Restaurant at Meadowood [St. Helena]
Anyone been? Who the heck are these people? Is Michelin suddenly promoting them in not so subtle ways, or are they deserving of their sky high rating? Did they have two stars for years, and only recently get bumped to three, or did they come from no where to three overnight?
Mostly, and most importantly, are they worth it? Who has been there? With FLs absurd popularity and reservation system I could see Meadowood getting a lot of traffic just from the overflow, at least if it is capable of living up to its billing.
6 of us went for a special 40th birthday dinner about two weeks ago.
Made a special trip up to Napa and everything (TFL was booked...)
I don't know if I'd even give it 1 star.
First, the food:
-- pillows on a pillow. Little things shaped like square mini eggrolls (think "pizza roll" if you know those filled with cheese. Nice but a little bit 60's cocktail party.
-- this was weird. They plunked these down family style. two awkward-to-get-at glass side-entry bowls in the middle of the table. Containing baby carrots and radishes immersed in a tasty gelee thing. This would have been great if they gave everybody their own. (Sounds like canape #1 in willyum's post above). As it was, it was hard to know who got what, hard to get at -- I don't think each person got a carrot and a radish, even. Did not feel like fine dining; nor did it feel irreverant or fun, which might have been the case if we each had our own.
We all opted for the 4-course meal, not the tasting menu.
I started with a dish containing their 'new white asparagus from the garden', toro, dungeness crab, and caviar. This was a $30 surchage.
Bleah. Just fair.
Two days later I got a $6 jar of crabmeat at the safeway fish counter that was tastier than this crab. The caviar was nice, but truly I wonder just how high quality. Not as good as the $45-for-an-ounce jar we had toasted with earlier at the hotel. The asparagus was wrapped in the superthin slices of toro. These bites were nice, tasty, but even as the best bite of the dish, not worth even 1 michelin star.
I split a guinea game hen course with another at the table. Truly delicious. Worthy of a star. Not two and not three.
Cheese. Okay, so I ordered a cheese I did not know because I wanted the accompaniments; pieces of beehive which were fantastic, and a gelee/jam I've forgotten (telling in itself). But the cheese was nasty; I don't know whether it was the cheese as it normally comes or whyether they'd done something to it. But it was in a soft cylinder. I love cheese, I love stinky cheese, I love epoisse even. But this tasted funky and icky.
I got something with a very provocative name. It was supposed to be flavors of umami. I have no idea where that came from. Two blobs of mediocre ice cream over a thin wafer of some sort with a little snake of something chocolatey.
Now the wine:
We did wine pairings. None of the 4 beat the $19 bottle of sicilian red we picnicked with that afternoon. Though my friend did have a red and a white he enjoyed (we got different wine pairings with different dishes, which was nice).
Now the service.
First of all the pacing was wretched.
They brought menus, took a drink order, and immediately came back with one amuse after the other, before the cocktails. Not a problem for me *IF* the rest of the pacing flows from that.
But it was then really another half hour before our order had even been taken. We found ourselves waiting a lot throughout the meal, with no plates and with empty glasses.
It took us about 3 hours to have a four course meal. Too long.
Then there was the part where they cleared all our cheese courses when one of us was not done yet. He had to ask them to please leave it once they had their hand on the plate. The rest of ours were now cleared, so he finished his course alone with the only plate on the table.
And after every single course, the waiter came to our table and asked us if everything was good, if we were 'enjoying the flavors', etc.
This was terrible. It's not my job to tell review and analyze the meal and give them feedback at the table. It's their job to wow me and do a good enough job that they do not need to ask.
The questions, honestly, just made it worse. It really almost seems like they are insecure about their 3 stars (which they should be) and are somehow looking for feedback or validation. But I don't want to have to sit at the table and tell them all the things wrong in the moment; it just puts the focus in the wrong place and wrecks the mood.
Also, the waiter was WAAAY to conversational. Guessing that my boyfriend is perhaps foreign? Which he is not (born and raised in San Luis Obispo). Guessing that my japanese friend is perhaps foreign? Well played! And then of course that leads into hearing that his wife is japanese too, and they had plans to visit japan, but with the earthquake, and prices of tickets going up, well, they're not sure they can afford to go so soon. I mean come on.
Then there was when he was telling us about the wines. "This one is by so-and-so. The owner of the vineyard is actually a good friend of President Bush the Senior. I hope that doesn't offend anybody at the table."
Now why in the world would you make that comment when you know there is pretty much a 50% chance that the people at the table would not be Bush-lovers. And it has zero-nada-nothing to do with the wine itself, how it might taste or why it's on the table.
Oh and also I had called ahead to ask about the price increase, which had been increased after my reservation but before the dinner. I was told they would use the old prices. But looking at the receipt the next day, I don't think they did. (Though I don't have the itemized receipt, so I can't be 100% sure).
I went to Meadowood back in Spring 2010 as part of a March celebration of birthdays. We stayed at a resort in Napa within a stone's throw of Bouchon, and they arranged the reservation for us. As part of the trip/visit we went to Neela's, and to Terra, and then took a side trip to Sonoma and Healdsburg. Let me just to start say that I much preferred the food at Neela's and Terra to what we ate at Meadowood.
The Meadowood location is really quite beautiful, and if you get a table by the window, and can look out at the golf course and trees, it is a stunning view. I would go back just to enjoy the view, but then go somewhere else to eat dinner.
It is not unusual for me to remember in detail what I ate a restaurant twenty or thirty years earlier, and particularly so if the meal was special. I have managed to put much of what I ate at Meadowood out of my mind. More memorable was the oyster po-boy that I ate after returning to our resort; had I not had something to eat I would not have made it through the night. By New Orleans standards this was not a great po boy, but it certainly hit the spot, filling the big empty that was left after the meal I had.
So a few memories of the food remain. The first amuse-bouche was a small plate of what appeared to be a grey or smoked salt that had been poured around baby radishes that were the size of a pea, a baby pea. I believe there were two per person. This was followed by a soup-cup serving of a "mashed potato" based concoction, with potato on the bottom, a layer of crisp crumbled potato, then a layer of a watercress foam, and then more of the mashed potato. Not particularly interesting.
My wife had a filled pasta that she enjoyed. The details escape me. I had a platter that had some pate and other charcuterie. It was acceptable but not exceptional.
My wife's main course was not what she was expecting. I had a mixed grill plate. Acceptable, but not really exceptional.
The dessert was a choice from among four or five combinations that all sounded off, and based on the two that we chose in the end, they were off. It was one of those cases of trying to be different, and forgetting that first it needed to be tasty.
We had the wine pairing with this. I think at the time, the three-course meal with wine pairing was about $150/person. I have certainly enjoyed meals that were several times more expensive than this on a per person basis in Japan, and that were comparably priced in the US. It was without a doubt the worst value of any meal I have had in that price category. Even my least favorite meal at Chez Panisse or Oliveto's or Bay Wolf was substantially better. I was on sabbatical in Italy when I heard that Meadowood had earned three stars. I am convinced by this that I never need to buy a Michelin guide, and am better served following my nose.
It was not only the food that was disappointing but the entire atmosphere and service "performance" that made the evening much less than what I had hoped for. When I go out to eat at a restaurant like this I do want to enjoy things that I cannot make easily at home, experience tastes that I do not normally taste, want the service to be non-invasive, and want to leave satisfied. None of these applied to my visit to Meadowood, and the service was particularly annoying. How many Meadowood wait staff would it take to change a light bulb? One to tell you where the glass was made, one to tell you the history of the company that made it, another two or three to stand by admiring the first two, and then at least six to rotate the ladder and screw in the bulb. We were two people. Do you really need six people to serve two plates? It was not dinner service, it was dinner theater. I came to eat. I want the food and my dinner companion to be the focus, not an army of servers.
As I said, after leaving the restaurant, we headed back to our resort, went to the bar, and each of us had something else to eat. If there is a restaurant that is more overrated than Meadowood, may I never eat there. Terra was wonderful. The mussel-saffron soup was as good as the first time I had had it, roughly twenty years earlier. The dishes were interesting, beautifully cooked and totally satisfying. The food at Neela's was very tasty. With a less inept server, it would have been an even more enjoyable meal. The server could not think ahead and combine multiple tasks. I was tempted to recommend that she apply for a job at Meadowood.
All I can say is that I am glad that I went and got it out of my system. There are many fine restaurants in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and at least on the night that I went, this was not one of them.
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
Bay Wolf Restaurant
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6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
No...it most certainly wasn't just you! I feel so validated by reading these posts! Christmas 2011, I had The. Stupidest. Meal. Ever. at that place, and at a king's ransom. It was really obscene, and we were all (5 of us) in vigorous agreement. We had the same experience mentioned above with the badly times service and the dopey waiter chat. The food was just bizarre, and, bottom line, did not get the "nom, nom" going at all. And don't think I didn't "get" the food and what they were trying to "do". I am plenty food adventurous/experienced and that food? Was just annoying and overly precious and to quote Bourdain, "Lethally self-serious."
The sad part is, I was at the Restaurant in the early 90's and had one of the best meals I've ever eaten.
I wish I had the menu (we had the tasting menu and, thanks to that abomination of a meal, I am so totally OVER the tasting menu experience.) to share with you but I am currently out of town.
I also wouldn't give that place one Michelin star, let alone three...I know this is an old post, but I felt it was important to corroborate the others' experiences.
>> Did they have two stars for years, and only recently get bumped to three, or did they come from no where to three overnight? <<
I think the relatively new chef put them up to 3*. Michelin said in the past they were a little inconsistent but now they have their own farm for produce (like French Laundry) and are deserving of 3*.
>> are they worth it? Who has been there? <<
Couple of months ago we FINALLY got French Laundry reservations and, since we were flying in from far away, decided to hit Meadowood on the 2nd night too. Compared to FL I thought the service was not quite as smooth but the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed. FL is definitely on a bit more ambitious scale (more courses, nice take-home treat), but food-wise I thought Meadowood was excellent and we would definitely return.
I thought it was more suited for a foodie than a more conservative type diner. The two dishes I most remember were these: 1) a canape that looked like a couple of leaves poking out of snow but was actually a baby radish with the stalk covered with a tomato water granite, with a bed of pureed lettuce and cream on the bottom. A dish that worked visually, creatively and with a nice taste contrast between the sharp radish, slightly acidic tomato water and creamy lettuce. 2) langoustine wrapped with a piece of scallop carpaccio wrapped with rice (tapioca paper) and steamed. Wow, so tender and tasty. Best langoustine I've ever had (better than the lobster dish at FL the night prior, much better at the 'seafood mecca' Le Bernardin).
So if those dishes sound like 'cute food' then you might not like the place, but if they sound intriguing then probably you would enjoy your meal there.
FWIW my wife and I have been hitting as many Michelin 3* and Forbes 5* restaurants as possible the past year (13 thus far, a couple multiple times) and I'd say Meadowood definitely deserves 3* based on that one meal, placing them in the top group with Alinea, Per Se and French Laundry, ahead of Michelin 3*s like Robuchon (Vegas), Jean Georges and Le Bernardin (NYC), and ahead of all the Forbes 5*'s like Addison, Kai, Penrose Room, Eleven Madison Park, Alex etc that we dined at.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
Ive been a few times. The food is sporadic, never consistant. Perhaps they are resting on their 3 stars and recently increased prices.
I heard through a winemaker in the region that hey have been going through management problems. Perhaps they got rid of the restaurants GM now. If so, I would return to give it another try.