Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the real deal

okey dokey kiddos, here it is! Evs & K's Full Napa Review!

i've broken our trip up into categories instead of going in sequential order because i'm crazy like that....

Arrival and Lodging

we flew direct from Dallas into San Francisco, catching the Vallejo ferry from the landmark Ferry Building along the Embarcadero (a relatively short cab ride from SFO). from the ferry we had great views of Fisherman's Wharf, the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridges, and Alcatraz. we were under the impression that taking the ferry and picking up our rental car in Vallejo would cut our travel time to the valley in half (plus, ferry boats are kinda sexy), but, all things considered, i think it would have taken the exact same amount of time (plus, this ferry boat was not sexy). however, we got to see some classic San Fran sites on a bright sunny day which was key since the day we actually spent in SF was uber-dreary and rainy. and we got to make Meet the Parents marijuana references whilst enjoying iced lattes, so there's that too.

at the fabulous recommendation of my dearest CSP, we stayed three nights at the adorable Cottages of Napa Valley. i am usually wholly against sharing pictures of "romantic getaway hotel rooms" but this one is just so freakin' cute that i am breaking my cardinal rule. seriously, the place looked like Pottery Barn ever so lovingly threw up on it... in a good way!

each cottage (only 8 total) had its own porch, kitchenette, ourdoor fire pit, and adrondike chairs galore (i love!). breakfast was delivered via picnic basket to our doorsteps every morning from Bouchon Bakery. and every Friday night there are complimentary wine and cheese tastings - we lucked out and had Ceja Vineyards visiting during our stay - utterly fabulous!

The Big Wineries

we didn't want to spend too much time at the bigger wineries for several reasons. first, you can usually find their wines back home (even their reserved "good stuff"). second, when i think "Sutter Home," i think of the gallons of white zin my suitemates and i pounded sophomore year (paired with Lucky Charms and vanilla frosting, obvs). and lastly, not to be a total snob, but that's where all those damn tour buses full of Franzia drinkers stop.

however, we did take 3 tours of big name vineyards - Robert Mondavi (the Twilight Tour), Sterling (self-guided), and Beringer (the Rhine House Tour).

Mondavi was absolutely gorgeous and our tour guide was very knowledgeable (ie: after this one, we nixed all other "how to make wine" tours), and it was nice to walk around the vineyards and winery at dusk after the property had been closed to the public. Mondavi also boasted an impressive veggie garden - i was a tad obsessed with photographing the artichokes. oh! and they gave us lots of cheese. yay!

not surprisingly, we have about 15 pictures like this.

we went to Sterling mostly because Frommers recommended its self-guided tour, although, after Mondavi, we didn't really stop to read any of the information as much as we just strolled the property and enjoyed the scenery. and there was a cable car involved. always a good time.

sadly, this was the only decent picture i got of Beringer (it was at the end of a long day of tasting - oops). i actually forgot that we had reservations for a tour there and we almost decided to skip out when they called 30 minutes prior to confirm. i'm very glad that we decided not to waste the money we'd already put down because the tour of the family homes and estate was fabulous - if only for architectural purposes.


i think you could safely call me a foodie. between the wine and the 5 star restaurants, Napa is a veritable playground for me. however, Evs' relationship with food is much more practical. the man eats to live, rather than the other way around. he prefers larger portions of healthy items - not a huge fan of pasta, heavy sauces, anything fried, pizza, anything "weird," etc. throw in some lactose intolerance and that's Evs (although, the boy will eat snickerdoodles and oatmeal raisin cookies like you've never seen)!

so we had a conundrum on our hands. trying to reel in the visions of The French Laundry dancing in my head, i made reservations at Celedon and La Toque based on glowing recommendations and Bottega - this year's toast of the valley and Chef Michael Chiarello's new baby. looking at the menus, i thought i'd found a good mix of both our tastes. then Celedon had to go and change its menu to its fall offerings... and i wasn't so sure about our first night's selection. so we hit up Market in St. Helena. not a Top 10 Meal but very enjoyable for sure and great atmosphere (we had oysters, heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, halibut, pork tenderloin, and a side of assorted heirlooms).

Friday night was Bottega. thoroughly disappointed in all aspects of our meal. first, we had a 9 PM reservation that i made over a month ago. we had to wait 30 minutes to be seated and there was no room in the bar for us even to have a drink. we were finally seated at one of the long banquettes - i'm not a huge banquette fan to begin with since i always feel like the people next to us are eavesdropping (because i'm always eavesdropping) but they work in more intimate restaurants... Bottega is not an intimate restaurant - its loud and there are droves of people who are there to be seen. and we were seated next to four men who - from the appearance of their table - seem to have tasted every wine on the menu and were yucking it up like they are celebrities. over the din, we realize that the menu is not as Evs-friendly as i had thought and he's pretty much left with tomato soup and a salad. i order the veggie cannelloni which tastes like an entire Meyer's lemon was squeezed into the ricotta. about halfway through our meal, Chiarello - Top Chef Master and Food Network star himself - appears and i'm thinking "huh, maybe he'll be really gracious and cool"... NOPE. he practically straddled me sliding in next to the Four Douches with 'nary an apology or an "excuse me" and just sat there next to me, thigh to thigh, like we were riding the freakin' subway together as he proceeded to let that entire table kiss his ass for the entirety of our meal. i couldn't even use my knife in my left hand without jabbing him with my elbow (which i may have done accidentally-on-purpose several times more than necessary).

so, to sum up, Michael Chiarello is a huge asshat and Bottega is all hype, no delivery.

Sunday night we also ended up changing our plans and going with something a little safer that i knew 100% we would both enjoy. Press did not disappoint - i can easily say it was one of the best steaks i've ever had, the restaurant was gorgeous, the service was impeccable, and no one batted an eye when we chose to pay the corkage fee and drink our own bottle of wine instead of making a selection off their menu (which is stellar but there are hardly any bottles under $100).

for lunch we had picnics fit for kings - cheese and bread and meats from Oakville Grocery which we stopped at practically every time we passed it (which was a lot). if you go to Napa, make this a stop or twelve for sure! i bought so many gifts and yummy things for our kitchen, including a white truffle olive oil spray that i shall now put on everything that crosses my stove.

also, if you have a break between tastings, do not pass St. Helena Olive Oil Co. by - so many goodies to be had (their organic spicy heirloom pasta sauce? GAH! SO GOOD!) and for coffee in Yountville, i loved Yountville Caboose!

don't miss v.2 tomorrow for recaps of the smaller wineries (our favs!) and our rainy day in San Fran!


  1. Organic Heriloom Spicy Pasta Sauce... dying over here! I picked up a similar type from Westridge/Ojai Food Company a few weeks ago in Ojai and I have to admit those wine/olive oil regions make a mean jar of sauce! I had written off all aribiatta jars but that one made me eat my words. I would buy it up in the case if I could!

    Your trip looked amazing and I'm thoroughly jealous!

  2. This just confirms that I need to add the Napa Valley to my places I want to see and do list. Love this recap. I'm bookmarking this for future reference. :)

    I don't consider myself a foodie at all, but am obsessed with Top Chef, particularly the Masters spin-off. I'd love to try some of those chefs' restaurants, however for me, Michael Chiarello was never on that list. He struck me on the show as incredibly arrogant and ungrateful for his success. He was so rude to the younger chefs in one challenge. It doesn't surprise me he was a total ass. Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless really interest me; they are both so gracious and were respectful of the younger, less experienced chefs. Luckily Hubert has a few restaurants here in Vegas, I'm looking forward to trying eventually.

  3. Hi Kate! Thanks for sharing your pictures - I had to laugh though because if you go to my blog you will see some of the exact same kind of photos - fruit stands and all - including winery photos - except mine was in Germany! LOL Glad to see I'm not the only one taking photos like these. I'm on day 2 of my 9 day vacation in Germany last week - Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing more of your photos from California! :o)

  4. Looks like an amazing trip. I must step up the begging and pleading with the husband to take that trip to Napa.

  5. What a beautiful trip! It looks like y'all had a wonderful time. I've been wanting to take a girls' trip to the wine country for a while now, but just haven't made it out there. I'm not sure the hubs would enjoy it as much as I would. He's not much of a foodie, either.

  6. Love the pics! I'd love to go to Napa, someday the hubs will take me...

    Bummer about Chiarell. I kind of got that impression from him on TCM. I loved Rick Bayless and now want to go to Chicago to eat his mole sauce!

    I think you've inspired me to open up a good bottle tonight!

  7. OMG...that cottage looks amazing! I've already forwarded this website to my hubby...hopefully he gets the hint...ha!

    Looks like you guys had a great trip! I love San Fran!

  8. I loved all the pictures!! Glad you had such a good time. My parents live about an hour from Napa, so we used to have day trips there all the time--so pretty!

  9. Gah, you're making me homesick for my sweet homestate!! We used to trek up to Napa several times a year just for a mini vacation. My little part of the state is the newer wine country, so, we have many things in common with Napa and Sonoma these days, but, the weather is nicer up north and gosh, the food! Oh the food! How I miss the food... le sigh! Glad you two had a fabulous vacation.

    PS. I used to work for an offshoot of Beringer :)

  10. Terrific photos! I love the heirloom tomatoes and mixed mushrooms.

  11. Love all the fun pics and looks like you had a fab time! :) Glad you enjoyed your time in CA and can't wait for the rest of the recap. I can't believe that chef, what a douche. I would have been so pissed.

  12. Everything is so beautiful: the food, the scenery, etc. I can't wait to read more!

  13. I'm destroyed at the news that Chiarello is a douchenozzle. My friend Natalie of Moose and Lulu met him a few weeks ago, and she had a pleasant experience.

    Great pics, you and Evs are adorable.

  14. Riddle me this: how did a cheese lover like you end up with someone who dabbles in lactose intolerance? Is it that you don't like to share?

    Also, Chiarello was my secret chef crush and now that will have to change. I suppose I will be forced to stick with Anthony Bourdain (that counts, yes?)

  15. ok, i'm pissed for you about bottega. and wtf was up with him, mr. chef himself, just sitting next to you and NOT ONCE asking if you were enjoying your meal? not cool. i've always been interested in an olive oil tasting so i'm living through you right now. i've also heard great things about Press.

    Sigh, i need to take a trip there STAT!

  16. lovin' the inside scoop! ( i know, i know, so late )

  17. I just read through both your recap posts, and I must say that I am SO jealous of your fabulous trip! Your little cottage was darling. We've talked about one day visiting Napa Valley, and when we do, I now know where to stay!


happy little comments!