A Ferry, A Train, A Bottle of Champagne.

The past few months have been a little rough, and just as I thought I was reaching a tipping point, the storm subsided when I left work permanently last week (with nothing lined up purposely). For the first time in a long time, I felt a great sense of relief — the kind infused with joy from the freedom unburdened by responsibility and the new opportunities unconstrained by set schedules.

And then I got engaged!

Ryan says the engagement he had planned was not just for a single moment but for a two month journey that we would embark on together, one rooted in freedom, fun, and discovery. With both of our career ambitions on pause, we have local excursions, coastal road trips, and cross-country conferences lined up, back-to-back.

Our journey started last weekend when we set sail for wine country…

Sunday night, we hopped aboard the Wine Train, which I thought would belong in a theme park or be akin to Monterey’s rickety Wine Trolley, and instead completely proved me wrong and rightly belonged in Napa as a restaurant. Our four course meal was cooked and prepared on the train, while it was traveling from Napa, through Yountville’s rolling vineyards to St. Helena and back — during sunset.

All in all, not a bad meal for the all-inclusive price we paid for entertainment! Dinner, we ate in a very restaurant-like train car, then afterwards, we moved two cars up to one that was arranged and designed more like a cafe and bar — very cute indeed. Honorable mentions: the delightful sage cheddar in the hors d’oeuvre and the creamy shrimp risotto that came with my salmon!

Actually, it should be mentioned that prior to boarding, we crossed a “Love Bridge” where we locked an engraved lock to the fence as a symbol of “locking our love in place forever” (assuming we threw the keys over the bridge and into the water — which we didn’t do, but kept the same intentions).

Because of this perhaps, he proposed at 11:59pm that night back at the hotel, after he had jokingly asked me to propose to him! (Apparently, he was supposed to pop the question the next day, after dinner though.)

The next morning, we headed to Bouchon Bakery to satisfy our sweet teeth:

I am typically not a fan of eating macarons (and only admiring their looks), but these were great. Pistachio was my favorite.

After grabbing some allergy medicine (highly recommended) at a nearby drugstore, we headed over to Domaine Chandon for some celebratory bubbles. Here’s where I have to give some explanation and show my gratitude. A few weeks ago, Gary Vaynerchuk tweeted that he’d set up a VIP tour for someone visiting wine country just because, so Ryan gave it a shot and emailed Gary directly. Little did he know that the ultra busy media guru would actually respond, and within a few days, we had a private tour and tasting confirmed. From what I can piece together from the long email thread Ryan eventually showed me, we’d like to thank Katherine and Ben at Moet Hennessy USA for setting up the tour and tasting on short notice; Dan at R&R Marketing for the hook ups; and of course, Ian and Gary at Wine Library for being so gracious!

We had a highly educational tour of the winery and the sparkling wine-making process, from the vineyards to stainless steel tanks to riddling racks (and more). Thanks, Brian! 

Apparently, these grapes had set less than 36 hours ago! Because of the weather, it’s supposed to be a great year for sparkling wine grapes. Chandon grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.

After touring the facilities, we headed back outside for a tasting of six different sparkling wines. My favorite was still the classic rosé as the Etoile rosé was a bit too complex for me. If you’re ever considering a bottle of “extra-dry riche”, don’t be fooled by the name because it’s actually extra sweet! With a glass of bubbly in hand, we headed into Etoile, in time for our dinner reservation. Thank you, Katherine and Ben, for sending over the bottle of Etoile Brut!

Fun fact: Domaine Chandon is the only winery in Napa Valley with a special permit to allow both a winery and restaurant on the same plot (despite the important relationship between wine and food). There are wineries, restaurants, and hotels, and of those three, you can only have restaurant and hotel together.

Dinner at Etoile: The baked oysters were so great, we ordered another half-dozen! The ahi tuna was pretty good with bits of avocado and a sweet passion fruit sauce. The black bass had a crispy exterior and buttery interior — delicious. The veal tenderloin was juicy and tender, and lobster tail was sweet though scant in proportions. As for dessert, I went with something savory: a Rogue River blue and an Italian brie that was made from cow, goat, and sheep’s milk! All in all, a very satisfying, well-prepared and beautifully-presented meal. Cheers!

The next day, we headed to Morimoto’s for lunch before heading home, to sample what famous Iron Chef cooking tasted like. Though I appreciate the casual atmosphere, I’m not sure if I prefer Asian fusion over tradition. Tuna pizza? Calamari quinoa salad? Though the latter was quite tasty, as quinoa is my favorite grain. Perhaps we ordered a little too much fried goods (calamari, rock shrimp tempura, spider roll…not to mention the tempura that came with my bento), as I left the restaurant a little too stuffed and greased out. My favorite dish in the end was still the first: the wagyu beef carpaccio, which wasn’t entirely raw, chilled, and buttery bliss in my mouth — refreshed by the faint citrus-flavor of yuzu.

Thank you, Ryan, for such a wonderfull trip!