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Napa/Sonoma - Too many restaurants, not enough time.

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My husband and I love food and wine and will be visiting Napa/Sonoma (from NYC) for 4 days/nights next week for our 6th wedding anniversary (we were married on Spring Mountain). I'm trying to finalize our restaurant lineup and have done some extensive reading on the board, but wanted to ask for your opinions.

Here are the restaurants we're looking at. Looking for places that are serving up some great dishes now (not places known for good food but are currently slipping). Please feel free to critique or suggest substitutions.

- Boon Fly Cafe
- Solbar

Arrive at SFO at 11:00, so not sure we can drive into wine country soon enough to squeeze in a 4th lunch.
- Bottega (Yountville) - I've seen good/bad on the board. The menu looks good. Is it worth it?
- Redd (Yountville)
- Girl and the Fig or La Salette? (Sonoma)

- Auberge du Soleil (sunset dinner on the terrace, Rutherford, CA) - not changing this one
- Farm at Carneros Inn (dinner)
- La Folie (SF - dinner with friends that live there)
- Mustard's Grill? Something else?

Thanks in advance.

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  1. We've had Etoile at Domaine Chandon in Yountville twice for lunch over the past few months and each time were thrilled with our meals. Perry Hoffman is an amazing young chef and in our opinion, on his way to a second star. The food coupled with the beautiful scenery of the winery makes for a great afternoon in the Napa Valley.

    1 Reply
    1. Bottega has been getting mixed reviews and I find it rather heavy and staid, preferring Bistro Don Giovanni for Cal-Italian much better.

      Mustards is fine if all you want are giant hunks of grilled meats but there is not much else going for it when there is so much else better in the valley.

      That said, the hot restaurants in town right now are Morimoto, Oenetri, Cook, and Redd. My personal local favorites remain Bistro Jeanty (classic French bistro fare), Cook, Zuzu (tapas), and Grace's Table which is a local's favorite. JoLe in Calistoga is another favorite of mine, but I don't get up-valley as often as I would like.

      I'd push Redd to a dinner slot and find another lunch instead - and replace Bottega as well.

      You realize that between Girl & the Fig and La Salette, you are venturing over to Sonoma? Was that your intention or to remain in Napa? Between the two, I'd take La Salette for just being different.

      3 Replies
      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Yes, we thought we'd check out the city of Sonoma since we're going to be in the region. Have a meal there, maybe check out Sojourn Cellars.

        Thanks for the report on Mustard's. While we love meat, we're looking for meals that have the whole package (not just giant hunks of grilled meats).

        Is Bottega considered to be Cal-Italian?

        Also is there a good place for raw oysters in the half shell either in San Francisco (arriving at SFO) on the way to Napa or in the Sonoma (city), Carneros, Napa area? 'Tis the season.

        I'll take a look at your other suggestions as well. Thanks again. Really appreciate it.

        1. re: weesa

          Bottega is definitely Cal-Italian - and while I enjoyed my meals there, I find them heavy and overwhelming.

          At Oxbow Market, you will find Hog Island Oysters and while they aren't necessarily cheap, they are plentiful and good. Your other option would be to drive through the city and stop at Swan Oyster Bar; depends on how fast you want to get to wine country.

          1. re: CarrieWas218

            OR . . . stop on your way through the City at the Ferry Plaza, and enjoy Hog Island there . . . .

      2. I, too, prefer Bistro Don Giovanni over Bottega. And think about Bouchon, too.

        I love Girl & the Fig, but from the Napa Valley, it *is* a schlep to get to the town of Sonoma. Depending upon your point of departure, to get to Sonoma, you either have to drive south and west around the Mayacamas Mountains and through Carneros, then northwest through Vineburg into Sonoma, OR -- from up valley -- across the Oakville Grade and down Hwy 12. Close on a map isn't necessarily close in a car . . . UNLESS you do Girl and the Fig as your first lunch as you drive up from SFO.

        2 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          I'm debating between Girl and the Fig and Salette on the drive up from SFO. Both look great. Not sure that I'll make it back to Sonoma (city) during this trip.

          1. re: zin1953

            +1 on Bistro Don Giovanni over Bottega. No question. I've eaten at BDG a hundred times and have never -- not even once -- had a bad meal. Glorious interior, lovely outdoor patio also. Great appetizers -- I've made a meal of two or three of them. Everything is good. You may think you've had salmon every which way and sideways, but the salmon at BDG is legendary.

          2. I'll be in the minority, then. We went to Don Giovanni in May and had an indifferent meal. Pork chop was overcooked and so tough it kept trying to fly off the plate when I tried to cut into it. Meatballs were overdosed with rosemary and the sauce was so salty even my salt-loving spouse had to stop halfway through. The salmon chowder had crispy-crunchy vegetables, obviously somebody mistook it for a stirfry.

            I would say the food at Bottega is good but not great. I give them extra points simply because they serve enormous numbers of people hoping to see Michael C., and they handle it with efficiency and quite a bit of grace; not an easy thing to do with busloads descending upon them hourly.

            Oenotri beats all of them. The salume is amazing and the pizzas fabulous. The service is excellent; the maitre d' actually works the floor.

            We didn't care for Mustards. I've just never liked Cindy Pawclyn's restaurants, even when she was in SF. The salad was exquisite but everything else was sloppy and oversalted.

            Skip Girl & Fig. They built their reputation on Chris Jones' cooking, and he moved at the end of summer 2011 to Brix, just past Mustards. Our lunch there was sublime and we are looking forward to a return visit before the end of the year. His clam-prosciutto croquettes were so good, we dream of them! (and I don't even like clams, LOL)

            We've actually found better restaurants on the Hwy 101 corridor in Sonoma Cty, but if we were eating at Sonoma Square we'd pick:
            - Cafe la Haye
            - Dry Creek Kitchen (which goes up and down, but recent reports indicate they're on the upswing again)
            - Barndiva. This is dicey for us. We had a perfect summer lunch here, but the next trip a few months later gave us a terrible dinner. The food was drenched in ultra-high fat butter, or oversalted, or overcooked, and occasionally all three negatives at the same time. A massive disappointment from Ryan Fancher, who should know better than to overcook sweetbreads. Even the coffee was abominable, a shock when Flying Goat is just up the street.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jaiko

              Ah, didn't know that about Girl/Fig. It's been a couple of years since we ate there.

              We had lunch at Cindy's (Pawlcyn) Backstreet Kitchen and thought it was terrific. Bought her cookbook I liked the food so much.


              1. re: c oliver

                Shucks, if I'd known someone wanted it (I wasn't on CH at the time) I'd have GIVEN the book away. Mustards gave us a freebie after we spoke with the waiter (very politely) about how disappointing we found our entrees. First they offered to comp us but we declined - when we eat the food, we prefer to pay for it; I only accept comping if I've actually returned the food to the kitchen. The mgr gave us the book as we were leaving.

                I know a lot of people enjoy Pawclyn's restaurants - and Michael Mina's as well. We prefer a different style of cooking, I guess.

            2. We've had lunch at Girl and the Fig once and loved it. But we've eaten at La Salette and ADORE it. But honestly either one is a fun place. Don't know when you're coming but La Salette has a nice terrace, weather permitting.

              We had breakfast at Boon Fly for the first time a couple of months ago and it knocked our socks off. The whole property is nice. Highly recommend.

              Happy anniversary.

              1 Reply
              1. re: c oliver

                My spouse is Chinese-Portugese so we love certain things at La Salette. Other dishes, not so much. Some things they make very well indeed, better than almost anyone else.

              2. Thanks to all for your opinions & suggestions. The purpose of this trip is to rest/relax/eat well/drink good wine/enjoy the views & architecture/celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary.

                Preliminary itinerary below. Please feel free to critique.

                DAY 1
                -Arrive at SFO
                -Lunch at La Salette (Sonoma): http://www.lasalette-restaurant.com
                -Domaine Carneros (Napa/Carneros) - Sparkling wine tasting on the terrace http://www.domainecarneros.com
                -Dinner at Farm (Napa/Carneros): http://www.thecarnerosinn.com/thecarn...
                -Check into hotel

                DAY 2
                -Palmaz (Napa) winery/vineyards tour/tasting http://www.palmazvineyards.com
                -Lunch at Redd (Yountville): http://www.reddnapavalley.com/ (no dinner reservations available
                )-The Hess Collection (Napa) visit/tasting http://www.hesscollection.com
                -Dinner at Bistro Jeanty (Yountville): http://www.bistrojeanty.com

                DAY 3 (Not sure if I'm trying to cram too much into the afternoon, but these all seem close to each othernot
                )-Breakfast at Boon Fly Café (Napa/Carneros): http://www.thecarnerosinn.com/thecarn...
                -Truchard (Napa/Carneros) tour/tasting http://www.truchardvineyards.com
                -Lunch at ???
                -Adastra (Napa/Carneros) tour/tasting http://www.adastrawines.com
                -Etude (Napa/Carneros) tasting http://shop.etudewines.com
                -Artesa (Napa/Carneros) tasting http://www.artesawinery.com
                -di Rosa art gallery/preserve (Napa/Carneros) visit http://www.dirosaart.org/
                -Late dinner with friends at La Folie (San Francisco): http://www.lafolie.com

                DAY 4
                -Breakfast at Solbar (Calistoga): http://www.solagecalistoga.com/solbar
                -Chateau Montelena (Calistoga) tasting: http://www.montelena.com
                -Castello di Amorosa (Calistoga) tasting: http://www.castellodiamorosa.com
                -Light (oyster) lunch at Hog Island Oyster Bar at Oxbow Market (Napa): http://www.hogislandoysters.com/bars/...
                -Rest at the hotel
                -Sunset terrace dinner at Auberge du Soleil: http://www.aubergedusoleil.com/napa-d...

                DAY 5
                -Return to NYC

                14 Replies
                1. re: weesa

                  DAY ONE AND TWO seem very do-able, but . . .

                  DAY THREE:
                  Three wineries PLUS the art gallery/preserve? I'd drop two wineries, or one and the art. Then, how are you going to make it to San Francisco for dinner @ La Folie, and then *back* to Napa Valley to your hotel? With only light traffic, Carneros-to-SF is a good 50-60 minutes away at best. And then . . . where are you staying? Presumably it's the Carneros Inn, so you have another hour drive back.

                  DAY FOUR:
                  Similar problem -- I don't see how you're going to do two wineries in between breakfast and lunch, and then make it to Napa. I'd pass on Amorosa . . . pick a second winery for after lunch, in the Napa-to-Yountville area, or possibly something in the Stags Leap District off the Silverado Trail.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Day 3 dinner in SF isn't 'till 8:45, so we'll have 2+ hrs to get there since diRosa closes at 6. Not worried about a late drive back to our Napa hotel. Which winery would you drop on Day 3?

                    Day 4, I only want to see the castle and grounds. We could cut out the tasting, so it shouldn't take long (maybe 30 min at most). So breakfast, winery tasting, castle visit (no tour/tasting), lunch. Does that seem realistic for the first part of the day?

                    1. re: weesa

                      Amorosa is just plain silly - skip it. I went a few years ago with a friend who has lived in the valley for years and travelled literally all over the world - all we could do was laugh. It is ridiculous IMO. DiRosa is a wonderful experience - nothing like it - and you really should take the time to see more than just the first gallery. The Hess collection is stunning but DiRosa is truly one of a kind. Just another opinion - I was a guide at DiRosa for a number of years and I oouldn't get enough of it. Artesa is lovely and very close to DiRosa.

                      1. re: Mariana in Baja

                        <Amorosa is just plain silly>

                        It's totally silly. Skip it. The wines are awful. It's an expensive tourist trap.

                        1. re: Mariana in Baja

                          <Amorosa is just plain silly>

                          My nomination for the Understatement of the Year award . . .

                      2. re: zin1953

                        zin1953 is on it. There is no way -- ever -- I would drive into the city for dinner and expect to drive all the way back to Napa after dinner. It's just too hard and too long. And I'd put the distances and drive times at much longer than what Jason said -- certainly much longer than you're calculating. Have your friends drive up to meet you, or meet them in SF on your way to or from your stay in Napa.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          We've done it a couple of times from Sonoma to see the 'kids' and I agree that is's gruesome. But we were going to see our granddaughter so no pain is too severe :)

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I guess I should add that I also would NEVER do it just for a dinner. Any dinner. When we're staying in Sonoma, we'll go into the city for a lunch (usually dim sum) and it kills half a day. And that's during the day and no or little alcohol consumed.

                      3. re: weesa

                        Personally, I'd delete Domaine Carneros and put in Adastra/Etude there, to ease up on Day 3.
                        Plan extra time for Hess Collection and di Rosa. Agree with Mariana in Baja again. Allow two hours. The drive to Hess Collection takes a bit of time -- you have to climb up into the western hills and it's a bit of a curvy drive -- so allow 45 minutes to get there, and an hour at least for the visit. You may want to stroll around and check out the view (since you'll be high up) after the tasting and gallery, so allow time for that as well.

                        1. re: weesa

                          Ok, thanks all. I'm cutting out Castello di Amorosa (thanks for the warnings - not really into tourist traps). Also not going to SF for dinner (staying in wine country the whole time). Completely reworking the itineraries for Days 3 & 4. I'll report back after the trip.

                          Really appreciate everyone's input! :)

                          1. re: weesa

                            Fremont Diner's only about a five-minute detour on the way from Truchard to Adastra.

                            Where are you staying? There are much nicer places than Oxbow Market.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Fremont Diner is a very good recommendation.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                We LOVE Fremont Diner!!! Started out going to Schellville Grille but FD has replaced it in our hearts :) I'm from Atlanta originally and have strong opinions about grits. There's are as good as any I've had Down South. And if the weather is decent, there are a bunch of picnic tables outside.


                          2. Much as I love La Folie, I think you're wise to drop it. Passot believes in large meat entrees, so we've been occasionally surprised by a couple of dishes that were bigger/heavier than the rest of the courses. They're fabulous - his rack of lamb is literally the best piece of lamb we've ever eaten - but it was a much larger serving than anything else, such as the exquisite lobster risotto. And going there after a full day of winetasting + breakfast + lunch, and then schlepping back to Napa.....not even Passot's best possible cooking is worth that.

                            You need to be suitably hungry for places like La Folie. Admittedly Passot's old enough to go on Medicare, so how much longer he's going to keep cooking six days a week, no one knows!