Birthday Dinner: I'm waffling...
I will be in SF to visit family and to celebrate my birthday in a few weeks and wanted to spend it stuffing myself and getting tipsy in Napa. I booked Ubuntu for lunch and Bouchon for dinner. However, having read the ravings about Manresa, I'm beginning to second-guess myself on Bouchon. I checked OpenTable and saw that there are some tables available at Manresa for mid-evening.
I would be happy at either place, but a part of me really wants the birthday dinner to be a blowout-type affair. Initially, I had wanted to book FL, but of course no luck there, so I went with Bouchon. I've read some mixed things about Bouchon, but I also don't want to make it too much of a hassle for my hosts.
Pros for Bouchon: it's as close to Thomas Keller as I will likely get for now, I have a vision of it being just a warm sunny lovely day, possibly easier for those coming with, I know there is food I can eat (I'm fishitarian)
Cons: not as excited by the menu as I am about Manresa's, mixed 'hound experiences, may need to find somewhere to change if more formal than jeans (this is what I am guessing)
Pros for Manresa: Menu makes me drool, it's my birthday and I live on the East Coast so why not indulge?, later reso means we'd have time to stop home and revive
Cons: Not a small amount of driving for one day (although we will have three drivers), will it be veg/fish friendly as it appears to be fixed course menu?
So I need some guidance. Help!! If you read everything, you are too kind. What do you think?
Truly, my first thought is of the drive/traffic. Do I understand correctly that you will be in Napa and then are considering driving from Napa to Los Gatos? Not only is that a long drive, depending on the time of year, the back-up on Hwy. 121 can be huge after you pass the Sonoma turn off. I would hate to see you spend the afternoon in traffic yet going nowhere! If it were me, I'd find a place that I would love in Napa or environs. (How do you like that - a comment on Chowhound that doesn't compare the restaurants!) Enjoy your bday celebration!
I wouldn't drive through Sonoma, though -- much easier to go through the East Bay. Still, according to Google maps it's over 90 miles. No way would I want to drive back, especially since that would mean that at least one of you would have to pass on wine.
I wouldn't worry about being fishitarian -- I can't imagine a restaurant in this area that wouldn't be able to handle that, and if you do decide to go that way, you can call and brief them on your restrictions ahead of time.
It is a very long drive. However, if you truly wanted to eat at TFL, then you should go to Manresa instead of Bouchon. Robert is correct, get a room in Los Gatos and stay there after the meal. Also, when you make the reservation at Manresa, tell them it's your birthday, and you have traveled from afar for a special celebration.
I like Bouchon, but I wouldn't call it a birthday blowout meal. It's loud, crowded, busy, with curt service, and perfectly good French Bistro fare. Certainly not very innovative or exciting.
Must you stay in Napa that evening? If so, I can understand your reluctance to schlep to Los Gatos. Consider Cyrus in Sonoma as an alternative. Still a bit of a drive, but a lot closer to Napa than Manresa.
About the drive, Yountville to Los Gatos is 2 hours without traffic on a good day. With traffic, I wouldn't even guess since it's major driving, at least 100 miles. If it were me, I'd pick one location and not waste the time driving and hopefully enjoy the California weather and some wine...but that's me.
If you stay in Napa, maybe switch to have Bouchon for lunch and Ubuntu for dinner. That seems more like you'll have a better meal both ways. Unbuntu has a better chance to blow your mind then Bouchon.
If you don't stay in Napa but you really want to eat at a Keller place, and you're on the East Coast, why not try and get into Per Se. The menus are suppose to be very similar...and of course it's just as pricey.
re: Manresa...I'd go here before The French Laundry. No question in my mind right now, although I wouldn't have said that a month ago. The seafood was simply outstanding and veggies much of it comes from their own garden...and both frankly better then TFL. Here's a report: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/491377
One point, the tasting menu has to be ordered by the whole table and it's "spontaneous" so they don't tell you what it is, until it gets there. I was skeptical about this at first but it added to the whole experience. Side note: I might visit Santa Cruz and some near by wineries before the meal.