Short and Sweet Yountville/St. Helena Itinerary. All suggestions welcome.
I'll be visiting Napa for the first time at the end of October, needless to say I am very excited. After reading countless threads, blogs and web sites i'm now ready to throw out my itinerary for the weekend. I'll be arriving in Yountville Friday afternoon around 2pm and departing Sunday evening for San Francisco. I believe this itinerary is pretty standard, as I am attempting to stay away from the bigger producers and get a good feel for Napa on my first go around.
Because of our late arrival I'll only be able to visit one Tour, I wanted to stay in the vicinity so I was contemplating biking to Far Niente.
My dinner options for the evening are either Bouchon, Mustard Grill or Bottega, I realize that these three restaurants are vastly different, so I'm looking for the best dining experience. I had been leaning towards Bottega, but after some recent marginal reviews I am now unsure.
Pick up food for a picnic in St. Helena at either Dean + Deluca, Sunshine Foods, or Oakville Grocery.
10am - Tour and Tasting at Pride Mountain followed by Picnic in their vineyard.
1pm - Smith-Madrone tasting.
Dinner - Redd (what is the policy on corkage? I know there's a 25$ fee, Is it looked down upon?)
I'm aware that Yountville doesn't cater to a later crowd, but is there anywhere in town to grab a night cap?
11:30 am - Schramsberg
1:15 - lunch at Cindy's backstreet kitchen.
2:30pm - Either Joseph Phelps, Larkmead, or Hall-Rutherford to finish
Since I will be visiting at the tail end of Harvest, are there any events going on that I should be aware of?
I enjoy Bottega, but I give them a lot of credit for handling uncountable busloads of tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of gorgeous Michael. I don't think there are many restaurants who could handle the crush of so many hundreds of diners, day in and day out, as gracefully as they do. But it is not the best food in the Napa Valley, although I do think it is very good just on its own. I give it that extra star simply because for what is the Napa equivalent of Fisherman's Wharf/Ghirardelli Square, Bottega does a fine job handling both out-of-towners' and locals' expectations. As we have all seen, most restaurateurs start to let things slide (these are mostly people who will never return, after all). Chiarello deserves a lot of credit for keeping things consistent and high quality (except for the salad greens, which tend to wilt) through two changes of chef de cuisine in the last three years.
If Bouchon could regularly offer their Columbia sturgeon rillette I would dine there every time we visit Napa....but they don't. It's a special and they rarely have it. Everything else we have gotten there is good but not exceptional, and when summer comes their service and food really seems to suffer. We have been much happier with our off-season meals there.
We have heard so much about Redd and I'm dying to go, so it's on our list for our next trip. And Gott's. And Greystone. And Meadowood. And....shucks, I have to get all these family issues straightened out so we can spend another four or five days up there again, lol.
I've never brought wine into Redd, so I can't say for it specifically. But generally in wine country, the understanding is you only take advantage of the corkage fee if you have a special bottle. Now, special bottle doesn't mean expensive bottle - it just means an older vintage wine or a wine with sentimental value (not just something to circumvent paying for a bottle at the restaurant e.g. the Italian table wine you blindly picked up from Dean & Deluca earlier that day).
Be very careful in Napa if you are bringing in a wine, many of these restaurants have extensive wine cellars. It's considered poor form to bring a bottle in, when that bottle is available on their list. Call and check.
That said, if it's a special bottle and not on the list. No one should blink if you bring it in.
I'd say skip Bouchon unless you are really set on eating in a Thomas Keller restaurant. It does competent renditions of cal/french/wine country type food, but I just don't feel a lot of creativity or drive coming from the Bouchon kitchens right now.
Your estimation of 1:15 Cindy's, 2:30 pm winery is really tight. On weekends, the traffic in and out of St. Helena gets really bad and then allocate about 20 minutes to get to the wineries (a little longer for Hall Rutherford than Larkmead or Joseph Phelps). I'd say the earliest you could schedule an appointment, and comfortably make it, would be 3 pm.
As to Larkmead, the setting isn't remarkable (compare to say Hall-Rutherford). It's basically a tasting in a house in a living room. You sit and chat about wine and slowly taste through (if the weather is good you can sit outside and they may walk you through the vines a bit - but the end of October the weather is either going to be beautiful or rainy). The wines are rather big (not as big as Pride - at least they are drinkable now) but in balance. They are pricey (but just as pricey as Phelps or Hall-Rutherford). I think you can't really go wrong between the three in terms of wine quality, so as a visitor I'd probably want to go to a place a little more distinctive than Larkmead.
I will say that Larkmead is very intimate, there isn't anything immediately around there and there will be at most 6 to10 other people milling around. So if I had to pick an order it would be
Hall-Rutherford, Larkmead, and Joseph Phelps last .
Thanks goldangl95, in regards to bringing wine, it would be solely based on the purchase of an unbelievably special bottle that they did not have on their wine list. Thanks for clarifying. I was aware of the traffic on the weekends but didn't think it would be that congested, i'll definitely push back my Sunday Afternoon tasting.
Hi Ruud...I thought I would chime in since I recently carried two bottles in to Redd, one bottle of chardonnay, and a bottle of pinot. As I recall, the waiter came over, said hello, and said shall I open only the white, or should I open both bottles of your wine. I don't think he had any idea of what the wines were, not even sure the labels were turned such that he could even see the front labels. The service at Redd is great, very accommodating. You should not feel any tension about carrying wine in, as you and your wine will be very welcome, and you will have a good time, and a great meal. By the way, if they have a quail special, go for it. Enjoy.
I agree that you should feel comfortable bringing your wine in. EVERYONE brings in wine in wine country -- after all, the employees of wineries in Napa Valley (the major industry in the valley) always bring wine whenever and wherever they dine out. Unless it's a very exclusive place, servers don't bat an eye. Check the corkage policy on the winery website; many restaurants have free corkage nights.
During our 2-night Yountville stay a couple weeks ago, we dined at Redd (excellent). I think you are correct--$25 corkage, but I vaguely remember seeing on the menue that the price goes up for any additional bottles past the first. (I might be wrong about that though.) So I also wondered if there were trying to discourage this practice. However, the table next to us brought their own wine and I did not observe any judgment by the restaurant. The staff attended to their wine in a very attentive and professional manner.
I did not visit Larkmead or Hall-Rutherford, so I cannot compare them to Joseph Phelps. But we did a tasting outdoors at Joseph Phelps, and it was an extrememly beautiful setting. It was a favorite for me.
As for Bottega, we had a great time dining there, and enjoyed everything we ate very much. I have no complaints about Bottega. But I would rate our experience at Redd much, much higher. They are just very different experiences. But in no way do I regret dining at Bottega.
We really liked everything we had at both places. I would say my husband's entree at Redd was a standout: Spiced pork tenderloin, cranberry beans, kale, fresh figs, whole grain mustard jus. Really yummy. But I think lots of things were great, and it depends a lot on what and how you like to eat. We also shared an appetizer of summer melon, gulf shrimp, avocado, padron peppers, fennel, yuzu vinaigrette. It was fresh, clean, light, delicious. For my entree: Caramelized diver scallops, cauliflower puree, capers, almonds, golden raisins. Very nice, and right up my alley.
At Bottega, I had a really tasty grilled octopus and arugula salad, again right up my alley. I had a charred octopus starter a couple days earlier in SF which slightly won out in texture, but I would still recommend Bottega's version too as it was really a nice pairing of flavors. My husband had short rib meatballs that were velvety and tasty. Our entrees were very good too--whole branzini for him, and for me a tomatoey shellfish soup/stew with prawns, mussels, clam, and calamari, and a large decadent olive oil crouton topped with aoli. It was all very good. It just so happens that both nights we were too full for dessert, but I do remember drooling over the appearance of the desserts at the next table at Redd.
Oh yeah, and the cocktail menu at Redd was really interesting too. Both my husband and I tried the "Stone Fruit Cooler:" Buffalo Trace bourbon, iced tea, mint, lemon, and peach bitters. It was a light drink, which suited us fine because we wanted to enjoy some wine too. It was really tasty and I was impressed that my taste buds could pick out each separate element of the drink.