Napa Valley Guide Part 1: Dining

We had so much fun in Napa celebrating T’s 35th and our 10th Anniversary.  It was just what the doctor ordered, and we returned refreshed, with oodles of wine, and with a bit more wine knowledge.

I thought it would be best to break up our travels in to two posts — (1) dining and (2) drinking.  Read on for a rundown of where we ate in Napa (and a few great places in Sausalito/San Francisco too).

When I was planning our trip, I tried to focus on what kinds of meals we’d be wanting on a given day.  For example, I knew we’d be arriving on a Sunday and that we would want to grab some dinner but probably not a fancy one since we would have been traveling all day and would still be on East Coast time (meaning a 7:00 pm dinner is like a 10:00 pm one).  So, I thought Thomas Keller’s (yes that guy who also has The French Laundry) Ad Hoc would be perfect — and I was right!

Ad Hoc (Yountville)

The menu at Ad Hoc is set each night — four courses with no decisions (which is exactly what we needed).  There are a few substitutions that can be made for an up-charge, but we stuck with the set menu.  We also opted for the reasonably priced wine pairings and let the restaurant take it from there.

We started with a deliciously gourmet spin on a potato salad, moved on to heavenly short ribs with sautéed greens and baby carrots glazed in curry butter, and then on to a cheese course with the dreamiest cheese and honey, and finished with make-your-own ice cream sundaes (complete with a candle for T).  I’d say it was the perfect travel day dinner with its elevated comfort food, relaxed atmosphere and speedy but not rushed service.

We liked the potato salad so much that I tried to recreate it when we got back to Atlanta.  I roasted white and purple fingerling potatoes (with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper), sliced them up and artfully displayed them on a serving platter and topped them with hard boiled eggs, grated cheese, sliced cornichons (those tiny little pickles), green beans (I steamed them but will blanch them next time so that they retain some crispiness), fresh dill, sour cream, and more salt and pepper.  It was delicious!

Auberge du Soleil Restaurant

We had breakfast every morning at our hotel.  Starting off each day with a cup of coffee (that I actually had time to finish), fresh juice, and the dainty and delicious little strawberry rhubarb coffee cake they brought to the table as soon as we sat down was, needless to say, more than civilized.  It was downright heaven . . .

The view just can’t be beat.  I highly recommend stopping by for breakfast, lunch, or a sunset cocktail if you are ever in the area.  I hear the dinner is fantastic too (the restaurant is Michelin rated).

Here is the breakfast menu.  T tried all sorts of things and was never disappointed.  I, on the other hand, remained loyal to my true love (the Japanese breakfast) except for one morning where I foolishly ordered the simple farm egg breakfast.  I only wish I could have this Japanese breakfast every morning.  It was everything I ever wanted in a breakfast.  And that miso soup on the back left of the tray . . . Sigh.

Sunshine Foods Market (St. Helena)

After a delicious breakfast on Monday, we set out for a day of wine touring with Laurie from Squire Livery.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Napa Guide to hear about this great service.  After we finished our first tour and tasting, we stopped by Sunshine Foods Market in the adorable town of St. Helena to pick up sandwiches for our picnic lunch at the next vineyard.  It was quite possibly the most delicious sandwich I have ever had (but that may have been influenced by the California sunshine — and the California wine — and my hot Texan husband).

If you make it to this adorable market — make sure you get the Sioux-Z-Wow Grilled Chicken Sandwich (Sunshine Citrus Chicken breast, with a sioux-z-wow mayo, double cream brie, lettuce, tomato, S&P on a toasted roll).

Auberge du Soleil Bar (Rutherford Hill)

I purposefully skipped making any plans for Monday night since I knew we would be wine tasting that entire day.  The last thing I wanted was to feel pressure to get ready for dinner when all we would probably want to do is veg by the pool and roll up to the hotel bar for some appetizers.

Here is the bar menu.  We loved loved loved the special pizza with duck and arugula.  It was especially yummy with our bottle of California Pinot Noir.

Redd (Yountville)

For Tuesday, I knew we’d want to try something a little fancier.  This was the night we decided we’d celebrate our anniversary (since it is actually in August).  We went to Redd, and it was by far our best meal in Napa.  All of our meals were delicious so that is really saying something.  The restaurant describes itself as showcasing “regionally inspired cuisine with ethnic influences.”  I know that may sound like it is deserving of an eye roll — but it describes the food perfectly.  I’d say it definitely has a heavy Japanese/Thai side to the menu  — which I personally adore.

Since we decided this would be our fanciest night, we opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings.  What was really fun about the tasting menu was that T and I each got different dishes at each course, and you never knew what was coming next (because there was no menu set in front of us).  We had so much fun trying to guess what would be set in front of us next.  Every single morsel of our dinner was delectable.  Standouts included the best bite of scallop in my entire life and an out-of-this-world duck dish.

You can check out the dinner menu here.

I have absolutely not photos to document this experience because we were too busy enjoying ourselves!

Sol Bar (Calistoga)

On Wednesday I knew we had a 10:00 am tour and tasting scheduled at Schramsberg (bubbly house and caves up towards Calistoga).  I had heard great things about Sol Bar (at the Solage Hotel in Calistoga) and thought it would be the perfect post-bubbles lunch spot.

You can check out there lunch menu here.  They are also open for breakfast, brunch and dinner.  I believe it has a Michelin star too.

T was pretty excited about these fish tacos.

And we started off our lunch with the most delicious lettuce wraps and a burrata and zucchini dish with crusty bread.  The burrata dish was so good that I had to replicate it when we got home.

Here is my attempt.  I topped burrata with sliced zucchini, fresh mint from our garden, toasted pistachios, lemon zest, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  We used spoons to pile it on to crusty baguette slices.  Delish!

And they brought us the most delicious coconut ice cream to end the meal and to celebrate T’s birthday.

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch (St. Helena)

On our last night, we went to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.  Our dinner was perfectly good.  In fact, T had some beets and actually enjoyed them (which if you know him is crazy).  But, of all the restaurants, this is probably one we won’t be returning too.  There really was nothing wrong with our meal, it just didn’t rank compared to our other great dinners.

Oxbow Public Market (Napa)

We never ate in downtown Napa, but we walked through the Oxbow Public Market on our way out of town to San Francisco for our last night.  It had a lot of big name food joints that I’ve heard great things about (Hog Island Oyster Bar, Gott’s Roadside for burgers, Model Bakery for English muffins, etc.).

There was also a little market to pick up picnic provisions (cured meats, bread, cheese, crackers, fruit — you name it) or stuff to stock your kitchen if you are renting a house in the area.  We even managed to find a cute bookstore where we bought some books for the plane ride back and picked up a few cute baby and toddler books for the girls.

You can check out a list of all the merchants here.

Hungry for more Napa area restaurants? I found the Goop City Guide to be very helpful in deciding where we should eat (and drink, and sleep, and so on).

Restaurants that were also high on my list (but we didn’t have time to go) included — Bar Terra, The French Laundry and/or Meadowood (maybe next time), Bouchon, Redd Wood, and Archetype (if for nothing else but to admire the interior).

Image via Archetype’s Website

On Thursday we checked out of our hotel (sob) and headed towards San Francisco.  We took the scenic Highway 101 back (which I highly recommend because it winds you thru gorgeous Sonoma and lands you in Marin County / Sausalito) before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in to San Francisco.

Fish (Sausalito)

We had a quick dockside lunch at Fish.

T enjoyed his fish and chips, and my fish tacos were perfectly good (although not quite as good as the ones from Sol Bar).  Fish reminded me a lot of the dockside seafood restaurants in Savannah.

This would be a fun place to stop with the kiddos.  I am sure we will be back.

Leo’s Oyster Bar (San Francisco – Financial District)

We headed to Leo’s Oyster Bar for the last night of our trip.  Y’all — this place is fabulous.  If I could, I would fly back to San Francisco just to eat here again.

The oyster selection was A+, and the foie gras toast (with ginger, scallions and uni butter) was bananas.  We may have ordered a second order of the toast for dessert.  It is located in the Financial District (which was only like 1/4 mile from our hotel), but it is 100% worth the trip if you are staying somewhere else in the city.  Or anywhere on the West Coast for that matter.

Here is the dinner menu.  And the oyster menu.

Oh, and did I mention the interior?  I can see why it is has been said to be “the perfect place to start an affair” — or in our case, continue a 10+ year one.

Image via Architectural Digest

Stay tuned for where we tasted in Napa and for some of our favorite wines.

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