No, but really - Pitch a tent in the middle of that vineyard, kill any possible snakes around it (EEK! I know. It's a thing.), and throw in a barrel of wine,
Jon and I returned from our wine country/San Francisco vacation last Saturday, and I cannot wait to tell you ALL about it! For the sake of not dumping it all out on you at once (and let's be real, for the sake of dragging all of the wine- and food-induced memories out as much as possible), I'm splitting the vacation up into three different blog posts: Days 1-2 (Sonoma, and a bit of Napa), days 3-4 (Napa, and a bit of the Russian River Valley), and days 5-7 (San Francisco). So let's take it away!
Jon and I arrived at the airport insanely early after having only gotten about 1 1/2 hours of sleep (TOO EXCITED ABOUT ALL THE WINE NATURALLY). We had some food in United's baller E terminal, then set out on the open skies.
We kicked things off on their pretty patio with a bottle of their AWESOME rosé and some divine complimentary bread. We also split a tasty appetizer of two different cheeses and pickled vegetables.
For our main course of food, Jon ordered trout, and I ordered the restaurant's chilled carrot soup, as well as their avocado toast (without shrimp). The soup was earthy yet sweet, cooling, and simply outstanding. The avocado toast was fresh and delicious! It included a drizzling of garlic aioli, which was ever-so-naughty and wonderful.
After lunch, it was time for Jon and I to check into our beyond adorable cottage we rented off of VRBO. I was seriously in love with this place!
Then we bopped on over to the nearby Gundlach Bundschu winery for a tasting, as recommended to me by my friend Lenny (matter of fact, he and my parents pretty much planned out the entire trip to us!).
Next up, dinner.
We did not eat at Bouchon (I've been to the Vegas location before, and Jon and I aren't really sweets people), but we did bop around Yountville a bit before having dinner at Michael Chiarello's restaurant Bottega, and I fell totally in love with this picture-perfect, quaint little town!
(You can also pitch me a tent there.)
(Except don't, because what happened to us at Bottega was such a beyond-exceptional restaurant experience that I'd absolutely go bankrupt from eating their astonishing food every night.)
When we were seated in the sleek, dimly lit restaurant, we were presented with a hunk of crusty bread slapped right onto the table, along with a garlicky oily buttery spread. It was rustic, fragrant, and lovely.
Prior to coming to Napa, my parents showed me a Food Network TV special on the restaurants there. One of the places featured was Bottega, and people raved about a fried dough appetizer they have. I asked our enthusiastic and informed server about it, and he told me that unfortunately this food item was only available on the restaurant's fall menu - OH BUT WAIT - they happened to be doing a catering event that night which featured them, so he snagged two (one with prosciutto, one without), and gifted them to us free of charge!
Oh, and they were GOOD. They basically take balls of dough, then fry them, then dust them with parmesan cheese, and top it off with figs (and prosciutto). They sit upon a sweet frothy prosecco foam, and everything about the dish is glorious. It's like a pre-dinner palate-cleansing dessert that's light and reminiscent of funnel cake (a very very delicate and fancy funnel cake!).
Our server also recommended the restaurant's insalada di piselli (shaved snap peas with whole Meyer lemon dressing, marcona almonds, sieved egg, and pecorino), which tbh didn't sound that exciting to me, but I decided to trust him.
And this was wonderful as well! The raw, fresh snap peas were vibrant and textured, and the lemon dressing was light and smooth. The cheese was earthy and fragrant, and the sieved eggs added a wonderful softness to the dish, tying it all together. It was an unusual, unexpected, and fantastic salad!
For Jon's appetizer, he ordered the uova verdi e pancetta cotta, aka the egg and meat delight. He enjoyed the varied tastes within the dish, and I enjoyed its beautiful deconstructed presentation!
For our main course of food, Jon ordered the maiale “spagnolo” alla griglia (acorn fed pork shoulder loin with Tuscan beans and grilled stone fruit mostarda). I opted for the raviolo di uovo (potato pasta filled with farm hen egg yolk, ricotta and Swiss chard, with truffled brown butter and sage brown butter), which was another food item I'd heard rave reviews about.
Little did I know our lives were about to drastically change.
And Jon adored his dish, gushing on and on (when he could find the words) about the roasted stone fruit that came on the side. We were both so totally enraptured with what we were eating!
My meal, and our entire restaurant experience at Bottega was by far one of the top five food experiences I've ever had. Period. (It's right up there with the Canadian steakhouse at Epcot, Coltivare, and a pumpkin gnocchi dish I had in 2005 at a castle in Italy).
Onto Day Two.
We had bought some staples at the local Safeway grocery store to make our own breakfast at home for the next two mornings. After enjoying our nourishing food, we headed off to Benziger Winery in Sonoma, where we took a tram tour of their biodynamic vineyards and gardens. The tour - which I'd reserved ahead of time - cost $25 a person, and included a tasting of five of their wines. The grounds were absolutely GORGEOUS, and it was fascinating to learn all about their creative sustainable practices. With the exception of all of the plant life causing Jon to start a chain of non-stop sneezing that would last a few days, we loved it! The wines were wonderful, and we bought a bottle to send home.
Not only does VJB have fantastic wine, they have a restaurant that makes fantastic pizza, which you can enjoy out on their lovely, lively (think accordian players and opera singers) patio! I opted for a vegetable pizza, which had pesto on it, and it was SO GOOD.
(I also may or may not have really needed some carby food due to, ahem, having had quite a few glasses of wine at this point.)
While at VJB, one of the sandals that I've had forever and that I love so much decided to break. Without a functioning right shoe, we headed back to our cottage so I could swap out before the next winery. But then we were like "oh hey bed, you really look like you could use someone napping in you," so we decided to rest up before dinner.
Day drinking is hard work, y'all!
Our dinner reservations for that night were at Celadon in downtown Napa. I had insanely high expectations for the food at this restaurant because, a) I'd heard great things from my parents about it, and b) it used to (I don't think it does anymore?) have one or more Michelin stars.
To start, we were presented with fresh, fluffy bread, and a lovely herby olive oil and balsamic vinegar mix. We also ordered the restaurant's macadamia nut crusted goat cheese appetizer, which we were both pretty disappointed in. The cheese itself was pretty dry and was not complimented well by the fruit on the plate. The crostini didn't help it either, as I felt a softer bread would have probably brought some more moisture to the dish. Overall, it just kind of fell flat.
For his main course of food, Jon ordered the bacon jacketed quail, which came with mashed potatoes and sauteed kale. It smelled insanely good, but he reported that he wasn't floored by it.
I had explained to our server that I was a vegetarian, and I asked him if he thought I should order the pasta special of the day (without chicken), or the only vegetarian entree on the menu, the grilled artichoke, which came with quinoa salad, toasted almonds, and tomato compote. He wasn't very helpful, and responded with, "Well, the only vegetarian item on the menu is the artichoke, so..." Even though a grilled artichoke as an entree sounds like too much work (and not that exciting), I figured, hell this is/was a Michelin star restaurant, it's gotta be good!
...but once again, I was pretty disappointed. The artichoke itself was, well, any old artichoke you could get at any old restaurant. There was absolutely nothing special about it. The quinoa though, I'll admit was very good. It was wonderfully tomato-y, and had nice textures and flavors of nuts, olives, and golden raisins mixed in. So while I definitely had zero excitement whatsoever about the artichoke, at least the quinoa was stellar. I would have preferred a whole bowl of just that!
We still had some room in our bellies, so we decided to split the cheesecake with vanilla wafer crust and huckleberry compote for dessert.
I was very glad we ordered this, because it was by far the best thing we ate that night. The cheesecake was suuuuper creamy, the crust was soft, flaky, and divine, and the huckleberry compote was sweet, textured, and playful. So while the whole meal was kind of hit or miss (the quinoa really was great), the dessert was a shining star.
After dinner, we walked around downtown Napa for a bit, which was also very darling (though Yountville still reigns supreme in my mind!).
After a wine- and food-packed day, we headed back to our cottage to rest up for Day 3!
TO BE CONTINUED.
*All photos were taken by me with my iPhone, or by Jon with his Nikon.