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Oct 9, 2008 05:55 PM

1st trip to Napa and I have some questions...

NYC Chowhound and husband sneaking away for 2 nights to Napa (1 night in sf). I am a huge california wine fan and can't believe I've waited this long. Here are my questions...1. The hotel I chose was the caneros inn. I'm not stuck with it, but it looked like a great place to spoil ourselves for 2 nights. If there is some place better, please let me know. 2. If I recently went to Per Se in NYC and had a fantastic experience (I really expected to be dissapointed), should we use one of our 2 dinners and go to the French Laundery or are there other equally wonderful but different restaurants? I will search the board for dining options, I know lots of people ask about eating there and nearby. However, if any one wants to urge us to eat somewhere, please don't hold back. Thanks in advance!

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  1. please go to auberge du soleil. it is an awesome restaurant with amazing food! make sure you sit outside! they have heaters at every table to keep you warm!

    1. First, The Carneros Inn, even though pretty, and very highly rated and lists itself in Napa. It is actually quite far from the center of the wine region you probably want to explore. Even the city of Napa is in the southern end of the valley and that is 10 minutes from where you will be. You might be as much as a 1/2 hour away from the wineries and restaurants you want to visit. You would do better to try locations in Yountville, St. Helena or Calistoga instead.

      French Laundry is awesome but exceptionally difficult to get into. If you peruse these boards a bit you will find a WEALTH of fantastic dining destinations.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MSK

        Tthe Carneros Inn is in the middle of the huge winegrowing region called the Carneros, known for Chardonnay and Pinot. It straddles both the southern end of Napa County,
        and the near-southern end of Sonoma County.

        Everyplace in Napa is a half-hour away from other places. I love the Carneros Inn. Stick with it. The restaurants there are great -- Boonfly for burgers, great mac and cheese, wonderful onion rings. Brunch at Farm.

        It will be tough to get into the French Laundry. I'd go plead your case in person, using Per Se as your opening line.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          I agree that there is lots to explore in that area. But.....for someone who is coming out for only a few days and for the very first time, I think further north (like St. Helena) is what they are imagining.

          We, who live close to Sonoma and Napa, can relish in the thought that we can choose, on any given trip, to delve into the various micro climates and regions. I don't think we can ever exhaust learning about and exploring Carneros, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Mendocino County, Sonoma and on and on. But, when you come from afar and want that initial "Napa Valley Wine Country" experience for the first time......I think HWY 29 and the Silverado Trail are what you are picturing.

          Bouchon, Ad Hoc and Bistro Jeanty in Yountville (walking distance from the hotels mentioned here already) are all worth a visit.

          Market, Redd, Cindy's Back St Kitchen and Martini House would be in St. Helena.

          La Toque is in a new location, I believe and Umbutu is in Napa.

          1. re: MSK

            Yes, lots of exploring to do all over.

            The Carneros Inn has a sleekness and elegance in an otherwise pastoral setting.
            I love it. Sure you could change your res to something in St. Helena, or Rutherford ( I really, really like Rancho Caymus), or some of the elegant B&Bs so that your driving time is a bit less.

            My favorite resto overall is Terra. Then, Martini House, Ad Hoc, Bistro Jeanty and Cindy's. Redd makes wonderful food, but the interior of the restaurant is bleak and noisy. Disagree with Bouchon and Market.

            About TFL: Are you willing to eat early -- say at 5:30 for dinner, or late, say at 10 pm?
            You might get in then. Or go for lunch. Meadowood is also very high-calibre. I haven't been to the new La Toque -- the reports of meals the last few years at the old location were not so good. But they may be on track now. I'm on the fence about Ubuntu.

            OK, that's my 1 cent. Dropped from 2 cents because of the economic implosion.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Terra is wonderful and the owners most welcoming. The eye to detail and service makes this restaurant outstanding. And it's Michelin starred.

      2. Be sure and try some picnic fare from Oakville Grocery and we loved the restaurant at Domain Chandon. Although it was years back for us - the restaurant still gets good reviews. Have a great time! Both have websites.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BurgJoy

          Domaine Chandon has slipped precipitously.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            If you go to Domaine Chandon, there's a lovely outside picnic area with a nice view and they serve oysters. I was there in June, so the weather was warmer. I'll pass on the restaurant going forward. The food was fine and the service had multiple opportunities for improvement, especially at that price point! Enjoy!

        2. My husband and I go out there almost every year from NY. I think the carneros inn is too far away from everything, especially for just a two day visit. Try the Yountville Inn or something in Yountville - great foodie town - or St. Helena, or Rutherford. Now, for the food. You will never get into the French Laundry, and, in truth, with Thomas Keller in NY it's not as special as it once was. Opt for La Toque if you can. Same idea and Ken Frank is a very talented chef. Another great option is Martini House in St. Helena. Go to Auberge de Soleil for drinks for the view. The Meadowwoods Hotel is also a great dinner spot. spot Domaine Chandon, though beautiful, is not good anymore. Some lunch options are Taylor's Refresher in St. Helena - very cool old fashioned burger drive up but they have very upscale stuff - (ahi burgers). Also, Oakville Grocer for a picnic, or Dean and DeLuca. We also love the Ruterhford Grill. Oh,,,,,,,,,, I just got so jealous!

          6 Replies
          1. re: wincountrygirl

            We just came back from our 2nd trip to Napa from Vancouver, Canada. We had such a great stay at the Villagio in Yountville we decided to stay this year. Our stay was better than the last time. Very accomodating staff, very clean and close to everything. 5min walk to FL, get to watch the ballons launch outside your door and right onto #29 and Silverado Trail for the wineries.

            1. re: wincountrygirl

              "Thomas Keller in NY it's not as special as it once was."

              is Thomas Keller not spending time in Napa now? He's opening a new
              restaurant a block or so from TFL with his former manager, so I
              think he's in Napa. All his restos in Yountville are on the same street!

              1. re: maria lorraine

                He's all over...I think the point was just that Keller's Per Se in NYC is comparable to TFL.

                There's a Bouchon in Vegas man can't be everywhere all the time.

                1. re: SteveG

                  <You will never get into the French Laundry, and, in truth, with Thomas Keller in NY it's not as special as it once was.>

                  Perhaps I'm mistaken...I thought her point was that since Thomas Keller is often in NYC at Per Se that TFL isn't as good.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    I agree with maria lorraine about the Carneros Inn. The Boon Fly is tops for breakfast. Also, Farm has a terrific bar scene and is open late -- a rarity for Napa Valley. You can order the full menu while seated at the bar. Lastly, the pool and spa are wonderful-- you can't eat and drink only!

                    As to location, the Carneros Inn is about 15-20 minutes from Yountville -- easy access to FL, Bouchon, Jeanty, Redd and Ad Hoc.

              2. re: wincountrygirl

                You can also stay at Meadowood, which appears to be in the same price range as the Carneros Inn but a lot closer to the center of the valley.

                I think the recommendation below to pre-select small wineries and make appointments is excellent. There are literally dozens of wineries, so you need to edit your choices carefully. Pick different places with different styles in both production and the wines themselves. Pick a couple of old friends, but also use this opportunity to find some new ones.

              3. You've got a lot of opinions here, let me add mine.

                You want the experience where you wake up just before dawn to the rustling of grape leaves and a beautiful sunrise over the vineyards. You'll get that further north - follow the yountville and st helena recs.

                TFL is somewhat controversial around here now, but continues to be in a class by itself. The entire soup-to-nuts experience at TFL, in the wine country, in their little house, is exquisite. A few people say Per Se is "as good", but most say the TFL experience is better. If you are serious about food I believe it is a must. The only other restaurant in greater wine country getting anywhere near the reviews of TFL is Ubuntu, which I haven't been to.

                TFL has not yet degenerated to Old War Horse status, which I think Chez Pannise might have crept into. TFL is more like in its strident middle age, not with the crazy brilliance of youth, but the wry hyper competence, with a huge eye on "keepin it real".

                For your second night, or if you can't get into TFL, there are a wealth of other exceptional restaurants that you can find through searching here.

                FYI, to make your Napa experience great, you'll want to do as much research as possible into wineries and have a serious list. The main problem is the laws regarding open tasting rooms are somewhat onerous (reasonable, due to drunk driving and a party atmosphere), leading to smaller producers bowing out. While there's great fun to be had simply driving the silverado trail, if you want to visit some of your favorites, you'll need to make a list and call ahead. ("Hi, I'll be in napa for a few days, and I really love your wine. I thought the '03 syrah was one of your best. Is there a time when I could stop by and say hello?" And mean it.)

                1 Reply
                1. re: bbulkow

                  Nice post. Love the suggestion in the last graf.