There Will Be Pastries: Scouting Napa Valley's Breakfast Options

As I’ve continued to explore the culture of breakfast and lunch here in the Napa Valley, I felt that it was certainly worthwhile to mention a few of the better pastry options out there. After all, even if you’ve enjoyed a large breakfast in the morning, pastries remain a great take-away item, especially if you plan to spend the day wine tasting, when lunch can often get pushed back, or pushed aside altogether. Without a proper lunch, that same cheese danish that may seem gluttonous in the early morning can actually become your salvation in the early afternoon (and maybe help prevent you from drooling at the dinner table, as well). I speak only from personal experience: Don’t fear indulgence. Embrace it. So with that caveat in mind, I have seven pastries to consider below — many hailing from very different walks of life — but each noteworthy in [… read more …]

Inside Napa: Which Hillstone entity will occupy the old Napa Valley Grille in Yountville?

I’m a Rutherford Grill junkie for the most part. Like many folks who live here in the Napa Valley, this culinary juggernaut is part of my weekly dining routine, and they know me by name. I actually began to get hooked on the place several years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, where the Houston’s locations are as mega-profitable as their sister location in Rutherford (all of these restaurants share many common menu items, though they do offer a few exclusive ones, as well). As a diner with a dotcom bankroll, I used to frequent the Century City Houston’s just about whenever I could, and when I finally dropped out of the entertainment biz to join the ranks of the kitchen, I decided that I needed to work at the newly-opened Houston’s location in Santa Monica. My logic at the time was that a new restaurant might [… read more …]

Cab Tasting Notes: My Favorite Napa Valley Cabernets for $50 or Less


Having lived in the Napa Valley since 2005, and having worked in kitchens and wineries during that time, I’ve developed a pretty good palate for the local juice. As I’ve spent the years combing the Napa Valley for great wines, over the past few years, I decided to pay special attention to the Cabernets that were priced at $50 or less, hoping to one day compile a list of favorites. I submit the following 10 wines, listed in my order of general preference. Of course, prices are subject to change over time, but hopefully not by much.

• Martin Estate Bacchanal Cabernet ($48) : One of the great unsung wines in the Napa Valley, I have already placed Bacchanal into a blind tasting of Oakville and Rutherford Cabs, pitting it against the 2006 Groth ($58), 2005 Rubicon ($175), 2006 Pedemonte ($39), 2006 Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger ($90), [… read more …]

Restaurant Review: The Sunday Supper @ Bardessono, Yountville

I made my first visit to Bardessono last night for the restaurant’s weekly Sunday Supper, a $39 four-course dinner which offers one of the best deals in wine country. My dinner last night was delicious, bordering on exceptional, and if the restaurant can continue along this path every Sunday night, then Bardesonno will easily become one of my regular haunts this winter. Of course, those familiar with Yountville dining will typically think of Ad Hoc when they think of a four-course prix fixe dinner, but I will go on record right now, and proclaim that last night’s meal at Bardessono trumped anything that I have ever had at Ad Hoc, including their ever-popular fried chicken.

From my perspective, there are at least three good reasons to consider Bardessono over Ad Hoc on Sunday nights: (1) the four courses at Bardessono are actually four prepared dishes, whereas the third course [… read more …]

Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, Napa Valley

Outside Bouchon Bistro, Yountville.

Outside Bouchon Bistro, Yountville.

The way I see it, Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty are two restaurants trying to fill the exact same niche. Among all of the fine-dining establishments here in the Napa Valley, these two restaurants have the most in common: both places feature a classic line-up of French comfort foods, they each have a Michelin star to their credit, and they are both located on the exact same block in Yountville.

All things considered, I tend to visit Bistro Jeanty much more often than Bouchon, mostly because I feel that Bistro Jeanty is a little more friendly and the restaurant offers a much better value across the board. For instance, I am always struck by the price of a steak frites over at Bouchon, which charges $35 for a flatiron, versus the $28 rib-eye over at Bistro Jeanty. In Bouchon’s favor, however, [… read more …]

Bistro Jeanty and the Problem with Food Critic Michael Bauer


The Cassoulet @ Bistro Jeanty… What does Michael Bauer know?

I ate dinner at Bistro Jeanty the other night, for the first time since Michael Bauer published his December 24th review of the restaurant in the San Francisco Chronicle. Truth be told, I don’t particularly care for Bauer’s reporting (I feel that his writing usually lacks imagination, and that his opinions are his own), but it’s always interesting to read such a negative restaurant review, especially since I happen to recommend Bistro Jeanty fairly regularly. It is, by far, the best value in Yountville, no matter what you think you’ve read or heard.

For me, Bauer was so far off the mark last month that it caused me to question the validity of food criticism in general. I began to wonder if any of this posturing was even worthwhile. After all, I have probably [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Cliff Lede Vineyards


I continue to get a fair amount of traffic from folks looking for “Cliff Lede pronunciation” — at least a couple hundred visitors per week. If that’s what happened to point you to this entry, I will again confirm that “Lede” is pronounced LAY-dee, like lady. I actually heard a woman pronounce it LEE-dee the other day, but I didn’t bother to correct her. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and what does it really matter anyway?

But while we’re on the subject, I did stop in at Cliff Lede to taste their current releases earlier this week. I figured that folks who care enough to search for the winery’s proper pronunciation might also enjoy some tasting notes. Plus, I hadn’t visited the winery in a few months, and I like to keep tabs on their Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the few reasonably priced [… read more …]

Book Review: “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine”


A longtime contributor to Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer represents the contingent of wine drinkers who eschews overly-alcoholic wines in favor of those with subtlety and nuance. Among wine critics, Kramer seems to be in the minority in this aspect, but those of us who share his tastes can take umbrage in the fact that Kramer is an outstanding, knowledgeable wine journalist. His book “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine” underscores this notion, and is an indispensible guide to the dizzying California wine landscape.

Kramer begins his book with a thoughtful introduction to California’s short history of serious wine production, including an insightful essay about the ever-changing approach of grape growing and winemaking. With origins rooted in the effort to maximize vineyard yield, California has slowly shed its farmer’s mentality and has begun to place quality ahead of quantity. Kramer touches upon the early contributions of UC Davis professors Amerine [… read more …]