Posted from Glen Ellen, CA
We visited recently with six friends from Pittsburgh who were vacationing in the Napa Valley. As is our custom when we’re together, Jan, Art, Tim, Terri, Bill, Sandy, and Bill and I devoted quality time to eating and drinking wine, which meshes fully with Napa Valley’s sensibilities. The dining scene in the valley “next door” is quite vibrant.
The shortcut route between the two valleys provided a daily adrenaline rush. The Trinity Road/Oakville Grade, which connects Highway 12 in our Sonoma Valley with Highway 29 in our friends’ Napa Valley, is of such ear-popping steepness and unmarked, pointy hairpin turns with non-existent shoulders, albeit with stunning views, that I double dare the cyclists in the Tour de France to give it a try. The key, we realized, was to go ever-so slowly and not cut the tangents. Knowing that a glass of wine and a gourmet meal with great friends was the reward for successfully executing this driving challenge further heightened our celebratory mood.
We enjoyed wonderful meals and local wines at the following restaurants. They provided lively, scenic, yet relaxed, settings for conversation, laughter, sharing memories and making new ones.
Hurley’s – Situated in the middle of Yountville, Hurley’s, with its ivy-covered entrance, offers a comfortable dining room anchored by a stone fireplace and featuring large windows that look out upon an expansive covered patio. Owner/executive chef Bob Hurley describes his menu as local California cuisine high in flavor and influenced by the Mediterranean, which pairs well with wine. Favorites from the menu included: sockeye salmon with corn and basil mashed potatoes; sesame crusted ahi tuna; and rosemary and maple roasted chicken.
Auberge du Soleil – A Relais & Chateaux property tucked within a quiet hillside in Rutherford, Auberge du Soleil boasts a sweeping vista from the patio that is breathtaking. The Mediterranean menu is equally impressive. An ingredient new to all of us was wild hopper shrimp, a name our waitress said derives from the fact that the shrimp live, that is hop, between both fresh and salt water. They were sweet and succulent in the heirloom tomato risotto. Other standouts were the roasted Kurobuta pork belly with romaine and avocado, and the Kona Kampachi crudo with nori and edamame in a black garlic vinaigrette.
Tra Vigne – Two carved lions guard the entrance of this imposing St. Helena landmark. A canopy of trees bedecked with white lights overhangs the courtyard, ideal for al fresco dining. The menu deftly marries two cuisines – Tuscan, featuring hearty house made pastas, meats, cheese, and olive oil – and Napa Valley’s, with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients that help showcase its wines. Do not even think about coming here without ordering the signature mozzarella cheese “al minuto,” hand made when ordered and served atop grilled bread with Napa Valley olive oil. Request a side of heirloom tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The combination is bliss.
Brix – The garden setting of this Napa classic is primo — lushly abundant with greenery, color, and scent. Its covered and open-air patios are amidst vegetables planted in 14 raised beds, flowering plants, fruit orchards, and vineyards. The gardens inspire the farm-to-table menu, which featured wild king salmon with shitake mushrooms and bacon glazed carrots, and Berkshire pork chop with smoked peach glaze and Anson Mills grits cake.
Bottega – Bottega in Yountville is the brainchild of chef Michael Chiarello, noted television host, author, winemaker, and creator of NapaStyle lifestyle brand. Two fireplaces enhance the convivial ambiance of the restaurant’s large covered patio. Chiarello crafted a menu of micro-regional Italian cuisine that is divided into antipasti, pasta, secondi (main course) and contorni (vegetables). The Dungeness crab risotto special was sublime. Also must-haves are: ricotta gnocchi with salsa di pomodoro and pecorino; rigatoni alla cacciatora (tomato-braised rabbit); black pepper bucatini alla carbonara; and red wheat tagliarini bolognese.
So many acclaimed restaurants, so many added pounds. Sigh.