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May 27, 2007 09:06 AM

Napa trip

My husband and I recently went on Napa food tour for my b-day, and ate at Redd, Cyrus, Bouchon, and Chez Panisse upstairs. If anyone is looking for feedback on any of these places, let me know. Just a few very brief standout impressions: pastry chef at Redd was excellent, best dessert experience of the trip, 2nd best I've ever had (FL=1st). The control of a crazy breadth of flavors without relying on salt at Cyrus was amazing, as of course was the service. This was the best overall experience of the trip, and as good for service as FL, IMO, except more welcoming. Bouchon = French Bistro, period. The bakery across the street had obscenely good French macaroons, we got every flavor. Chez Panisse was also very very welcoming service, and a very good meal with ingredients that were practically still alive, as you might expect. This was my husband's favorite. Like comparing apples to oranges a little. It was all very good, and we came home feeling lucky.

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  1. We get continual requests for Napa suggestions and a full write-up would be more than appreciated! What were some favorite dishes? Good winery visits? Please tell...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Carrie 218

      One thing I forgot to mention about Cyrus in my post below - the tendency to finish the dishes at the table is especially nice, and so old school, you don't really see that a lot anymore. At least 3 of our dishes were finished at the table, and it really makes the service showy, which I also liked.

      1. re: Carrie 218

        I posted full write-ups on Cyrus and Chez Panisse below in this thread - will get to Redd and Bouchon in the next couple days - one winery recommendation would be David Coffaro, in Geyserville on Dry Creek Road - I wrote about him in another post. He does a lot of blends, some zins, a sangiovese, a real mixed bag, but excellent wines, IMO, and the prices are way more than fair, especially if you buy futures, but even for the current vintage (20-35 bucks a bottle). He's a no-attitude, no-frills kind of guy whose barrels flank a large garage/small warehouse punctuated with a big screen TV and sound system on which he watches his beloved Raiders games, or whatever other game is on. His helper, Matt, is very helpful, and gave us a barrel tasting of the futures. The most no-nonsense, relaxed winery I've ever been to.

      2. Please do post the details. I'm going in September and would very much like to hear about your experiences. Can you tell me were Chez Panisse is. I searched and could only find a location in Berkley.

        4 Replies
        1. re: RYP

          That is it. Megababedeluxe left out the detail that they went to Berkeley. Berkeley and Napa the city are about 40 miles apart. Napa Valley is further and is different cities; Yountville, St Helena and Calistoga etc. Locals tend to lump them as Napa Valley. As in
          I'm going to the French Laundry in Napa .

          1. re: wolverine61

            Yes, that's right wolverine, we schlepped to Berkeley because we were on a Food Pilgrimage, and Alice Waters is a shoe-in, and the "Napa" people refer to is a collection of different cities that some disagree on whether they're Napa or not. Berkeley is definitely not Napa, and keep in mind, RVP, that it takes at least an hour, depending on where you're staying, to get from Napa to Berkeley. We stayed in a B&B in Cloverdale that we loved, but it was definitely out in the boonies and took us hour and a half just to get there. But we were on a mission. I was on the mission, and my husband got dragged along, and surprisingly, Chez Panisse was his favorite meal of the trip - he loved it. For me, Chez Panisse was like hearing the Beatles' Revolver for the first time - for someone who went to Chez Panisse when it opened, it must have been like a revelation, but when a music or a food influences a generation of music and food after it, you hear Revolver, and you're like, That's great, That is really excellent, but it's not revelatory because everything that came after it borrowed from it so heavily. That having been said, it really did have the specialness I was hoping for - the feeling the cookbook gives you about neighborlyness and quality, organic, seasonal ingredients prepared in a loving yet worldly yet welcome-to-my-comfortable-and-comforting-restaurant-1970s-yet-still-today-and-even-
            more-so-now kind of way. And really the dishes they had in the Cafe upstairs were not dishes I would be able to find at any other restaurant - they are dishes you would hope your friend's mother, who is an amazing cook and has travelled all over so her cooking is influenced by so much, would cook for you at her arts-and-crafts-movement-inspired house.

            We had several things because when would we be back? :
            Belgian endive salad with cream, garlic, and bottarga di muggine (a very salty shaved fish condiment), delicious; grapefruit and artichoke salad with spring onions and chervil, simple and delicious; Brandade with fennel, capers and meyer lemon - both my husband's and my favorite starter; red beet soup with creme fraiche and chives - very very simple, my husband loved it. for entree we had bucatini with sardines, pine nuts, raisins and wild fennel - very, very good; wild king salmon with cucumber and beet relish, also simple and delicious. dessert: rhubarb tart w/vanilla ice cream - very beautiful with the formation of opposing lines in the way the rhubarb stalks were laid down, and very delicious. The service was excellent - our server recommended a bottle of wine we loved (Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir ) - very friendly and worldly.

            That is the way I would describe the experience overall, starting with the maitre d' - friendly and neighborhoody yet worldly. The food is simple and delicious, not as complicated as all the restaurants this restaurant became a benchmark for, and the quality is excellent, unable to disappoint. HOWEVER, if you are not familiar with the mark Alice Waters made on California cuisine and all cuisine in America, and you are not on a pilgrimage, some may think that over 2 hours total in a car is a little far to travel. I don't, and my husband, not really knowing anything about the ball this restaurant started rolling, loved it.

            1. re: megababedeluxe

              Note that Cloverdale is in Sonoma County, as is Dry Creek Valley where David Coffaro is located and Healdsburg for Cyrus. And, as you've noted, Berkeley is far away too. None are in Napa Valley, the subject heading of this topic.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I know, it's just that for us, coming from LA, it's a long full day's car ride to get there, so while each place isn't necessarily in Napa proper, my husband and I call it that because it's a big trip to the area in general for us, and an easy way to express it.

        2. I'll start with Cyrus, and base my comments on the already very thorough post called "Perfection at Cyrus," entered April 10, 2007 (our experience at Cyrus was less than 2 weeks after this).

          Overall, my husband and I had the exact same excellent experience as far as the service goes, except we didn't notice any "bobbles" due to any space limitation. While I agree with the other review, that the service at FL was flawless, it was also very obviously tempered in order to let the food shine, which isn't a bad thing, just different. On a side note, we had a stellar experience food-wise at FL as well, unlike a couple of other reviews. But back to Cyrus - the service was much more talkative than FL, which made us feel very welcome, and at ease. The champagne cart is a grand introduction, and the Maitre d' was extremely friendly. We ordered a glass each of champagne, my husband the Roederer Estate (CA sparkler), and I the Bonnaire (both delish, the Bonnaire our fave). One of our canapes was actually a Middle Eastern-influenced tiny falafel, and there were 2 other canapes on the plate, and unfortunately my only memory of them was that they were delicious, and not your standard canape. Maybe it wasn't a canape, but an amuse bouche, but there were 3 different tiny balls that bursted with flavors and one of them was not salt, which I find to be a common flavor in restaurant food. In general, the tiny amuse bouches (the other of which the other review mentions - a sashimi on a spoon) bursted with a breadth of flavors you would not expect from such a tiny preparation. To call it just sashimi on a spoon doesn't explain it at all, you'll just have to try it.

          We did not do the tasting menu, but rather ordered a la carte, and asked the sommelier to help us choose wines by the split. We had the Robert Sinskey 2005 Pinot Blanc, which was light and went very well with the below. My husband had the cauliflower soup with raisin, caper and white pepper emulsion, and toasted almonds, and this was actually more cream than cauliflower for my husband's taste, but very good. He also had the artichokes a la Barigoule, excellent, with what the photo I took leads me to remember as fresh favas and carrots, and I had the sweet pea ragout with baby carrots, radish, and saffron nage, as did the other reviewer. Best I've ever had, just like the other review, except that I LOVED the pea shooter with lavender whipped cream - such a great way to juxtapose 2 pea preparations. Very impression-creating.

          palette cleanser of mango something something lollipop on stick - delish.

          I had to go overboard and order the sea bream AND the hoisin squab, my husband keeping it real and ordering just the hamachi. Whatever. All I can tell you is, each and every of these three dishes was excellent, showed great control of contrasting and unexpected flavors, the unexpected showing up, in particular, in the sea bream, in which the coconut milk broth was done as a foam. The cheese cart came around, and this was my husband's favorite "dessert" - We elected 3 cheeses and the service includes spiced nuts and grapes, I can't even remember the 3 cheeses now, except that one of them was a triple cream, one a sheep's milk, and the 3rd a hard cheese. I'm not a food writer, just go there for your special occasion. We marveled in amazement over the taste of this course as well. For these courses, we had a split of Daumas Gassac, and it was exactly as the sommelier described, my husband loved it, and it also went very well, amazingly, with both the squab and hamachi, and the cheeses.

          The only area where we differed from the other review was the dessert: we felt let down, for 2 reasons: both our desserts (caramel soup with kettle corn; and creme fraiche cremeux, pistachio bobka, and white grape and olive oil sorbet - SOUNDS great, doesn't it?) swung too wide in the artistic category without satisfying as a sweet ending to a fabulous meal; and the caramel soup was too sweet for us. Every single thing that hit the table was a hit for us until we got to dessert, and then the presentation was really impressive - a work of art - but in the mouth it didn't satisfy as a great ending.

          Overall, an incredible experience, verging on a tie for best fine dining experience ever (FL being the other best - keep in mind I haven't been to Per Se or any of the famous restaurants abroad) - the command over combining a breadth of flavors without using salt and fat to bring it all together was pretty cool.

          1 Reply
          1. re: megababedeluxe

            You may not be a professional food writer, but that's a better analysis of a meal than most pros do.