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May 10, 2013 12:33 PM

bouchon v. bistro jeanty v. bistro don geovanni (and other trip itinerary dilemmas) [Napa Valley]

Hey all, I'm going to be back in your beautiful neck of the woods in late July/early August. Last time I visited (about 3 years ago I believe) you were all super helpful in making the trip a stunning success. This time, I'll be in Napa for 3 dinners, Yosemite for 2 and San Francisco for 2. In Yosemite and San Francisco it will just be me and my SO, but in Napa we will be a party of 8, which may or may not limit/influence where we should go. Below is a draft itinerary. I'm not expecting much in terms of dining options in Yosemite, but if anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears. Please let me know what you all think, including completely new/different ideas if I've left something amazing out. Thanks so much!

SAT DINNER (Napa): this one's pretty open, thinking maybe redd. As we'll be 8 people and my SO's parents are paying, looking for something good, but not break-the-bank good. anywhere under $50 pp for just food would be fine.

SUN DINNER (Napa): Bouchon/Bistor Jeanty/ Bistro Don Giovanni: what are people's thoughts on these? Last time we were in Napa we had a wonderful meal at Bouchon, and I was looking forward to going back, but I've heard rumors of recent inconsistency/slippage; I know Jeanty is a favorite on this board but all in all their menu just doesn't look as inviting as Bouchon's

MON Dinner (Napa): most likely Mustards; I know Cindy Pawlcyn's restaurants don't get too much love here, but we had a very good meal here last time and my SO's mother absolutely loves her.

TUE Dinner: Commis on the way to Yosemite; pretty much set in stone; have heard amazing things and am super excited

WED/THU: in Yosemite, and pretty sure dining options are limited

FRI dinner (SF): between atelier crenn, benu and saison: this will be our blow-out meal on the trip. heard all three are outstanding but having trouble deciding. any thoughts are appreciated

SAT dinner(SF): pretty open here; maybe commonwealth, range, or flour & water; any other suggestions?

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  1. I think Jeanty makes a couple of good dishes, but the ones I like are very heavy - specifically the roasted marrow. He never seems to lighten his menu up, and the heat can be really fierce in late summer. I prefer going there in cool weather.

    We are in the group who found Bouchon inconsistent. And we disliked Don Giovanni even more than we did Mustards.

    I will be opposite the majority of CHounders. We were in Napa in mid-April and ate at: Oenotri, Lucy, Redd, Brix, and Etoile/Domaine Chandon. We don't drink, we just eat. I should note we did not care for Commis, because Brix and Etoile (like La Folie and Fifth Floor) are more our style - and that is STRICTLY our personal preference.

    In descending order we liked:
    Etoile: For those who loved the old La Bourgogne in SF and miss it, Hoffman is the closest you can get to that soigne elegance of perfectly balanced cooking. Stunning, and expensive.

    Brix: Half the price of Etoile, but more casual, locavore and CA-style. Chris Jones is brilliant, and the food has that same fine seasoning balance and great execution, with tremendous creativity. Portions are not large like Mustards, but are so much better balanced in flavor and composition.

    Lucy: We went for lunch, and the sandwiches were good, high quality and nicely executed (better than Redd by a long shot, btw). What really makes them worth the extra cost is that stunning outdoor patio (there's a photo on the Bardessono Hotel website of the full inner courtyard patio, a slightly different view than the side the restaurant uses for outdoor dining). Very Japanese influenced, wood and stone and grasses/bamboo - absolutely lovely; away from the noise and crowds on the main street. Also, the hotel offers free valet parking for restaurant guests, and that's no small thing in the middle of tourist season in Yountville!

    Oenotri: Has fallen a full level from when it first opened. More like Mustards now: big plates, slightly sloppy execution. Service is still extremely good. Stay away from the fish entrees, they have NO idea how to cook it. Both our fish dishes were cooked until quite dead; very sad. We had been really looking forward to returning and were very disappointed with our meal here.

    Redd: Nothing impressed us but the tea and the coffee. The lauded pork belly was in a sauce so salty and sugary, it could have flavored four cups of rice (we're Asian). An overdose of black truffle oil in the risotto left a nasty taste in my mouth long after I finished - a first that no kitchen should be proud of. The steak sandwich was so loaded with oil and juices the brioche bun fell apart before my spouse had finished half of it.

    YMMV. Have a great time no matter where you go!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jaiko

      thanks jaiko. sounds like giovanni is definitely out as is redd. i'm interested in brix for the saturday dinner; sounds good and small(er) portions would be fine because we'll be having lunch up at solbar for a repeat of the "lucky pig": man that was delicious.

    2. I'm partial to Bistro Jeanty, but i do adore Bouchon. haven't been in years. I'd say Jeanty over Bouchon for you because you'd be trying something new. My ranking would be Jeanty, Bouchon, Don Giovanni.

      I don't love Mustards, but it's been years. I hear Bix is good again.

      Commis is wonderful.

      Doesn't Yosemite have the fancy lodge with the fancy restaurant? The Ahwahnee Hotel?

      I vote Atelier Crenn because it's probably the most delicious and beautiful meal i've had. but i've not been to benu or saison.

      as for your last Saturday... we hated commonwealth (only been once), love range, found flour + water to be only ok, not great. See if you can get into Cotogna. Also, Delfina, Sons & Daughters (tho i've not been - going tomorrow so i can report back).... i'm sure others will pipe up soon...

      11 Replies
      1. re: mariacarmen

        thanks marla! don giovanni is definitely out; think i may look for something completely different that night though. not convinced on either jeanty or a return to bouchon.

        yes yosemite has the fancy restaurant in the lodge, but I tend to be severely underwhelmed with fancy paint-by-numbers hotel restaurants. maybe i'll be surprised.

        will definitely look at cotogna and look for your report on sons & daughters; i've heard good things about it from others as well.

        1. re: cubicles

          I find the food in Yosemite valley to be pretty terrible. I go 1-2 times a year and stay in the valley. I haven't been tho the Ahwanee though. Invariably the best thing I eat is something brought with. I particularly like thin sliced charcuterie on bread while on the trail.

          Yosemite is great, just don't go in with much expectations for food.

          1. re: cubicles

            There is Erna's Elderberry in Oakhurst outside Yosemite but it seems to have been fancified.

            1. re: wally

              En route to Yosemite is Whoa Nelli Deli - shockingly great food and worth putting on the Must-Eats list.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                Note that WND is only en route if you enter Yosemite from the Nevada side of the Sierra. Yosemite is covered on the CA board where you'll find this report that the original chef has moved on down to Mammoth:


                1. re: PolarBear

                  thanks polarbear. sounds like we'll just have to put up with a couple days of mediocre food and make the most of our napa/san fran days for eats.

                  1. re: cubicles

                    As a frequent visitor, the best food at the Ahwahnee is their Sunday brunch, also no jacket required as during the normal dinner nights (this may have changed too).

                    Do a search on the CA board, we've had decent meals in the other dining venue in the village, blanking on the name at the moment. Get the table for two by the back doors, the view is as good as at the Ahwahnee. Have a great time and be sure and report back.

              2. re: wally

                Erna's Elderberry House would be a long trek for dinner from Yosemite Valley. Really only practical if you are entering or leaving through the south gate via Hwy 41.

                It is covered on the CA board.

              3. re: cubicles

                you are most welcome.

                funny, i never think of Jeanty as heavy, as you mentioned earlier.... what with their steak tartare, the butter lettuce salad, frites (a favorite combo, those three), even the pigs' feet salad is light and tangy (setting off the richness of the pork, of course). we went so many times to the one in the City (same menu) for lunches that i just had my faves - those mentioned above, and the sole, the salade lyonnaise, the lamb tongue salad, the smoked trout... pity it closed about 6 years ago. *sniff* - i miss it so!

                but i'm sure you'll be pleased with whatever you try! it's a gorgeous area, with more hits than misses.

                1. re: cubicles

                  I consider the Ahwahnee a must-see place in Yosemite, with drinks on the patio and dinner in the dining room a one-off experience. The food varies over the years with the current chef, but eating there is really for the experience of dinner in this grand hotel from another era. If you don't eat there, at least have drinks on the patio.

                  1. re: cubicles

                    here's my report on Sons & Daughters, if you still have an opening in your eatinerary. HIGHLY recommend it.


                2. I am not a fan of Mustards. I do like Bistro Don Giovanni and love Cook in St. Helena.

                  1. Bouchon has definitely slipped over the years and I'm sorry you are so married to Mustards. Since you are a Pawclyn fan, you might want to consider her new restaurant, Cindy Pawclyn's Wood Grill & Wine Bar.

                    I think you will be hard-pressed to get out of Redd for under $50 pp... It is worth it, but a bit more expensive than that.

                    For that price, you might want to consider Zuzu in downtown Napa which is small plates and great for a group.

                    For San Francisco, I would also recommend Crenn.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                      *I'm not married to Mustards, my SO's family is, and since they'll likely be paying (or at least try to) I don't feel its my place to insist on not going.

                      in you opinion (since I posted this specifically hoping for your and marialorraine's responses), which is better, zuzu or brix? I have a feeling I know your answer, but brix seems to be getting a little more love lately on these boards. I think one of those would be perfect for the first dinner.

                      in terms of bouchon/bistro jeanty, anywhere else you'd recommend instead in that sort of price range? I think I'll be disappointed with bouchon if it's slipped, and I'm worried jeanty will just be too heavy. it doesnt need to be french bistro food. we're from nyc and so anything unique or representative of california/napa cuisine would be good. opinion on ad-hoc? my worry with that is you have no control over menu; could be great, could be something you're not interested in at all.

                      1. re: cubicles

                        I would take Zuzu over Brix, but I like the small plates and Spanish feel of things over the ubiquitous and boring Cal-Italian that is so prevalent in the valley.

                        Ad-Hoc is also a crap-shoot because the menu is small and set. You might have an exceptional meal or it might be mediocre over-all and there is nothing you can do because you get what they serve that night. In that regard, I am not a fan...

                        Consider you are coming from NYC, I would reconsider Bouchon *and* Jeanty and go for something far more wine-country like Angele (bottom of the valley, in downtown Napa) or Goose & Gander (middle of the valley, in St. Helena) or JoLe (top of the valley, in Calistoga).

                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          Brix is NOT Cal-Italian, by any stretch. Our dinner on 4/16 was:

                          - white and green asparagus salad (grown on the estate), hard-boiled quail egg halves with a fabulous gribiche sauce

                          - truffled chevre mac'n'cheese (side order)

                          - Glazed salmon with a mustard sauce, fingerling potatoes, and a combination of snap peas, fresh peas, and pea sprouts.

                          - Spiced duck breast with mascarpone polenta, rutabaga mostarda, and Swiss chard braised in bacon.

                          - Strawberry-rhubarb buttermilk panna cotta with a shortbread cookie; actually a parfait.

                          - Meyer lemon cheesecake with mint sauce.

                          Everything was beautifully composed and executed. Service is excellent, dining room is handsome with a nice outdoor patio. Brix is much better under Chef Chris Jones (formerly of Girl & Fig/Sonoma) than either Mustards or Don Giovanni, which are their closest geographic competition.

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            thanks! I think at this point I'm now thinking JoLe for dinner #1, Zuzu for dinner #2 after Solbar for lunch, and then throwing a bone to the others in the party and doing Mustards, or maybe Wood Grill and Wine Bar for dinner #3

                      2. Wow! What a diversity of opinions.

                        In my descending order, I'd go with:

                        Redd, exquisite more minimalist. No way it's less than $50 pp

                        Bouchon, still fun and delicious

                        Oenotri, good value and atmosphere for a group

                        mustards and Don Giovanni for lunch. Onion rings, calamari, pork chop and duck at Mustards. Frito Misto, flatbread and daily fish outside at DG

                        Jeanty, tired old school. I don't get the attraction