Cheers to Napa!

Last week started off horribly with nightmarish apartment troubles and ended with such a bang as one of the best weekends of my life… in Napa Valley. The father of a friend of ours is a pretty big player in the food and beverage industry, so we got to stay in Silverado’s four-bedroom guesthouse, dine at the Franciscan (with our personal chef), and tour Opus One and taste their 2007 vintage — nobody could wipe the smiles off our faces all weekend. In addition, we also ate at Chandon’s restaurant Etoile, Top Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, as well as Go Fish, which was present at Toast of the Town two weeks ago. We wrapped up our trip nicely by visiting my favorite sparkling wine maker, Mumm Napa. I acquired so many new corks (each one embodying a moment and memory) to add to my cork collection — Cheers!

Friday night, we arrived around 7:30, dropped off our luggage in the guesthouse, and headed to Etoile, where Ryan managed to make a reservation last minute on the drive down. This turned out to be one of the best meals of my life:

Etoile Restaurant (in Domaine Chandon Winery)
1 California Dr
Yountville, CA 94599

At Etoile, you choose either the prix frixe four-course or six-course dinner, and everyone in your party has to choose the same, meaning your 200-pound boyfriend can’t choose the six-course if everyone else can only finish the four-course. There are four choices in each category with suggested wine pairings, which you may order as a package or by the glass. To start off, we all got to try some tuna tartare on cucumber (on the house), and for my appetizer, I decided to be bold and went with the sweetbread and calf liver (think chunky foie gras). The suggested pairing was the Etoile rose, so I got a glass of that for the rest of the meal. The savory foie gras somehow went really well with the sweet roasted grapes, which was a pleasant surprise. I liked Ryan’s hiramasa sashimi a lot more though, so I included a photo of it for memory’s sake. My first course was the red snapper, which was so crispy and well-seasoned on the outside and tender on the inside with a perfect flake. It was delicious. My veal tenderloin couldn’t even compare afterwards. For dessert, I went with the hazelnut chocolate semifreddo, which tasted like a nutella cream pie (disguised in lava cake form). As another option, you may also choose one of six artisan cheeses for dessert instead, which came with two generous slices as well as mixed nuts and croutons. If I could go back, I’d gone with a cheese instead, but dinner was so wonderful that I had no reason to complain and only a grin the entire time.

Franciscan Winery
1178 Galleron Lane
St. Helena, CA 94574

Our gracious host first gave us a tour of the vineyards in front and then brought us into the “Sonoma Room” for a tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet (which they’re best known for), and then their Magnificat, a truly magnificent Bordeaux style blend of mainly Cab and Merlot. Franciscan almost converted me to a red wine lover. With one surprise after another, we entered our own private dining room for a delicious three-course lunch by Chef Boris Olvera, who prepared our meal with such care (since we were the only guests he had to cook for that day). While I still consider Etoile as my best meal on the trip, this was easily everyone else’s favorite. To start off, we had a romaine heart salad with a blue cheese dressing paired with Franciscan’s 2008 Cuvee Sauvage. The dish that blew everyone away was the pork tenderloin and polenta paired with a 2003 Mount Veeder Cab. As if we weren’t satisfied enough, the chef surprised us with poached pears covered in whipped cream and drizzled with caramel. Delicious. Unwilling to part, we managed to leave with four cases, one book, one poster, and numerous memories.

Opus One Winery
7900 St. Helena Hwy
Oakville, CA 94562

Half of our party has already decided to become aspiring sommeliers so being able to tour this pretigious winery was such a privilege and treat. Our tour guide was extremely patient and knowledgeable enough to answer our endless questions, and the estate was simply breathtaking with beautiful views from the front steps as well as the roof terrace. Opus One is a collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild (or rather, his successors) and Robert Mondavi and they only produce one wine of “ultimate quality” each year — this trip, we each got to try a glass of the 2007 vintage.

Bottega Ristorante
6525 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Ryan and I must have called up over fifteen restaurants on Yelp before we were able to make a Saturday night reservation at a decently-rated restaurant. The fact that we were able to make a reservation should’ve been a sign, because none of us thought the food was that great. (The Yelp ratings are probably skewed by Michael Chiarello’s Food Network fans.) My artichoke salad was decent and Ryan’s sashimi served on a salt block was awesome presentation, but Frances’s and my lobster pasta were both served nearly cold (with the pasta dry and hard). Perhaps preparing varying dishes for our party of six and presenting them at the same time was a challenge, but I think most restaurants can handle that just fine.

Silverado Vineyards
6121 Silverado Trl
Napa, CA 94558

Saturday night, we sat around the fireplace guessing “stories with holes in them” and admiring the full moon; and then Sunday morning, we checked out of the guesthouse and headed to the tasting room for one last goodbye. I really enjoyed the Sangiovese but Ryan also purchased a bottle of SOLO, their 95pt cab. Our bartender gave us a rundown of the history of Silverado in story form… how Ron Miller used to play football for USC before Diane Miller’s dad told him to quit and work for him — then revealed at the end that Diane Miller’s dad is Walt Disney, surprise!

Mumm Napa
8445 Silverado Trl
Rutherford, CA 94558

I thought we were heading back home before Ryan decided to make one last winery stop at Mumm’s. (I have a separate cork collection for champagne corks since Mumm’s Rose was the first bottle we ever shared together and have shared 50x since, so being able to visit this winery made me so giddy.) I could probably identify their classic rose and brut prestige out of 100 sparkling wines, so I decided to taste a few others and ended up really liking the Cuvee M, DVX 2003, and the Blanc de Bancs. A bottle of 2006 Devaux Ranch (a winery exclusive) currently sits daintly on my dresser, thanks to Ryan’s new club membership. Sweeet!

Go Fish
641 Main St
St. Helena, CA 94574

After all that sparkling wine, a few of us were really craving some sushi, so we stopped by Go Fish for lunch before heading home. For $20+ rolls and $6 miso, I was really expecting better quality, but the food was decent. The only roll I truly enjoyed though, was their signature go fish roll… go figure. The spider had a little too much batter, the miso was extremely salty, and the specialty rolls for that day (the lobster and the geisha) weren’t that spectacular. I was too wined out to drink anymore and many of the rolls had a lot of sauce or seaweed, so perhaps that’s why I couldn’t taste much of the fish. All in all, I’d give this place three stars.

Thank you, Napa, for such a memorable weekend!