Banh Mi Monday @ Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley

The banh mi sandwich @ Auberge du Soleil, with a yellow and green bean salad (not pictured: Auberge’s unrivaled patio view).

Back when I first moved to the Napa Valley, I took a job as a line cook at Auberge du Soleil, and despite two years of chef school and several years of prior professional experience, Auberge proved to be an education unto itself. It not only redefined my standards, but it also redefined stress and adrenaline. These elements are inseparable, especially with Michelin-star cooking, and I reserve so much respect and admiration for the line cooks who can list two- and three-Michelin star restaurants on their resumes. The folks who ascend to those kitchens are far more passionate and dedicated than I ever was (and they possess far more culinary insight than any food writer, with very few exceptions).

• • •

Having left the kitchen several years ago, I returned to Auberge as a diner on Monday, ostensibly for the $20.11 two-course lunch special, a Monday-through-Friday offer that ends this January. My friend Laura mentioned that when she had lunch at Auberge last week, the restaurant was offering its kurobuta pork chop as the special. Wow, a kurobuta pork chop and a first course for just $20.11? And at Auberge, no less? That is, by far, the best deal in the Napa Valley (Bouchon’s $25 late-night dinner is the second-best deal; that offer also ends next week). As you might imagine, I was really crossing my fingers for the pork chop today, but alas, the asparagus risotto had displaced it as the lunch special. Ah yes, the asparagus risotto. I’d spent so many nights at Auberge cooking that very dish, and asparagus itself really isn’t my favorite vegetable (at all), so I had to reconsider my options at the last minute, deal or no deal.

On a whim, I decided to order the banh mi sandwich, which is a Monday-only lunch item. Most people will scoff when I mention that Auberge sells their banh mi for a cool $21. I know, I know, I get it, completely: The humble banh mi is a $2 sandwich in some parts of the Bay Area (I’ve had most of them). But remember, Auberge du Soleil is a Relais & Châteaux property, so all of the thoughtful perks are factored into the pricing. The reality is, for most of the people who actually stay at Auberge, a $21 banh mi sandwich is an eminently affordable luxury that doesn’t even warrant a second thought. For me, it’s a relatively cheap passport into high society, and I must admit, the sandwich captures all of the spirit and flavors of banh mi, with some pedigree.

• • •

The dessert arrived compliments of the house, and not because of this blog, believe me. It’s always great to have friends in the business. The Napa Valley is awfully small, and I still know way too many folks at Auberge to offer an unbiased restaurant review, but take a look at the pictures, especially that beautifully-composed dessert, and you tell me, was it delicious?

Baked phyllo dumplings with warm ganache centers, and tarragon ice cream (back in the day, my favorite flavor to raid after service).

2 comments to Banh Mi Monday @ Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley

  • Willi

    But how was the banh mi?

  • Thirsty Reader

    @Willi: Since you asked, the banh mi was quite good (I added some general remarks to my entry, as well). The meat was thinly sliced tri-tip, and the crunchy baguette was smeared with pate on both sides. At $21, it won’t make the regular lunch rotation, though.

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