atop a cheesecake with a yogurt sorbet.
The first of the mignardises were warm financiers with housemade ricotta. Warm and delicious.

And finally, to end our meal were chocolate bonbons covered with ganache. There was a creamy chocolate interior that burst when you bit into it.

At the end of the meal, we got a chance to tour the kitchen. Much larger than The French Laundry, but just as clean and orderly.

Chef Kostow was not in the kitchen on this night, so sous chef Chris Dettmer (pictured at bottom, right) was in charge.


The restaurant did live up to expectations. Was it was good as French Laundry? No, not in my opinion. But it’s a very good restaurant in its own right. The execution was spot on with each dish, and the presentation was fantastic. The flavors were there, but none of them really stood out as really outstanding.  My favorite dishes of the night were the ocean trout and the wagyu beef.


Bottega – 12/26/09

Bottega
6525 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

I’ve wanted to try Michael Chiarello’s Bottega for a little while now. I used to watch his show Easy Entertaining on the Food Network every weekday morning as I got ready for work. I’m also a big fan of rustic Italian food, so a trip up to Bottega on my next trip to Yountville was in order. Even more exciting was that Chef Chiarello was in the restaurant for lunch this day.

The restaurant is pretty casual, with an interesting burnt orange colored theme to the restaurant.

 

As we would be eating at the Restaurant at Meadowood that evening, a lighter lunch was in order. We decided to try the polenta (which we had heard good things about from multiple sources), a couple of pastas, and an entree.

Polenta Under Glass, caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce

 

This was an interesting dish. I’m not sure exactly how it’s prepared and how the glass influences the dish, but it was a well-made polenta. The difference was the balsamic sauce, which really made the dish by adding an extra flavor dimension and umami. The mushrooms were nice too.

Whole Egg Taglierini, Manilla clams, Calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley, white wine

This was a pretty dense pasta, I think due to the egg whites being used in the pasta as well. It has a very al dente chew to it, leading some to maybe think it was undercooked. The clams and the sauce were good, not overly salty. I probably would have wished the pasta to be a little less chewy though.

Garganelli with tomato braised rabbit sugo, wild mushrooms & ricotta

This was a delicious dish, and my favorite of the meal. The garganelli was perfectly cooked, the rabbit chunky and tender, and just very good together.

Adriatic Seafood Brodetto monkfish, mussels, rock cod & fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil-crouton, paprika-saffron rouille

The first thing that struck me was the portion size. The sizes of the pastas were pretty good, but this entree was kind of on the small side.  The fish and squid were cooked well. The mussels were especially good, very juicy and exploding in flavor. The crouton was a little oily for my tastes, but was crusty and soaked up the broth well.

I was pleased with my experience at Bottega. It was pretty much as expected, and I’d definitely come back – especially for some pastas. A big plus was being able to meet Chef Chiarello, who was warm and welcoming.

Quince – 12/24/09

Quince
470 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

For my first meal after The French Laundry, we went to Quince to celebrate my grandmother and aunt’s birthdays on Christmas Eve. The restaurant recently re-opened after relocating to a larger space in the Financial District of San Francisco. The space is very elegant and modern, and uniquely, one of the first things you see is the kitchen from the exterior.

As it was Christmas Eve, the restaurant was offering a special 4-course menu, as shown below. I’m not really a fan of ‘special’ holiday menus – sometimes I feel like it gives the restaurant a chance to charge more for less (it does), and I usually like to try some of the dishes the restaurant is known for.

The first course began with a Maine Lobster salad.

There was a lot of lobster on the plate, which is a good thing. I thought the ratio of lobster to fruit and vegetable was rather high, though. Lobster was cooked well, however.

Second course is a fagotelli of housemade ricotta.

This was a nice pasta. The pasta was al dente and the filling smooth and creamy. Chanterelles added a nice touch. The third course was an option between goose and beef.

The goose, prepared in two ways (the breast and in a sausage):

The goose was disappointing. The meat was rather tough and had some gristle. The sausage was flavorful but rather dry. The spit roasted rib of beef was better:

For dessert was the “buche de noel,” which was actually a mousse concoction resembling a buche de noel. This was pretty good – light and not too sweet.

To finish off the meal, we were brought some mignardises.

There was a chocolate brownie, coconut gelee, and a gingerbread cake. The coconut was probably my favorite with a bright coconut flavor, followed by the chocolate brownie.

Quince was a little disappointing, largely due to the main entree (and maybe because I had a great meal the night before)). The other courses, however, were solid. The holiday menu definitely was not a great deal on this night. I probably would come back to try their regular menu, especially pasta tasting menu, as I was a fan of their pasta dish.

The French Laundry – 12/23/09

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

The French Laundry is a food temple – a trek that any gourmand in America must make at least once in their lifetime. I first went in July of 2004, and it was easily the most anticipated meal of my life. I remember not being able to sleep much the night before. The restaurant had just gone through a renovation and had not announced an official re-opening date. I was playing around on OpenTable one night and stumbled upon an availability.  I remembered having to wake my dad to tell him this news, and use his credit card in order to confirm this reservation.

I had gone again in December of 2006, and now in 2009, figured it was time for a re-visit. It’s gotten noticeably easier to get a reservation on OpenTable. With a little persistence, I was able to snatch a 5:30 (in my opinion, the ideal time for a group not staying overnight) reservation over the Christmas holiday. Armed with a new camera (thanks Angela!), I was excited for this next trip.

Upon entering the premises, you walk into a garden and outdoor waiting area.

The famous blue door entrance to the restaurant.

The dining room is cozy and has a very warm and elegant feel to it.

Each table is set up with fresh flowers and the signature clothespin holding the napkin together.

The menu has two options: the chef’s tasting menu and the tasting of vegetables. The menu for the day is here: French Laundry menu – 12/23/09 and the chef’s tasting menu, which we all had, is shown below. There was also an optional supplement offering white truffles from Alba, shaved over an option of housemade tagliatelle, gnocchi, or a Carnaroli risotto.

The amuse bouche served here have been staples over the years. The first is the Gougères, which are cheez-it flavored light cheesy bread puffs.

The second is the salmon tartare coronet with creme fraiche. Simple and tasty, they make a great start to the evening.

Next was the first main dish of the night, also a staple of the menu.

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

This is a really creative dish and a nice play on words. The oysters are trimmed and set into this tapioca sabayon with a dollop of caviar. Really delicious.

The next course had an option of a winter squash soup and a foie gras terrine.

SPICED WINTER SQUASH SOUP
Chestnuts, Arkansas Black Apple, Watercress and Maple

There was not much to the soup. It tasted of squash with a little spice, but not much else.

MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Flowering Quince, Honey-Poached Cranberries, Celery Branch and Black Truffle

This was pretty good as a terrine goes, as I usually do not like them. The accompanying brioche was delicious and came with three finishing salts.

The next course, a seafood one, was a choice between a bass and scallops.

SHALLOT-CRUSTED ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS
Salsify, Spinach, “Soubise” and Red Wine Reduction

This was a great dish with a nice crust and a moist flesh. Definitely cooked well.

NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS “POÊLÉES”

Cauliflower, Satsuma Mandarin, Pine Nuts, Arugula and Niçoise Olive “Paint”


This was one of the more disappointing dishes of the night. I definitely prefer sea scallops to bay scallops because they’re just meatier and less prone to being overcooked. I don’t think the scallops were overcooked in this case, but the olive ‘paint’ was just way too overpowering for this dish.

The next dish, served to everyone, was a highlight.

SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER
Forest Mushroom “Pain Perdu,” Sunchokes, Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate “Aigre-Doux”
The lobster was cooked beautifully. The mushroom ‘bread’ was a nice earthy accompaniment, and the brussels sprouts and pomegranate were also a good compliment.

SHAVED WHITE TRUFFLES OVER CARNAROLI RISOTTO

After the lobster course was the truffle supplement. I chose the white truffle to be shaved over the risotto. This dish is quite an experience as well, as the server will bring the huge truffle around in a box to be smelled and then will proceed to shave it on top of the risotto. It was then finished with a little brown butter.

The risotto, prepared with shallots, butter and grated truffle, was really well-made on its own. The truffles, as well as the brown butter, completed the dish and made it unforgettable.


The next course was an option between white quail and rabbit shoulder.

WOLFE RANCH WHITE QUAIL
Chorizo, Cardoons, Sweet Peppers, Panisse, Spanish Capers and “Pimentón”

This dish was the single most surprising for me of the night.  White quail, as explained by the server, was a cross-breed between chicken and quail. I had never heard of this, let alone tried it, so I had to order it…and was glad I did. The breast was so juicy and moist, shocking as it was white meat (closer to chicken than quail).  The leg was good as well, but by comparison, paled compared to the breast.

“ÉPAULE DE LAPIN FARCIE AU CERVELAS”
Baby Fennel, Michigan Sour Cherry, Pistachio and “Sauce Périgourdine”


The rabbit shoulder was stuffed and glazed. Not a bad dish, but it wasn’t as good as the white quail.

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB SADDLE
“Pommes Purée,” Nantes Carrots, Snap Peas and Béarnaise Reduction

The lamb is prepared sous vide for 80% of the cooking, and seared for browning the rest of the way. This was a great piece of meat that was juicy and tender, and not too gamey.

The next course was the cheese course. Not being a fan of the cheese course, I opted to substitute this out for a potato gnocchi dish. Everyone else, however, stuck with the cheese.

“SCHARFE MAXX”
Hobbs’ Bacon, Roasted Romaine Lettuce and Tomato Compote

The substitute dish, a russet potato gnocchi, served with brown butter and grated black truffle, was very simple and good.

Next, the first of three desserts.

“DARK AND STORMY”
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread and Gros Michel Bananas

This was a light dessert, serving to cleanse the palate and give a sweet introduction to dessert courses.

Our next dessert was specifically requested off the menu, due to the fame it’s garnished over the years. Luckily for us, the kitchen obliged.

“COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS”
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts

This was probably the best doughnut I’ve ever had. Warm and soft – it was just delicious. The semifreddo had a rich coffee flavor to it (I took a scoop to show the “coffee” under the “milk froth”), but the highlight was really the doughnut.

The final dessert was a choice between two dishes.

“GÂTEAU SAINT NIZIER AU MANJARI”
Mango-Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam and Coconut Milk Sorbet

This was a flourless chocolate cake, and I really liked the coconut milk sorbet. The lime foam, topped with sea salt, was not really necessary, in my opinion.

BAKEWELL TART
Huckleberries, Marcona Almonds and Crème Fraîche Sherbet

This was an interesting dish. A little bit doughy, a little fruity – this would be a nice end to the meal.

MIGNARDISES

The mignardises for the night included a pecan tart, caramel and chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and assorted chocolates.

The pecan tart and macadamia nuts were not remarkable, but the chocolates were good, especially the pumpkin (orange and white colored at top). Unfortunately, we were so full that we were not able to try all of the flavors.

At the end of the meal, the bill comes out on a laundry tag, a fun touch that the restaurant has had since its inception.

In addition, we each got some shortbread cookies to take home.

We were lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen at the end of our meal.

We were told that Thomas Keller had been in the kitchen and left an hour earlier (DAMN!). However, it was great to be able to check out the kitchen, which was spotless. I was surprised by just how small the kitchen was, and how it was able to serve such an array of dishes in such a small space.

In all, it was a great experience. I was a little anxious that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, because they were quite high, and I had been hearing a lot of peoples’ concerns about Chef Keller’s decreasing involvement in the kitchen. However, the restaurant definitely lived up to my expectations and proved to be a fantastic meal.  We were all very pleased, and I can’t wait for my next trip back.

Ad Hoc – 11/28/09

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Ad Hoc is located down the street from The French Laundry and Bouchon in the Napa Valley town of Yountville. Whenever in the area, I stop by Bouchon Bakery to pick up some treats. One of my favorite bakeries, it was opened in 2003 to start serving fresh breads, tarts, cookies, and all sorts of goodies.

A look inside the bakery.

As it was around 5:30pm, a lot of the selection was depleted. However, there was still a variety of breads, cookies, tarts, and macarons available.

Their signature namesake item is a cork-shaped chocolate brownie called a ‘Bouchon.’ Notice the stack of them on the left in the picture below, and on top.  Calling them a brownie does not really do it justice, but it’s a closer, more delicious relative. These are a must-try here, and is also part of the signature dessert at Bouchon Bistro.

With my baked goods in hand, it was time to head down the street to Ad Hoc.

I’m not too sure what’s taken me so long to visit Ad Hoc. Opened in 2006, it was meant to be a temporary restaurant in the space, pending a new concept by Thomas Keller (a burger joint was widely rumored). The restaurant’s concept is fresh, comfortable food, served family-style. It is easily the most reasonable, accessible way to sample Chef Keller’s food. Because the restaurant became so popular, it became a permanent fixture in 2007.

The decor is comfortable and well-lit, with a bar area in front.

There is only one menu each day, posted that morning. I consider myself a pretty picky eater, so the idea of not knowing what the food will be until that day is a bit unsettling. Given this restaurant’s popularity and the fact that it’s a Thomas Keller restaurant – I had to give it a try. The menu rubric is typically as follows:

First course: Soup or salad
Second course: Main entree and sides
Third course: Cheese
Fourth course: Dessert

The only really predictable part of the menu is the famous fried chicken.  It’s served every other Monday night. On this Saturday evening, the menu was as follows.

First course – Broccolini Salad with prosciutto di san daniele, lola rossa, shaved crimini mushrooms, shaved red onions, kalamata olives, creamy fennel caper dressing

Second course – Prime Beef Ribeye with wild arugula, fingerling potatoes, meyer lemon vinaigrette, and a red bell pepper and winter squash gratin

Third course – Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Ardrahan melted on palladin toast, pickled carrots, marshall’s farm wildflower honey

Fourth course – Buttermilk Panna Cotta Trifle with pear compote, marinated blueberries and pistachio biscotti

Given that I’m a pretty big meat eater (especially beef), I was excited to see the ribeye on the menu and was wondering all day how it would be prepared.

The courses came out quickly, starting with the salad.

The broccolini was fresh and flavorful – I’ve lately become a pretty big fan of this vegetable. The prosciutto added a nice saltiness to go with the broccolini and lettuce. I rarely eat salads..I really don’t like them..but this was easy to eat, with clean, fresh flavors.

We decided to try a Modicum Meritage Red Blend to pair with the meat. Modicum wine is the house wine of The French Laundry, produced in limited quantities as a joint venture with an unnamed winery and the French Laundry.

Next came the main entree – the ribeye. I found it kind of amusing that they don’t ask how you’d like the meat prepared. It’s prepared medium rare – the way it should be. The loin of the ribeye (on the right) was grilled and then cooked sous-vide. The cap (3 chunks on the left) was grilled.  This is probably the first time I’ve had the loin and cap split apart with different preparations. The cap is definitely fattier and more tender, and the loin is more lean with a beefier flavor in my opinion. The meat was served with arugula and fingerling potatoes topped with a meyer lemon vinaigrette. Definitely tasty.

Now, was it better than what I could get at a good steakhouse? It was definitely different. A steakhouse is definitely not going to sous-vide my beef – typically it’s a sear and broil or just grill.  In the end, I’m not sure the work put into this preparation was better than a steakhouse ribeye, but it was still a tasty piece of meat – and T. Keller is not going to put a simple steak on the table.

On the side was the red bell pepper and winter squash gratin. This was also a good dish, showcasing the in-season squash and peppers with a nice breadcrumb crust on top.

Next was the cheese course.

I’m really never a fan of the cheese course and always try to substitute it out for a different course, but in certain occasions (like this one), it’s unavoidable.  This was a cow milk cheese served with toast, pickled carrots and honey. It was mildly pungent, and not really spreadable on the toast. The honey was delicious, and I thought it went well with the cheese. However, it did not convert me to being a fan of the cheese course.

Next up was the buttermilk panna cotta trifle. I’ve had a number of Thomas Keller’s panna cottas before at other restaurants and have been a fan. However, this one was on a yogurt-like consistency with a hint of sourness. Not being a fan of yogurt, I didn’t really care much for this dessert. The pears and blueberries inside did have good flavor, however.

The panna cotta trifle came with pistachio biscotti, which I found to be very good, especially when dipped.

In all, this was a pleasant meal. As a fairly picky eater, the menu did not totally go my way. However, I was quite pleased with the first two courses, especially being able to try the ribeye.  Did it live up to expectations? Sorta. Maybe not really. Nothing was really remarkably delicious, but I appreciated the freshness of the ingredients, and the food was executed very well.

The restaurant is deserving of another trip, and I know just the occasion – fried chicken night.