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Monday, November 29, 2010

Oleander House: Yountville, CA (Roaming Napa, Part 4)

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This being our first adventure to Napa, EHK and I were a little naive about accommodation prices for the area. To say that we were shocked at what rooms were going for in the area would be an understatement. I'm used to shelling out for a room in the big city and I was expecting not to out here. Since we'd be doing most of our activities north of Napa, ML and LH convinced us to stay at the Oleander House, a French style B&B within the Yountville town limits since they had fond experiences there. 

OK... when I think of B&B's I think little old lady, cats and floral wallpaper. I guess thats why I thought this place was overpriced at first glance on their website. However, our friends vouched for her breakfast and the location was awesome for daytime activities and quick returns for resting before evening activities so we decided to place our fate in their hands.

I've never been a person so awed by breakfast until now. We stayed for 2 breakfasts and honestly I was very impressed by the selection for both days. I really wasn't expecting much but Kathleen, the inn-keeper must have been reading my mind and pulled out the stops to blow me away with her morning spreads. I left wanting more and thinking about her made from scratch croissants slathered with orange butter. The oatmeal  crème brûlée was also a treat too. I failed to take a photo of the dish broken into to demonstrate the loveliness of this dish. Its essentially a layer of oatmeal topped with a layer of crème brûlée and all topped off with fresh fruit. It was truly a delight in a spoonful. Like having dessert for breakfast but I didn't feel at all guilty because of the oatmeal and fruit component.

After assessing the convenience of the location due to our traveling back and forth all day I give this place a thumbs up but the breakfast totally won me over and this deserves 2 thumbs up! A definite recommendation if you are looking for a nice, convenient place to stay that will also satisfy your tummy in the morning.  OK... enough of me talking. Here are the photos from breakfast over the 2 days...


1st breakfast spread

fruit salad

croissants made from scratch

oatmeal crème brûlée topped with fresh fruit

chicken apple sausage

chicken frittata topped with olives, tomatoes, feta and basil

sour cherry coffee cake

I stole the first slice of sour cherry coffee cake
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Oleander House
7433 St. Helena Hwy.
Yountville, CA 94599
800-788-0357
707-944-8315

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bouchon Bakery: Yountville, CA (Roaming Napa, Part 3)

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I've got a few hours before I gotta take off to the airport so I thought I'd work on sharing this post before I head home for some much needed time with the family.

So EHK and I woke up early the next morning hungry even after our monstrous meal at The French Laundry. Not wanting to wait around for the B&B breakfast, we headed into town to continue our homage to Thomas Keller and find something at Bouchon Bakery that would tide us over till the breakfast. We were greeted by a respectable line so we were expecting something good. Well something at least as good as Tartine since this is a Keller establishment. I kinda think that Tartine has ruined us for other bakeries. Every time we try a pain au chocolat or quiche or other comparable pastry we compare it back to our experiences at Tartine and I can't really think of a bakery that we've tried that measures up.

We finally make it in and we notice all these flies flying over these beautiful pasteries. Everybody seems to ignore this. We've been waiting in line and famished so at this point I'm willing for the attendant to give me anything that a fly hasn't landed on. Usually I'd walk straight out. I don't really understand all the flies. Tartine is several times over cleaner and its in the middle of the Mission. I'd be very forgiving if I saw a few flies around given what they've got to work with. Bouchon Bakery ... hmm I don't really see any transients or gross looking gutters with stuff I can't make out. What's with the flies!!!

So Its finally our turn to order and we first ask for a gougère for ML since she requested one. The girl looks at us blankly and asks us, "what's that?" Are you serious? I expect employees at Keller establishments to be familiar with the offerings at the other restaurants (especially when it's just down the street) even if they don't serve it under the roof they work in. So we decide to order a cheese danish and a slice of quiche. Ugh... cheese danish tasted like stale pastry with a dollop of slightly whipped cream cheese.The quiche was equally as disappointing as the crust was soggy like they had just stuffed it into a microwave to warm it (photos of the danish and quiche can be viewed at the end of these photos).

After such a spectacular meal the evening before, we had high hopes for an early morning snack here. Boy were we let down. Am I grading this place too hard since it's got Keller's name attached to it? Maybe we ordered the wrong stuff? I've heard some really good things so I was hoping these recommendations would translate well. I had really wanted to come back and try the macarons later in the day but I just couldn't forget about the danish and quiche. Maybe next time when I'm in the area and have forgotten a little about this experience.














cheese danish

slice of quiche

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Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2253
7am-7pm daily


Friday, November 19, 2010

Private Dinning Room at The French Laundry: Yountville, CA (Roaming Napa, Part 2)

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Ok I have to give props to LH and ML for arranging this "holiday party" weekend featuring The French Laundry. Definitely the best holiday party I've attended so far. It probably would  have been several years before EHK and I tried to brave the reservation circus as slots generally fill up STAT 2 months to the date. LH was a genius for rounding up a party of 5 couples so we could bypass that silliness and grab the private room. The room takes reservations with a deposit up to a year in advance so its a pretty good option if you can gather a group of friends wanting to go. Minimum for this room is 8 people and max is 10 people fyi.

This meal was definitely everything and more than I expected. The food overall was amazing. There were definitely some dishes that I really wanted seconds of. I can say that I was honestly blown away by the overall flavors. Execution? Excellent! Attention to detail? Nothing left amiss. The courses that really did it for me were the courses up to the kitchen tour which you can view below. Courses after the tour were excellent as well but I find courses before much more memorable.

Service was phenomenal. I appreciated Matt, our sommelier who would come out with the introduction of a new wine to tell us a story about it. Shannon our waitress was also wonderful about coming in right after dishes were set down to introduce the dish in her seductively breathy voice. It made the course I was about to eat sound that much sexier. Was her voice for real? I'd like to see her use it outside of the Laundry. 

Even the delivery and pick up of dishes had an element of showmanship. 5 servers would come out and circle the table then pause in between each couple to signify something was about to happen, all placing one plate down at the same time and then the same thing with the plate in the their other hand. There was this same level of showmanship even when picking up the plates. I think this is where coming with a large party comes into play. It's hard to appreciate this level of detail in a smaller party but you can see the glory of this act of unison when sitting in a large round table and having a full view all around you.


Pierre Gimonnet, Blanc de Blancs, "Cuvée Deux Cotes," 1er, Champagne 2005


The party got off to a great start with a toast. Then pours 2 and 3 came of this champagne... and I think we were all getting into the holiday spirit. I know I was!

Cornet
Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche



These two starters were a nice way to being eating. I did prefer the cornet as the salmon tartare paired with the crème fraîche inside the cone were a delight on the tongue and just the right size.  The gougères were tasty and bursting with cheese but I did find them on the small side and wanting something slighting larger or maybe a handful to make an accurate assessment haha.

Gruyère Cheese Gougères
Alzinger, Grüner Veltliner, "Loibner Mühlpoint," Federspiel, Wachau 2008

 "Oysters and Pearls"
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

A rich and flavorful course. I thought the pearls for this course were referring to just the caviar but was surprised by the tapioca pearls in the sauce. The sauce was lick the plate good. So much that I saw T take her spoon and run it around R's bowl because she didn't think he did a good enough job of cleaning up the plate. You know its good s*** when someone other than yourself is willing to clean the plate for you.

 White Truffle Oil- Infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Chip

Shortly after the removal of the 1st course, servers came by to place delicate mother of pearl spoons down. Everybody was wondering what they were for and then it all made sense when these delicate eggs came out. infused with alluring white truffle oil and topped with a ragout... this custard was to die for and my absolute favorite of the evening. Shannon noticed me snapping photos and gently warned me to hurry up since the paper thin chive potato chip wouldn't last too long in the custard. I don't know if diners outside of the private room got this course that night as it actually wasn't on the menu for the night but I do hope they were able to taste this as well.

Pain Au Lait

Salted Butter from Animal Farm in Vermont

I'm all for local but in the case of these 2 butters, the Vermont butter wins out. The pain au lait didn't really need butter as it tasted quite buttery already but who can say no to more butter especially as velvety and rich tasting as the Vermont butter?

Local Butter from Sonoma

Salad of Yukon Gold Potato
Cipollini Onions, Mâche, Burgundy Truffle and Mustard Crème Fraîche

The thing I find most appealing about this dish is the array of colors. Its a feast for the eyes before you even take your first bite.  Vegetables were well cooked and flavors again fresh... reminding me of a garden.

Château Rieussec, 1er Cru Classé, Sauternes 1989

I really liked how Matt introduced this Sauternes that would go with the foie course. "Its the most classic... heavenly combination in history." Well Matt... I have to say that I do agree after tasting this pairing.

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras En Terrine"
Huckleberry Relish, Endive, White Honey Glaze, Arugula and Aged Balsamic Reduction

When LH was planning this dinner for us he asked if we all wanted this supplement to the dinner. I guess some people said yes and some people said no so LH talked with the coordinator and it turned out if we wanted it then the whole table would have to order it. I think we were very happy with this add on despite our bursting tummies by the end of the night. I didn't really taste the honey glaze or balsamic reduction and normally I prefer a seared preparation to the terrine preparation but I'm happy to report I'm a believer in the terrine now. I'm a sucker for foie so I order whenever I see it on a menu and this course didn't fail to bring a smile to my face. Sumptuous and rich... and I think I could have eaten this alone without the brioche and choice of salts offered for this course.

Brioche Toast
Choice of Salts

Zind-Humbrecht, Riesling, "Clos Saint Urbain - Rangen de Thann," Gran Cru, Alsace 2006

Sautéed Fillet of "Onaga"
French Laundry Garden Turnips, Navel Orange and White Sesame

I really appreciated the simplicity and bright taste of this course after the heavy courses before. Fish was perfectly flaky and I'm a fan of making it easier to eat citrus :)

Brick House, Pinot Noir, "Les Dijonnais," Ribbon Ridge 2007

 New Bedford Sea Scallop "Poêlée"
Musqée de Provence Pumpkin, Celery and K&J Orchard Chestnuts

EHK normally doesn't like scallops or pumpkin.... here's a dish where its combined and I'm happy to report that he ate it without complaint and actually really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed this as well and again eating with my eyes first... I just adore the vibrant color of the pumpkin. 


After the 5th course, Shannon whisked us away downstairs for a kitchen tour.  It was quiet and zen like despite the cramp space and heat.  I really liked how clean and immaculate everything looked despite the fact they were cooking. My kitchen looks nothing like this when I'm cooking.





Apologies for the graininess of the following photos. Our camera died out after our visit to the kitchen and JWL was nice enough to let us snap the last few dishes with her camera. Problem is that you should always read the manual to learn about your camera and this new camera was foreign to us so we had no idea what we were really doing with it. At least you can get an idea of what we ate.

Unfortunately the kitchen tour signaled a divide in the dinner in many way. One being my camera dying but also the level of impression the dishes left on me changed. Before the tour I was literally blown away by every dish that came out. The dishes that followed the tour were excellent in their own right and would be superb at most restaurants but I was expecting more... to be blown away but these didn't quite do that for me.

Clos Saint-Jean, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, "Combe des Fous," Rhône Valley 2006

Sirloin of Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit
Hobbs' Bacon, Brussel Sprouts, Young Red Beets and Truffle- Madeira Reduction

The rabbit was well seasoned and cooked but like I said it didn't wow me at all. This was actually my first time tasting rabbit. Does it taste like chicken? Hmm... I don't know... tastes like rabbit to me. I was shocked at how small the bones were... do they have miniaturized animals back there?

Alban, Syrah, "Seymour's Vineyard," Edna Valley 2005

Rib-Eye of Elysian Fields Farm Lamb
Butter Beans, "Pain de Campagne" Croûtons, Jingle Bell Peppers and French Landry Garden Cavalo Nero 

A lovely lamb preparation but again not overly impressed with the overall dish.

"Abbaye de Taimé"
 Royal Blenheim Apricot, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marcona Almonds and Watercress

I'm a soft cheese lover but I can't stand stinky cheese. I know the saying "the stinkier the better" but I don't follow that belief. I took one bite just to try and passed it on to EHK to finish up since there was a little too much funk for my taste.

Bartlett Pear Sorbet
Pomegranate, "Pain d'Épices" and Tahitian Vanilla Bean 

Desserts and I go way back. I inherited my sweet tooth from my mom so I tend to grade desserts rather harshly. I wasn't impressed particularly with the dessert offerings. I tend to like fresh, bright and clean flavors especially after a long and overall rich meal. So this sorbet was just what I was thinking, unfortunately I found it on the underwhelming side. It could have used an umph in pear flavor. I expected it to be bursting with pear in every spoonful.

"Peanut Butter and Chocolate"
Maple Toffee, Valrohna Ganache and Gros Michel Banana Sorbet

This was my least favorite of the desserts. I don't even like the combination of chocolate, peanut butter and banana naturally. Even though I don't normally like this combination of flavors, I expect the Laundry to compose the dish in such a way that would turn me as it did to the earlier scallop and pumpkin dish for EHK. Too heavy a dessert for me when I've already had heavy all night.

Lemon Cream Tart with Whipped Cream

Just when I thought the meal was over. I was presented with a lovely lemon tart and choice of truffles from a large shiny plate. I'm a big fan of citrus in desserts and would have preferred having this over the last dessert. By now I'm terribly stuffed so I managed to take a few bites out of this tart and the truffles.

Choice of Truffles
After dinner we were each presented with a souvenir menu and wine list in a fancy folder and sent off with shortbread cookies to take home.

Wow... that was a long post. I'm really happy I finally got a chance to dine here and I look back on it with fond memories despite some of the misses. It was definitely a worthwhile experience and impressive meal when viewed in the overall sense. I would definitely recommend a visit here if you can manage to land a reservation.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 753-0088

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