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Nov 29, 2000 12:32 PM

Vacationing in Napa

  • g

My wife and I are going to be spending some time in late December in St. Helena. We are coming from New York and therefore know nothing about the dining in the Napa region. We've heard about Mustard's, The French Laundry & a Joachim Splichal offering as well. Can you Bay Area foodies point us in the right direction??? Also, we will be spending New Year's Eve in San Francisco so a romantic spot in the city would be great as well. Thank you in advance.

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  1. Bueno

    I just ate at Celadon for the first time Monday night (my 30th birthday) It's been a bit of a local sweetheart since it opened. Tanya and I both enjoyed the spicy calamari appetizer. She was more impressed with her entree (salmon sate) then I was with mine (pasta w/mussles and rock shrimp).

    I always recomend the Foothill cafe to any hound coming to the valley. If you run a search I'm sure you can find me giving props to them. The Royal Oak at Silverado Country club is another favorite, but I haven't been in a while.

    I'll also never recommend the French Laundry. Yes the food is legendary, but they were horribly rude to my fiance'. I don't forgive bad manners from people who know better.

    Any specific restaraunt or ethnicity you're hankering for?


    1. Try Bouchon in Yountville. It's a french bistro/brasserie style restaurant. We stopped there with no reservations and got a table by the open windows for 3 ( at 5:30). We were looking for a light supper and heartily enjoyed a wonderful and generous raw bar, a selection of cheeses,pate, and a killer cauliflower gratin. I crave this now! To us, it was a cozy, friendly, mellow way to end of day of wine-tasting in Napa. It's owned/operated by the Keller brothers ( Thomas Keller, chef/owner of the French Laundry). Quality is excellent, atmosphere is warm and inviting, food is hearty and comforting which may be nice if there's a chill in the air in Napa while you are there.

      Without trying to discourage you, it may be difficult to obtain seating at the French Laundry. I think there are 62 seats and the reservation book opens two months in advance. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try but only do so if you are absolutely committed to eating there. I have heard mixed reviews of the restaurant but when the review hasn't been 100% glowing, it's usually due to a reason unrelated to the food. The food is beyond tremendous and I think the best fine dining in the US. If you're serious about food, try to go but know that it will be $$$ and an effort to get in. Lunch may be easier since it sounds like you'll have time to try on different days and could be flexible.

      Other places to try: Wappo Bar and Catahoula in Calistoga. Both are casual, energetic, and a lot of fun. If you are indulging in any mud/spa activity, these may be a nice place to relax for a meal. I can't remember if Tra Vigne is in Oakville or St.Helena but it's wonderful Italian food. Several years ago, we had gone to Terra which is a fusion restaurant. Excellent fusion food, quiet intimate atmosphere, very charming.

      It's always nice to take a picnic somewhere. Stop in at Dean and Deluca, Oakville Grocery, or V.Sattui for picnic stuff, given that it's warm enough ( and I'm sorry I don't know if its generally too cold there now). Certainly D&D and Oakville Grocery and crowded and in my opinion, overpriced but I'm not sure how V.Sattui is. They have picnic stuffs as well as picnicking grounds.

      One caution I'd like to give is based on personal experiences. When the CIA at Greystone first opened, my husband and I went and had a wonderful meal. We've been several times since for informal dinners as well as celebrations. Our last dinner was with 6 other New Yorkers who had flown out to celebrate a dear friend's birthday. The food again was excellent as it always has been. However, our waiter flubbed every point of service and made some kind of noticeable gaffe with every contact he made with the table. It was at a point where he had even timed the orders so badly my entree was delivered 10 minutes after everyone else's, the GM had to bring it out, the GM nor the waiter acknowledged the mistake, we were not comped for anything, and we took it out of his tip. The service has been declining so if you want to avoid a potential bad experience, don't go here. That's just my $0.02.

      Regarding San Francisco New Year, make plans now. I'm trying to come up with plans and things are definitely booking up. For romantic, you may want to try Charles Nob Hill or La Folie on the high end, Chapeau for the middle end. Bix is a supper club as well that has great atmosphere and live jazz. This would be a fun, interesting place for New Year's.

      Good luck and make your reservations soon!

      1. Just had dinner at the French Laundry last Friday. Geoff, all I can say is that it was, hands down, the best meal I've ever had in my life. Not cheap! We brought our own wine and the bill for four came to about $150/person!!BUT, the food was exquisite and beautifully served and we got to taste so many different dishes, a way I love to eat,i.e. smaller portions of a variety of foods. We were stuffed when we left, some of us more than others, but no one left hungry. What an experience. I hope to get there again in my lifetime. Now you must know that you can only reserve I think it's exactly 60 days prior to the date you wish to dine. There is, however, a waiting list available and I have a feeling openings really do occur with some frequency. I hope you get there.

        3 Replies
        1. re: roberta


          Did you ever find your housemade Japanese noodles? If so, how were they?


          1. re: Tida

            Yes, I did go to Sappporo in Japantown. Wasn't sure I'd find it easily, but my instincts led me right to the door. I was wonderful! The noodles were long and delicious and the broth included many really yummy ingredients. The experience was also heightened by being able to sit amongst some Japanese diners who really knew how to suck up the noodles sort of noisily,but not grossly. I loved watching and hearing them enjoying the experience. I'll go back the next time I'm in San Fran. Hey, the R&G Lounge in Chinatown is fabulous!! Be sure to check out Chowhound's review before you go. Thanks for inquiring.

          2. re: roberta

            You neglected to mention corkage. Last time we were there it was a mind-boggling, stomach-churning $50.

          3. Geoff,
            Terra is the most beautiful and romantic restaurant in St. Helena. The food is delicious, with an emphasis on Mediterranean. The service is good also. We have dinner here on our anniversary.

            Mustards is a good bet because Cindy Paulson is on-site in order to oversee the re-do of Miramonte.
            There is a new chef at The Auberge du Soleil off Silverado Trail just below St. Helena. The views from this restaurant and hotel are heavenly. The local scuttlebut from my foodie friends is that the food is
            now very good. The wine list here is expensive.
            They have service in front of a fireplace in the Bar
            (a different menu)and that can be fun on a dreary day.

            For a very reasonable spot that we love for fish, try the Foothill Cafe in Napa on Old Sonoma Rd. The service is excellent, the wine list good and reasonable, and it's a small but charming place. Don't let the ugly shopping center location disuade you.
            ( I hesitate to give out this secret, because I don't want to spoil it for us locals.) They use a brick oven for many dishes, the creme brulee is good and fruit cobblers can be also.

            Wappo can be interesting, but I don't consider it excellent.

            It is true that the CIA service can be poor but the food good. (I'm going on Monday)

            Meadowood lost Pilar Sanchez and has a new chef so I'm not sure, but it used to be very good, if expensive.

            Bistro Don Giovani is pretty and fun but the last time we were there it was surprisingly disappointing. It has been good in the past, so maybe this was a fluke.

            Pinot Blanc, Splichal's restaurant can be good. It is in St. Helena.

            The Cantinetta, at Tra Vigne, is wonderful for a small bite at lunch. The seating is outdoors in the courtyard so dress warmly in Dec. It can get chilly and damp this time of year. This is on Charter Oak in St. Helena. If you prefer to be indoors make a reservation for Tra Vigne (although you might be able to get in because it's off-season).

            Good luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Ann

              Last time I was in the valley (which was only three weeks ago, come to think of it), I ended up eating at Terra three nights in a row. Largely because they have the best tripe dish in the United States--stewed down to pure lusciousness with garlic and more than a touch of hot red pepper--especially in its off-menu version, served with seared sea scallops instead of noodles.

              Also the only place I know that serves aged Stony Hill chardonnay, which is the only equivalent of California grand cru chablis--pure fruit, no wood. The 1990 was to die, and even affordable.

              1. re: Pepper

                Another lover of old Stony Hill Chard . . . somehow I knew it would be you. 1990 is a little on the young side. I've had the fortunate opportunity to help a friend whittle down his supply from the mid-80's. Much as I like the Chard, the unsung hero of the Stony Hill line-up is the Gewurztraminer. The ones from the early 80s are perfect aperitifs now. Very delicate and full of rosewater perfume, more Italianate than Alsacien in personality.

                Last month Premier Cru wine shop in Emeryville had a bunch of older Stony Hills in stock from a private cellar purchase. Vastly underappreciated and selling for a song.

                The other non-ML CalChard I like is Ch. Montelena. This is an ager too.