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Aug 13, 2009 10:14 AM

Napa in one day...huge foodie who doesn't know much about wine...

Hi there. We're spending Saturday in Napa and need help. We love to eat and are huge foodies, but we don't know much about wine and are a bit intimidated by the whole Napa Valley tasting thing. We're looking for places to visit that will welcome us regardless of our intensity/knowledge level. If anybody knows of a nice plan for the day (driving in one direction and stopping along the way would be ideal), that would be great!

As for food, we're planning on eating at Ad Hoc for dinner and Bouchon for brunch the next day. If that's a bad idea, please tell me! I see Bouchon reviews aren't great lately. Should we go somewhere else for brunch?

Thank you!

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  1. Most wineries welcome and do not intimidate wine novices--at least that's what they're supposed to do.

    I'd skip Bouchon and go to Brix for brunch and try to sit outside on the patio with the gorgeous view.

    4 Replies
    1. re: bobpantzer

      Bouchon's Croque madame is wonderful.

      Another option is Ad Hoc for Brunch. You can sign up for their mailing list and know what is being served - it is free.

      The last 3 weeks:

      August 9

      Bouchon Bakery Breakfast Pastries
      petite croissant, cranberry orange muffin
currant scone, madelaines, pain au raisin
chocolate cherry scone, sticky buns
blueberry muffin, pain au chocolate

      Chicken-Fried Steak
with Austin Hill Farm’s Hen Egg
      yukon gold potato hash, bacon lardons, country gravy
thyme biscuits

      Yellow Peach Crumble
      whipped mascarpone cream
streusel topping

      August 2

      Bouchon Bakery Breakfast Pastries
      petite croissant, cranberry orange muffin
currant scone, madelaines, pain au raisin
chocolate cherry scone, sticky buns
blueberry muffin, pain au chocolate

      Huevos Rancheros &
Cornmeal Waffles
      poached hen eggs, crème fraiche
big ranch heirloom tomato salsa
rancho gordo black calypso beans
haas avocado

      Strawberries and Cream
      swanton farms strawberries, mascarpone cream
lemon snickerdoodle’s


      July 25

      Bouchon Bakery Breakfast Pastries
      petite croissant, blueberry muffin
bran muffin, madelaines
ham & cheese scone, pain au raisin

      Steak & Eggs
      marinated flat-iron steak, scallion potato cakes
scrambled hen eggs, wild mushroom ragout
brioche toast

      Strawberries and Cream
      lucero farms strawberries, mascarpone cream
lemon snickerdoodle’s

        1. re: heidikay

          Akkk ... I noticed you said Saturday, so ignore my previous post

      1. re: bobpantzer

        Yes, Napa wineries are more than used to wine novices. You might enjoy somewhere that offers a tour including comprehensive explanation of wine making process.

        When it comes to one day of wine tasting, less is definitely more. Don't be tempted to try to go to every winery you've ever heard of, just relax and savor a few. Two, Three, maybe four wineries tops. If you do too much tasting it is more challenging to enjoy meals (Ad Hoc is my current dinner favorite).

      2. We had a nice brunch at Jeanty.
        The Silverado Resort was also lovely out on the terrace.............Very classy and great service

        1. Are you staying overnight in Napa? What time are you planning to drive to Napa on Saturday? Do you have a route yet? Are you going up over the Golden Gate Bridge?

          The reason I ask is if you are planning to come up over 101 and throuh Sonoma, there are different wineries I'd recommend and there is a lovely little breakfast/lunch spot for Saturday on one route.

          I deleted a previous post because you say one day ... Saturday ... but brunch the next day implies Sunday.

          In that case, why go to Bouchon twice? Or for that matter two Thomas Keller restaurants?

          In my deleted post, I mentioned that Bouchon is cramped, noisy and has an unattractive view of the street and parking lot. If brunch is Sunday, then go to Brix's brunch buffet which has a top notch chef and a wonderful pastry chef. THe view is of the surrounding hills, vinyards and their organic garden which provides much of the produce for the menu. I won't go on like I did in my deleted post about how much I like Brix. The brunch menu is on the website, though it will probably not be exactly what you see since it depends on what is seasonal.

          If you are staying until Sunday, are you leaving after brunch or planning to have dinner later? In that case, I'd suggest Ubuntu in Napa

          7377 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94558

          1. I had a really great brunch at the Boon Fly Cafe in Napa a few weekends ago. Highly recommended.

            1 Reply
            1. Thanks all! This is fantastic.

              More details: we are driving from San Francisco on saturday morning. We plan to stop at the Farmers Market for an early breakfast before driving into Wine Country. I would love a plan for where to stop along the drive. I thought we'd visit around 4 wineries and then go to the hotel. We are staying Saturday night a the Westin Napa. Then we checkout on Sunday, have brunch and head out.

              Thanks again!

              PS: A Chef friend of ours recommended Schramsberg...would love to work that in to our day.

              12 Replies
              1. re: nutella

                Given the details of your day, if it were me, I'd do the following: From the Ferry Building, even though the Bay Bridge is closer, I would drive across the Golden Gate, through Marin, and then from 101 take highways 37,116,121 through Sonoma County to Highway 29 in south Napa. This is a more scenic route than coming up highway 80. When you turn north onto highway 29, passing through the town of Napa, I would turn east on Oak Knoll Road and then North up the less traveled and more scenic Silverado Trail. You could go all the way up to Calistoga or take one of the northern crossroads before turning west to re-connect with highway 29 where you would then work your way back down south to Napa. There are lots of wineries along both the Silverado Trail and Highway 29 and, if you want to go to Schramsburg, which is indeed a good recommendation, that could be your first stop on Highway 29 as you start heading back down towards Napa. i'm sure that others will chime in with their recommendations and some recommended wineries, as well. As someone else suggested, you would be wise to limit your wine tasting to three or maybe four wineries.

                1. re: nutella

                  You'll need a reservation for Schramsberg and it may be too late for this Sat. Here's the info:

                  1. re: Junie D

                    The Westin is a five (or less) minute walk from Oxbow market - which I found pricey but interesting (esp if it is a hot this weekend as it was last - the a/c was a blessing.) There is a VERY small winery tasting room across the street which is free and looks a bit like a craft shop (sorry don't remember the name) with an extremely friendly lady who was more than generous. Wasn't too impressed with the wine but it was a pleasant experience.

                    If you overindulge on Sat and don't feel like driving La Toque in the hotel is quite nice -very friendly servers and staff, nice setting, totally different than Ad Hoc. It is a bit expensive and didn't match what I was hoping for (like La Folie quality) but was a great way to eat comfortably and not have to worry about drinking and driving.

                    1. re: Junie D

                      If you can't get into Schramsberg and are interested in a sparkling winery, Domaine Carneros on the right side of highway 121 at Duhig Lane is a beautiful structure. On the Silverado Trail there is also Mumm which has regularly scheduled tours. Check their website for times. Domaine Chandon in Yountville is also a nice property. If you take my suggestion and drive north on the Silverado Trail, some wineries that might be of interest to you are Pine Ridge, Silverado Winery (mostly for the view from their tasting room), Robert Sinskey, Duckhorn (further north) and Rombauer (great Chardonnay and a nice view, as well). Driving south on highway 29, Greystone Cellars in the old Christian Brothers building might be worth a stop for the building itself and the cooking store. You'll need to eat lunch somewhere and, though Taylor's Refresher in St. Helena, is not something I've ever been fond of, a lot of people seem to like it--if you go there, go to one of the tables on the lawn in the rear. Don't know where you're from but, for a foodie, Dean & DeLuca is fun and you could get something to take out there and eat in one of the parks in either St. Helena or Yountville. V. Sattui across the road from Dean & DeLuca will look inviting to you but I think it's just a tourist trap. Robert Mondavi, further south on 29 has good tours, check the schedule on their website. Well, that's my two cents worth. Please report back on your experience. Hope you have a great weekend.

                      1. re: bobpantzer

                        I wrote Silverado Winery, should have been Silverado Vineyards,

                        1. re: bobpantzer

                          The route you suggested is just the one I was thinking of.

                          If you like champagne, on 116/121 there is Gloria Ferrer Champagne.

                          If you stiop there as you continue on 121 there's a nice little place for lunch called Fremont Diner. It is SO much better than the vastly over-rated Taylor's Refresher chain. I don't even find the picnic area at Taylor's attractive.

                          At Fremont Diner, there are lovely picnic tables looking out on the vinyard. I believe you are from Florida so it might amuse you to see a Southern Roadhouse translated to California ... fried pies with stellar local fruit, etc.

                          You will be passing right through the city of Napa on the way up so you could just make a pit stop at the Westin to check in and get that taken care of. Another terrific choice for lunch would be Ubuntu which is near the Westin.

                          Or you could pick up sandwiches, cheese and picnic supplies at Oxbow Public Market for the road trip to wineries. Oxbow is just down the street from the Westin. There's terrific cheese at The Cheese Merchant, great pate and cold cuts at Fatted Calf, good bread from Model Bakery. Fatted Calf makes some excellent sandwiches.

                          Don't be tempted by Sunday Brunch at the Westin. I love the service at the Westin but the brunch was really underwhelming. Go with Brix.

                          1. re: rworange

                            RW does get around, but I wouldn't recommend any of the above places. Sorry, RW. None of them are really in Napa Valley, for one. Sonoma, Carneros, and the city of Napa, but not Napa Valley.

                            Not a fan of Oxbow after giving it ten tries. Not a fan of the Westin Hotel or the restaurant there.

                            But, but...

                            Ad Hoc is wonderful -- stick with it.

                            Brunch at Boon Fly is the best I think. Beautiful building and rockin' food.

                            Wineries: Robert Mondavi on the main drag (29) has wonderful, fun tours about how wine is made. Pay extra for the reserve tasting -- it's worth it. See if you can taste the To-Kalon cab. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, and beautiful dessert wines.

                            Mumm Winery on Silverado has a wonderful and permanent Ansel Adams exhibit in addition to very good bubbly served on one of the most beautiful patios that look out over the interior of the Valley -- you'll see the grand sweep of things. Pay a little extra to taste the late-disgorged bubblies -- they have more depth and complexity and are entrancing.

                            Schramsberg also makes bubbly -- but world class bubbly. Wonderful setting, beautiful wines, mystical and mesmerizing caves.

                            Other wineries -- some echoing bobpantzer's thoughts:
                            Very highly recommend Frog's Leap for you. Lovely settng, smart smart farmng, good wines.
                            Pine Ridge -- good chard, good reds
                            Silverado Winery -- really beautiful Chardonnay, truly elegant reserve Cab. Robert Sinskey -- OK Pinot Noir, sometimes with eats--on Silverado Trail, not a favorite.
                            Duckhorn -- known for stunning Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc -- Silverado Trail and Lodi. Great tasting room.
                            Rombauer -- sorry, not a fan. Way too much sugar, butter and oak in their Chard.
                            CIA at Greystone -- pass
                            Taylor's Refresher -- pass
                            Instead of Dean & Deluca for picnic supplies (sure, look around, but prices for picnic food are sky-high and the selection is limited), go to Sunshine Market in St. Helena. The best.
                            V. Sattui -- tourist trap and literally flawed wines. Avoid at all costs.

                            It's OK to be a beginner. Trust your palate, but be open to new tastes and new flavors. Remember that a wine may not taste wonderful all by itself but will be transformed when drunk with food -- the synergy effect. Ask ANY questions you have. Be cordial. You'll have a great time. I've lived in Napa Valley for 17 years now and work in the wine biz, and I've listed here some of the best spots I know.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              While I realize they are not in the Napa Valley, they are on the route suggested by bob which you approved in a previous post.

                              Actually, if they are at Ferry Plaza on Saturday morning, they could pick up picnic supplies there. With the exception of Model, all the same Oxbow merchants mentioned are at FP and I believe a search of the boards will find lots of positive comments on Cowgirl Creamery (The Cheese Merchant at Oxbow), Fatted Calf (the advantage is the Oxbow store has a larger selection), Roli Roti sells the porchetta sandwich at both locations.

                              However, with getting picnic supplies at the farmers market they will have vastly expanded options ... Acme bread, Boccalone Salumeria, Mastrelli's, Andante cheese (must get), Della Fattoria bread, Downtown Bakery, Achadinha Cheese, Bodega & Yerba Santa Goat Cheese ... plus lots of fruit to add to the picnic basket

                              It is a long drive to wait till St. Helena to get picnic supplies and if they are stopping at wineries along the way that will be a long haul with lots of wine and nothing in the stomach.

                              Anyway, if they decide on a picnic, then FP would be the better place to get supplies than either Oxbow or Sunshine ... and it eliminates the time of another stop that would take away winery time.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Agree with stopping at the Ferry Plaza for picnic foods, or waiting till Napa to hit Vallergas or Whole Foods. The expanded Deli at the Napa Whole Foods is truly splendid. If in Oakville, Oakville Grocery will work. I already mentioned Sunshine in St. Helena. A number of stores up here carry Acme, Grace, and Bouchon and other breads; Andante cheese; and some form of gourmet salumi. Whatever works best.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Just read this great story on the Ferry Building in Friday's Los Angeles Times:

                                  Good video there too.

                    2. re: nutella

                      Definitely Schramsberg. One of the best.