Yet Another Napa/Wine Country Report: Late Night Downtown, Cakebread & Honig, Oxbow Market, and a Theory on How to Eat at Redd
Living in the northern part of the East Bay, I’ve always just taken day trips up to the wine country, but SO wanted to do the touristy thing for our anniversary weekend and before I render myself broke from sending off my law school apps (yes, it is finally happening).
We arrived at Avia, the new hotel downtown, unexpectedly late (10:30) and starving on Friday evening, room service had ended, and unfortunately, SO had banned my laptop/all internet from the weekend so we didn't have any leads for late night. Figuring the valet guys would give us more honest recommendations for local spots, we asked them for recs and while we did get a few of the recs I found on CH this morning, we were given more where not to go’s than where to’s. In the end, we ended up just getting back in the car and driving around a bit. We found Downtown Joe’s. I laughed when I read all of the negative reports on CH after our trip. Woops. Joe’s was having live music that night and as we walked up, the jerk at the door without a word from us said “Sorry folks, I’m not letting anyone else in for awhile.” I turned on my heels and started to walk away, but SO being a bit more tolerant of rudeness asked him if they were not allowing diners in either. They were. We were immediately seated on the rather rowdy patio under a heat lamp and brought menus by our very lovely server, Linda. I ordered the cheeseburger and the Double Secret Probation IPA, SO had the fish & chips and a Tail Waggin’ Amber ale. I will give them that my burger was actually a fairly good burger made with Niman Ranch ground sirloin, crisp lettuce, and good (!) tomatoes and appeared med.-rare as I’d ordered it. SO’s fish was a couple of huge pieces of crispy beer-battered rock cod. Both orders came with their beer-battered french fries which were fine for what they were. What can I say? It was late and it’s a locals’ pub – a number of microbrews, fair pub food, and lots of swearing. My burger and beer were just fine.
The next day we woke up late with very little time to eat before heading off to our wine tasting appointments. Being right in that little patch of downtown, there are several sit down spots, but not a lot of obvious to-go type places other than Subway (Oxbow across the bridge was being saved for the next day) so, we walked through the shopping center and found Christopher’s Fine Foods. On the surface it looks very gift shop-ish with its huge glass storefront and the walls lined with jarred spreads, olive oils, and some teas, but we popped in anyway and the special spreads on their sandwiches drew us in. SO ordered prosciutto, brie, and arugula with a fig compote while I ordered the “southwestern turkey” w/ roasted turkey breast, gouda, tomatoes, lettuce, and a raspberry-[red wine] aioli, both on baguettes. Ingredients tasted good, baguettes were fresh, nice spreads and a great deal at $5 each. If you’re familiar, my 5 out of 5 is a turkey and havarti w/ light mustard on an Acme baguette from The Junkett and this was a solid 3.75.
Our first winery stop was Cakebread Cellars with friends that are wine club members. I thought the gardens were beautiful and was a little sad that we were seated all the way in the back of their newest building, but did enjoy walking through the belly of the winery and seeing where the processing takes place and learning little facts along the way. I had never had Cakebread’s wines before and of the 6 current releases we tasted, enjoyed their reds the most, in particular the 2004 Dancing Bear Ranch cab sauv. I was not a fan of their chardonnays and it was rather fitting that our next stop was Honig which specializes in sauv. blancs and cabs where I couldn't resist getting a shirt that said “Friends don’t let friends drink chardonnay.” We were invited to stand around the main counter if we liked (as opposed to sitting under covered tables out on the patio – it was getting a little windy) and I really enjoyed the one-on-one treatment that we got at Honig (it was definitely much more relaxed than Cakebread). Was especially impressed by the sauv blancs and the finishes of the cabs we tasted. Very thoughtfully made. Currently scrounging for change to become a member.
After that, headed back to hotel to get ready for 6:45 reservation at Redd. I’m going to post my review of Redd as a reply to this thread because it is simply too long. In a nutshell, despite all of the recent negative reports, I had a very nice meal there and will return.
Sunday. After being woken up by the fire alarm in our hotel at 7 am (the kitchen burned toast) and a running delivery truck outside our window, we were completely disgusted and decided to head out early. We had heard that brunch at our hotel was nice, but they were still serving a buffet-style breakfast, so despite my best judgment I asked the valet guys where to get breakfast. They directed us to the ABC (Alexis Baking Company) Café up the street on 3rd. It was completely packed with what appeared to be locals and rather than wait, we opted for a tiny two-top the others passed up. Menus and coffee appeared promptly and our server even went next door to get SO apple juice which they did not have on the menu. I thought that was really nice. SO ordered a breakfast sandwich in an effort to eat light and said the bread was the highlight and I ordered the huevos rancheros on our server’s recommendation (apparently the cooks are Mexican women who have been there since the beginning and pride themselves in their Mexican dishes). I almost regretted this as beautiful plates of pancakes artfully topped with blueberry compote w/ beautiful little berries drifted by, but my hearty order of two perfectly crisp tortillas slathered with a well-seasoned black bean puree, topped with melted cheddar, a red tomato sauce, and poached eggs w/ a dollop of sour cream on the side won me over. There was nothing refined about what I ordered, but I was exhausted and the crispy/creamy/savory/tart was very comforting. Many people were getting baked goods to go.
After breakfast, we hit Oxbow. This was a mistake as we were both full and to be completely honest, were not hugely impressed by the offerings as we are spoiled rotten by our close proximity to Berkeley Bowl and the Ferry Building. Nonetheless, we managed to spend entirely too much money at Kara’s buying gifts and bought some beautiful fruit from Oxbow Produce and Grocery. I could not resist the Frog Hollow O’Henry peaches that we smelled as soon as we walked through the door, the perfectly golden, almost translucent (the skin was that delicate) asian pears, and a handful of honey-sweet Panache figs even though they were $12.99 a lb.(!!!) I actually remember being a little surprised at some of the prices as the same small containers of St. Benoit yogurt I buy at Berkeley Bowl were almost $2 more at Oxbow. Regardless, it was a neat market to peruse and I enjoyed the "local-ness" of the offerings, but my favorite stall was probably the Whole Spice Co. They have an immense array of spices and the color and smell of the things I asked to see were incredible. The market was pretty empty at that hour and as we were leaving, I could not convince SO to get anything to go from Pica Pica as he didn’t want to ruin it for himself, so we made one last stop at Fatted Calf, purchased their beef jerky, the last two merguez sausages that were delicious, some chicharonnes, and some lamb broquettes to take home.
Overall, a great weekend of eating, perhaps just a little more reading of the CH for me next time. :)
Alexis Baking Co
1517 3rd St, Napa, CA 94559
Oxbow Public Market
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
Whole Spice Company
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
644-C First Street, Napa, CA 94559
8300 St Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA
Honig Vineyard & Winery
850 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford, CA
6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
Oxbow Produce and Grocery
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
Downtown Joe's Restaurant
902 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559
Saturday night @ Redd. Overall, a very nice meal - not perfect as there were some highs and lows - but in our case I think it may have had more to do with our personal preferences rather than execution.
When we arrived for our 6:45 reservation, we were led to our seats in the main dining room right away, so I only got a quick glance at the room overlooking the patio, but it appeared that the restaurant was completely booked save for a few seats out on the patio. The sun was setting so the room which I’ve heard others describe as sterile was bathed in a warm glow and the décor looked more minimalist than hospital like (although the chairs looked a bit functionalist). We couldn’t have been seated more than 3 minutes when we were brought menus and greeted by our server (I don’t recall her name, but she was completely professional with a warm manner). We had both notified the restaurant that we were interested in the tasting menus, but SO wimped out on the wine pairing after a long day of tasting and started with a stone-fruit cooler which was a mixture of its namesake, tea, bourbon, mint, and lime (?) which he enjoyed and I thought was a fabulous use of bourbon. My first (cold) course was the yellowfin tuna tartar with asian pear, chili oil, and crispy fried/puffed rice perfectly paired with a crisp Riesling while SO was given a sashimi of hamachi over sticky rice. I loved this dish and am grateful the chef included this in our tasting as I don’t think I would have ordered it on my own. This is one of my top 10 tastes for this year. The contrast of texture between the firm tuna, crispy rice, slightly less crisp bite of the asian pear and the contrasting tastes of the sweet pear, slightly fatty fish, and savory chili oil (which tasted more of sesame to me than chili) brightened by tiny sprouts of micro cilantro was just beautiful. Neither SO nor I wanted to switch halfway through so I didn’t try his hamachi which he enjoyed greatly, but did begrudgingly give up the end of tartar to save room for the following courses.
Our second course was the “warm fish” course and SO had the caramelized diver scallops over cauliflower puree w/ almonds and sultanas, and balsamic reduction which everyone raves about and I received the petrale sole with coconut jasmine rice, clams, chorizo, and saffron curry nage paired with a sauv. blanc. While I understood what the chef was trying to accomplish flavor-wise with this dish, I did not enjoy the dish itself. First off, I hate foams. They do not look pleasant nor are they pleasant to eat and the tepid-temperature with the mild curry bubbles was just bad to me. Further, I cook rice very well (biryanis, pilafs, pulaos, risottos, etc.) and the rice in this dish was very challenging to me. The bed of coconut rice was in a watery coconut broth and the individual grains of rice starchy as if the rice had been cooked first and then reheated in the broth. I did not actually see any chorizo on the dish, but did see a bit of chorizo-eque red oil. All of this was very sad because I really wanted to like this dish as the fish was cooked beautifully. SO’s scallops were gorgeously caramelized and I was jealous. In the few bites I got, I found the puree with sweet, tart bits of sultana and crunchy bits of almond interesting.
Third course I received the glazed pork belly with apple puree, soy caramel, frisee, and burdock (paired with a pinot noir), SO received a quail dish over French lentils with foie gras (and something else) meatballs with a sherry vinaigrette. I've never had bad pork belly and this rendition was among the best of them - rich and unctuous in a good way. I appreciated the freshness of the frisee and the slight tartness of the apple greatly as the combination of rich meat, concentrated glaze, slightly chewy glaze soaked burdock, and soy caramel was almost over the top. Luckily SO, while enjoying the quail and lentils turned out not to be a fan of the meatballs, and was happy to polish off my dish as I simply could not. I enjoyed the livery little meatballs with the well-cooked lentils and thought the sherry vinaigrette played off both nicely.
Fourth was the big meat course. SO received slices of med.rare lamb over an eggplant puree w/ a kind of sweet/tart Moroccan themed (same flavor profile as the cauliflower puree) mixture of vegetables. I remember mirepoix, maybe some peppers, sultanas, and pine nuts. I lucked out and got what I dubbed “the giant plate o’ beef.” 3-4 strips of perfect medium-rare new york strip over crisp-tender Bluelake beans & sautéed mushrooms (they looked like chanterelles, the menu says chanterelles, but I think the server said “woodland mushrooms”); a perfect cube of fork-tender short rib w/ a tiny drizzle of pepper-fennel oil to the side as accompaniment; and a crisp little “cannelloni” with a shredded short rib/creamed spinach filling. I really appreciated the care that went into creating each element of this dish and did not want to give it up, but felt bad for SO who does not like lamb, especially “Western”-style preps. I really enjoyed the lamb dish. The pairing was a beautifully balanced 2005 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon, the entire vintage of which was apparently bought out by Redd. Boo.
The final course was dessert. SO received the sweet corn fritters w/ blackberries, corn-infused vanilla ice cream, raspberry compote and I was graced with a little square of PB-milk choc. gianduja, a shot glass of honey comb parfait w/ whipped cream & dark chocolate sauce, and a cannele of PB-milk chocolate ice cream atop a bed of crushed peanut brittle. Chocolate, peanut butter, and hazelnuts. All on one plate. There is not one negative thing I can say about this dish other than do try the honey comb parfait first as it tends to lose its crunch under the whip cream as it sits. The sweet corn fritters were little half dollar sized balls, crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside and the raspberry compote & blackberries cut the richness nicely. The ice cream was probably my favorite thing on that plate. My plate of amazingness was paired with a beautiful glass of port, perhaps the Souza?
So overall, I was very pleased with our meal at Redd and after our last plate was taken away, SO said that I had a very Zen-look on my face. I think the key to eating at a restaurant like Redd is to try their tasting menu to get a feel for what flavors and preps the chef favors, executes well, and then formulating an opinion based on that rather than one dish here or another there. At $75 for the 5 courses and $120 with the pairing, (our total was $224 before tip) it certainly was an affordable way to accomplish this. Now, the next time I go if I do not decide to do the tasting menu again just to see what’s new and interesting, I know to order a raw fish prep, a warm meat dish, and dessert because that is what I enjoyed before. In any case, I will be going back.
Oh, and btw – the service we received was impeccable. We received full explanations of every course that was set before us, we were asked if we had any questions after each explanation, and our dishes were cleared within 3 minutes of the last fork being turned over.