Sunday, October 24, 2010

redd dinner

Redd was the last restaurant we visited for dinner while we were in Napa Valley.  Located on the main road in Yountville, it was just a short walk there from the Yountville Inn.  We passed it every morning on the way to and from Bouchon Bakery for breakfast, so it made sense to snap a few exterior pictures of it on Tuesday morning, while it was still quiet but set for lunch.
There's a nice courtyard for outdoor dining, as well as a regular dining room inside.  We didn't request outdoor seating in our reservation, so we were seated inside.  I probably could have gotten better pictures outside, but I was fine with sitting inside too.
Steve and I decided to order off the regular menu for this meal, rather than getting another tasting menu.  After two sizable dinners the previous nights, I wasn't sure I could make it through a third in a row.  Of course, we ended up ordering enough a la carte that we probably had about the same amount of food anyway.  But at least we had the control to order the dishes that really appealed to us.
First to arrive:
Yellowfin tuna tartare, asian pear, chili oil, fried rice, cilantro
tuna tartare
The fried rice was served on the side, because it was fried in peanut oil, which may or may not be safe.  Even without it, it was a good dish.  I liked the combination of tuna and avocado with the crisp and fruity Asian pear.  The evening sunlight was coming through the windows just right, however, so I ended up with this one crazy dramatic picture.  By the time the next dishes came, the light was more even.
Carnaroli risotto, maine lobster, meyer lemon confit, truffle oil
lobster risotto
We pretty much had to try this one.  I like risottos and lobster, so I was curious.  It didn't disappoint; I gladly accepted more than my half of it.  The downside was that since it was risotto, it made me full faster.
Caramelized diver scallops, cauliflower puree, almonds, balsamic reduction
This was one of Steve's picks.  I'm not much of a scallop person, so I let him have two of the three while I ate more of the risotto.  I will admit that this was the prettiest dish we ordered, but I probably appreciated the cauliflower puree and other accompaniments more than the scallops themselves.
Potato gnocchi, lamb bolognese, parmesan
We had decided to get two larger plates in addition to our three smaller ones, and this was my pick.  It was a half order, which turned out to be plenty.  The gnocchi were lovely and pillowy, with some browning on the outsides, but the lamb bolognese was a little heavy for my diminishing appetite.
Liberty farms duck breast, shelling bean cassoulet, thyme jus
duck breast
Steve's choice was the duck breast, and I ended up only eating one slice.  It was cooked perfectly, and the beans complemented it well, but it was still more of a Steve dish.  I'm happier with lighter fare when I'm having multiple dishes at a restaurant.
I managed to find room for dessert, though.  I couldn't resist when I saw this on the menu:
Peach "summer pudding", sauternes cake, sabayon, fried almonds
summer pudding
This was my kind of dessert.  There was a spongy cake on the bottom, soaked in a white dessert wine and topped with peaches and a creamy sabayon sauce.  There some iciness on top too, so there might have been a peach granita as well.  The stuff that looked like parmesan cheese turned out to be grated white chocolate, but the fried almonds were left off because of frying in peanut oil again.  Nevertheless, it was the dessert that I enjoyed most on our trip.
The last bites, served with the check, were a couple grapefruit truffles and two pieces of toffee.  Lucky for me, the toffee was made with almonds, so I was able to eat it.
truffles & toffee
Redd turned out to be a good restaurant choice.  It would be interesting to go back sometime, eat outside, and maybe order the tasting menu.  A couple of the dishes seem to have an Eastern slant, but overall it's fresh, seasonal, wine country food done well.

Monday, October 18, 2010

revisiting kuleto

Continuing on with the wine country trip that was about two months ago...

Tuesday, our second and last full day in Napa, began the same as Monday with a stop at Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.  Steve and I both ordered the same sandwiches as we had the day before, since the big breakfast and no lunch plan had worked so well.  I also got another pain au chocolat "for the road."  No pictures this time, though.

The main event of the day was another tour and tasting, this time at Kuleto Estate.  We visited last year and enjoyed it so much that we joined the wine club.  Usually, we would roll our eyes at the idea, because who really needs to be in a wine club?  But it's been fun to get a couple bottles shipped to us every few months.  We get to try different varieties, and they're all really good.  They're also not available in stores or even that many restaurants.  Plus, wine club members don't have to pay $35 per person for the tour and tasting.

So we went back for another tour and another taste of the wines.  Kuleto Estate is easily the prettiest winery I've visited.  This picture is from last year's trip:

kuleto estate
This time, the 10:30am tour was full, so we took the 11:45am one.  Last year, there was only one other couple with us, and they were probably in their late 20s or early 30s.  This year, our tour had about a dozen people, and we were easily the youngest ones, aside from the tour guide.

Once everyone arrived, we took our glasses of Rosé and headed out.  There were a few things we had already learned on our previous tour, but there was also some new information.  For example, we learned that the stark tree trunks in the area outside the tasting room (pictured below) were from around Pat Kuleto's prior home, which burned down.
sitting area
Taking the same route as last year, we then walked through the herb garden—with a quick stop to try the table grapes growing on a trellis—and down to the lower level.  Below that was an area well-suited for the parties that Pat Kuleto loves so much.  Pizza ovens (also pictured above) abound, and there are more around the estate.  We didn't go down into this area last year, so it was nice to be able to this time.  It's referred to as the Amalfi Coast, although I don't know if the little painting on the pizza oven inspired the name or whether it was the other way around.

amalfi coast & amalfi painting
The bottom of the Amalfi Coast area has a little picnic table and a wonderful view.  I hadn't noticed it last time, probably because we didn't go far enough down the hill.  Later, we learned that our tour guide had killed rattlesnakes on more than one occasion in the Amalfi Coast area.  We were happy not to see any.

prime picnic spot
At this point in the tour, our guide cracked open a bottle for our next taste: Muscato.  (My favorite.)  It's a slightly sweet white wine, and we had planned to buy a few bottles of it to take home with us.

Continuing on, we made a quick stop at the large fountain and another at the little animal barn.  Last year, I took a picture of a lamb.  This year, it was bunnies.  All of the animals are used as food, except for one turkey who earned a pardon.

Unfortunately, this year there was no sampling of the muscat grapes growing on the other side of the barn.  The cold summer had pushed harvest time out by several weeks, so they weren't edible yet.  We did, however, run into the winery dog, Pilot, again.

lake hennessey
We made our way up to the back of Pat Kuleto's house and took in the view for a while.  The lake in the picture above was one we drove around on the way over and up to the winery.
Meanwhile, Pilot took a dip in the infinity pool next to the guest house.  We heard some splashing, and then saw that he was dripping.

The dappled light made it difficult to take pictures of Pat Kuleto's house, so I didn't really get any good ones of it this year.  We continued around and came to the "front yard" with its view.

front yard
Then, we walked through some more garden areas and by the little "herb barn" with hanging lavender and garlic.  I took some pictures, but they didn't make the cut for posting.

When we had circled back to the tasting room, we settled at the big table outside for the main part of our tasting.

bottles & columns
There were a couple kinds of cheese and some crackers out, and we started with the Chardonnay to drink.  They were out of it at last year's tasting, but we had gotten some in our most recent club shipment and opened it about a week before.  Unlike many chardonnays, theirs isn't the typical overly buttery stuff.  Reds came next, with the Sangiovese and a Cabernet Sauvignon or two.

During the tasting, we were sitting closest to the tour guide.  He told us all about his sommelier studies, which was really interesting.  He had taken some courses and was only maybe two levels in, but it sounded like the testing for certification got exponentially more difficult for each of the four levels.  The idea of making spreadsheets with tasting notes for every wine you drink or studying flashcards of them every night was a new one for me.

In the end, he gave us one more bonus taste, breaking out one of his favorite wines: the Cabernet Franc.  Since Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, it was somewhat similar to the Cabernet Sauvignon we had had.  However, it was more intense and more full-bodied.  Usually I prefer the lighter reds, but then again, I have yet to try a Kuleto Wine that I haven't liked.  We ended up ordering two bottles of the Cabernet Franc and six of the Muscato, opting to have them shipped to us, rather than carrying all that back with us in the car.

By the time were done with the tasting, we had consumed a fair amount of wine.  (I always feel bad about throwing out the last of a taste when the wine is that good.)  Steve was fine, since he had paced himself, but I was feeling like I had had enough alcohol for the day.  We walked around a little more so I could take some pictures of things we saw at the beginning of the tour, and then we drove back down the hill/mountain and back to Yountville.

It seemed a shame to go back to the hotel so early, especially when there were still wineries on my list that we had skipped last year too.  But more wine just wasn't appealing to me at that point.  We had also learned the day before that going to a regular winery (Rombauer) after a really good one (Robert Sinskey) was just disappointing.

So to the hotel we went.  I transferred pictures and ate my pain au chocolat snack, and then we dragged ourselves out into the heat again.  We hadn't yet made it over to the garden across from the French Laundry on this trip, so we took a walk down the street.

Steve wanted iced coffee on the way, and since there was a line at Bouchon Bakery, we decided to try out the Yountville Coffee Caboose.  It's situated at the end of a couple train cars, near the V Marketplace and across the street from Bouchon Bakery.

at the coffee caboose
Steve got his iced coffee, and I suddenly decided that a vanilla bean Italian soda sounded perfect.  It was in the 80s outside, and the sun was pretty fierce, so I was glad to have something cold to drink while we walked around.
The light at the French Laundry garden wasn't as nice as it was when we were there last time—at sunset—so I wasn't quite as inspired to take pictures this time.  Still, I managed to get some shots I was happy with as we looked around.  There were lots of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes at various levels of ripeness, as well as all the other usual crops.

cherry tomatoes
We saw strawberries, squashes and their blossoms, peppers, cucumbers, and various greens and herbs.  The garden seems bigger each year, though, with more and more rows of everything.

greenhouse effect
The greenhouse was there last year, but there may be more flowers and things planted around it now.  Inside, there were plenty of tomatoes, just as before, but there were also some kale plants getting started (below left).

the promise of plants & asparagus berries
We saw more Christmasy asparagus berries like we saw last year (above right), but the mid-day light was harder to deal with.
When we were done looking at the plants, we walked back to the hotel to get ready for our last dinner of the trip, at Redd.  And that will be the next post.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

the restaurant at meadowood

As of August 16, I've added another restaurant to my "Best Meals of All Time" list.  The French Laundry has been at the top since 2007, with Cafe Boulud and Le Bernardin a few spots below.  But I've found a new #2: the Restaurant at Meadowood.

Deciding where to eat dinner for our second anniversary was a matter of choosing from among several highly rated restaurants in the Napa Valley.  But it wasn't until I checked the Napa area on my "Restaurants to Try" Google Map that I remembered Meadowood as an option.  A few months before, I had read Michael Bauer's SF Chronicle review of the restaurant.  I had never heard of it, but there he was, giving the restaurant four stars—his highest rating.  So I saved it to my map and promptly forgot about it.

When I finally remembered it, while planning the trip, I went to the restaurant's website.  It's part of a resort, so the website is not your typical flashy restaurant page.  Nevertheless, I was able to watch a few videos about the place, look at sample tasting menus, and read more about the chef.  Christopher Kostow was one of Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2009, and the restaurant has two Michelin stars.  It's not the three stars of the French Laundry, but it's still really impressive.  I showed Steve, and he agreed that it would be a good place to eat for our anniversary.

It was about a 15-20 minute drive up Silverado Trail from Yountville to the resort, around St. Helena.  We turned off the main road, went through some vineyards, and found ourselves in a wooded area at the resort.  Steve thought it reminded him of the resort we stayed at in Hawaii during our honeymoon, probably because of the guardhouse at the entrance.  The rest of it reminded me a little of the Inn at Otter Crest, where we stayed a few years ago in Oregon.  The guard gave us directions to the restaurant, and we drove along, past some tennis courts, to the main parking area.  With a little help from the person at the main desk, we found the restaurant, tucked away to the side.
We made our way inside and were seated in the dining room, next to a window.  Since we were the first ones there at 6pm, I didn't feel bad about pointing my camera at the rest of the room for a couple pictures.  It was elegant, but somewhat small and just cozy enough.  With lots of windows on one side of the polygon, there was plenty of light.  And when the sun dropped a little, they opened the shade next to us so we had a nice view of the golf course and surrounding pine trees.
flower & dining room
I didn't look very much at most of the menu.  At places like this, we usually just get the main tasting menu and trust that the chef knows what he's doing, considering he's been this successful.  Here, they offer prix fixe menus with choices for three or four courses, in addition to the chef's tasting menu.  If we were to go again, we'd probably do the smaller one, but we had to go all out for our anniversary.  Luckily, nothing had to be adjusted to accommodate my allergies, since we know now that almonds and mushrooms are both safe.  It was nice to know that I wasn't missing any components, so I could enjoy the dishes as they were meant to be.
We also ordered one full wine pairing to share, which they split between two glasses for us.  It was good that we did that, because even half a taste of seven wines was a lot.  They may have been extra generous with their pours, though, knowing that it was a special occasion. 

The first bite to come out of the kitchen were just perfect.  It was brought to us on a little brown velvet pillow (one for each of us, actually), but I put mine on my bread and butter plate for the picture.

gourmet cheese cracker
It was a pillow itself, but the outside was crisp like a cracker.  It was filled with fromage blanc and topped with little herbs.  It tasted great and it was just so pretty.

Next was another canapé... or two. 

more canapes
There was something with squid and perhaps potato (on the right) and there were baby carrots and radishes served with an herb infused snow (on the left).  I have a bad memory for things I don't see in writing, so that's the best I can do for a description for those.  The vegetables and snow were certainly memorable, though.  I've seen pictures of other versions of this served with "dirt," but the snow provided an interesting temperature difference in addition to the whimsy.

The last of the "first bites" came in the form of a baked potato parfait.

baked potato parfait
There were layers of various potato flavors in custards and purees, including one layer that tasted like potato skins.  According to Chef Kostow via the restaurant's website, there are actually "six layers of potato goodness in each bite." On top were oysters and caviar.  In some ways, it reminded me of "Oysters and Pearls" at the French Laundry, but this dish was clearly showcasing the potato flavors rather than the oysters.  The one problem with it was that the whole thing was a little on the salty side.  (By mistake, I'm sure.)  Unfortunately, that eclipsed some of the subtler potato flavors.

The first regular dish was next to arrive, however, and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

Wagyu Beef Cured in Meadowood Pine
Hamachi, Scandinavian Flavors

wagyu beef cured in meadowood pine
I didn't quite know what to expect from the "Scandinavian flavors," but the dish worked very well as a whole.  There was a thin strip of the cured beef, with a smaller strip of hamachi down the middle, and sea beans, caviar, dill, and other things from the garden on top.  I didn't notice much of the pine flavor in the beef, but its contribution was probably pretty subtle, like everything else.  Part of the charm was the presentation, with the tiny leaves and bits of herbs.  It was served with a small steamed pumpernickel bun, which was also pretty cute.
Beans, Fresh and Dried
Smoked Avocado, Cumin, Squid

beans, fresh and dried
The second course was an interesting presentation of heirloom beans, featuring a few varieties from Rancho Gordo.  Upon hearing the description of the dish, Steve asked which varieties they were.  Our waiter returned a few minutes later, after asking the chef, and told us that they were Good Mother Stallard, Rio Zape, and Santa Maria Pinquito.  (They probably don't get that question very often.)  The beans were paired with some subtle squid (the name of my next album btw), and some smoked avocado, which was a novel twist.

The next dish was one of the most curious for me:
Red Abalone and Local Chicken
Black Garlic, Mendocino Seaweed, Grated Foie Gras

red abalone and local chicken
Having never had most of these ingredients before, aside from chicken, I had no idea what to expect.  In fact, I even had trouble identifying which ingredients were which on the plate.  There was a black tortellini, which might have contained the chicken and abalone.  The pasta itself was, perhaps, made with the black garlic.  Then, there were chewy pieces of seaweed and slices of mushroom.  The textures and toothsomeness were just as interesting as the flavors themselves.  This is the dish that I'd be most interested to try again in an effort to wrap my head around it better.

But there were still more courses to experience, and the subsequent one was pretty cool too.

Salad of Lamb Neck and Tongue
Compressed Melon, Dried Lime, Turmeric

salad of lamb neck and tongue
The container reminded me of a TV dinner, but its contents were about the furthest thing from it.  There were a lot of components, and many of them were... different.  The lamb tongue was probably the rarer-looking piece of meat, which was flavorful and tender.  I believe the neck bits were the pieces that looked a little like bacon, but they weren't really crisp like bacon.  The texture was closer to pork belly.  The light green strip and the orange diced bits were compressed melon, which I had never had before.  They vacuum seal the melon to compress it, trapping in all of the juices.  The result is something that's more dense and has more concentrated flavor than actual melon.  I really liked it, since I've never loved the texture and wateriness of melon.  I think the darker green dice was gelled mint, and the bright orange crisps may have been something like sweet potato chips.  To round it out, there were a couple dollops of creme fraiche and some leaves.  I'm not sure where the dried lime came in, but it was all good.

"Charred" Bavette
Morels, Snap Peas, Foie Gras Butter

"charred" bavette
This was amazingly dainty for the heaviest meat course on the tasting menu.  Then again, each dish we had had so far had been presented in a way to emphasize the sophistication and the freshness.  The main component here was the "charred" bavette steak, again with the Wagyu beef.  The quotes around "charred" referred to the fact that its dark color came from a rub of mushrooms—simultaneously sweet and earthy.  Underneath were lines of the foie gras butter and most likely a balsamic reduction.  Accompanying it was "laminated potato" with herbs between the thin layers.  Under the strips of potato sat a couple of morels.  Perched on top were snap peas, a tiny onion (probably cipollini), and some tiny chive flowers.  The whole presentation was lovely, but I was losing steam.  And by "steam," I mean appetite.  Steve was happy to finish my dish for me, although I was sad to miss out on eating most of it.  During a smaller meal, I would have happily eaten two of these.

Unfortunately, there was still one more savory course to go: cheese.  (I know, poor me.)

Mimolette Cromesquis
Padron Peppers, Pizzo Leaves

mimolette cromesquis
These were the chef's take on jalapeño poppers.  The cheese was cheddary, and the peppers that accompanied them were little padron peppers, which are usually not very spicy.  This course was actually served with beer, rather than wine.  It was a fun twist, but I'm still more of a wine person than a beer person.  Also, I was already at the point where I couldn't take any more savory food.  Again, Steve performed his public service and ate my last couple bites.

Finally, it was time for sweet.  This I could handle.
Lemon Sorbet
Nasturtium, Tiny Licorice

lemon sorbet
It was a simple presentation of light and refreshing lemon sorbet, but it was kicked up a notch (bam!) with a candied nasturtium petal and subtle licorice—the micro greens on top, maybe?  I hadn't had candied nasturtium before, but I had had the regular flowers in a soup.  They're naturally kind of sweet, so it worked well to candy the petal and pair it with slightly tart lemon.

Then, the main dessert:
Chocolate Almond Fudge
Olive, Brioche, Tomato

chocolate almond fudge
It was certainly an interesting idea, putting olives with chocolate and almonds.  I'm not sure it made the most satisfying dessert, though.  I'm not a big fan of olives, so even though its marriage with the chocolate kind of worked, it wasn't my favorite combination.  I think the tomato element was the clear gelee, but it didn't assert itself very much.  Anyway, points for originality.

Final bites came in the form of little coconut macarons and chocolate truffles.

Unlike our meal at the French Laundry, we weren't subjected to a parade of lovely desserts after the two that were already included on the printed menu.  Those were charming, but excessive and almost depressing, since I was already quite full by that point.  The macaron and truffle, on the other hand, were just enough.  What's one more tiny bite, especially if it's a light-as-air coconut macaron?

As we were looking at the check, we got a visit from Chef Kostow at our table.  He was probably doing his nightly rounds to greet the diners, and we were most likely the first ones to finish our dinner.  He seemed like a really nice guy—and relatively young too.  He thanked us for dining at his restaurant, and we thanked him for the wonderful food.
While each course was amazing and beautiful on its own, part of what made the meal such a memorable experience was the service.  It was the typical wine country fine dining style—easy and comfortable, yet refined.  A couple of the service staff remarked on my camera, but it was always in a welcoming way, and I never felt awkward about taking pictures of the food.  We also bonded a little with our waiter, after he asked where we were visiting from.  We soon learned that he had once lived in our neighborhood, in the house next to the one with the really ugly paint job.  He used to shop at our usual corner produce store and get burritos from our favorite place.  He was friendly and engaging, but he also was very articulate and polite.  He seemed to fit in perfectly.

The Restaurant at Meadowood was only slightly less formal than the French Laundry, but that was probably the main reason for having one less Michelin star.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it just as much.  The meal was relaxed, well-paced, and pleasant all around.  It really was the perfect place to spend our anniversary.
When it was over and we could eat no more, we left Meadowood and drove back to Yountville to exchange anniversary presents.  It was our "cottonversary," so Steve got me a stuffed corduroy elephant to go with the corduroy pig that we already had.  I got him a random t-shirt from the pirate store that said "Mercury Cougar-Rama Muscle Car-'Splosion" and a dish towel from Anthropologie that actually listed the traditional anniversary gifts for each year.  Who knows what we'll find for year three—leather or crystal—but hopefully, we'll find somewhere good to eat.

Side note: Steve and I saw Christopher Kostow compete on Iron Chef America less than a month after our dinner.  It was Battle Oatmeal against Cat Cora and—Spoiler Alert!—he won.  :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

tours & tastings

Our first full day of wine-tivities in Napa began with a walk down to Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.  We passed up the basic breakfast at our hotel in favor of much better stuff down the street.

morning in yountville
We had a tour and tasting scheduled for 11am, so lunch would probably not be necessary that day.  Instead, we each got a sandwich for breakfast from the bakery.  Steve got a wagyu brisket on pretzel bread, and I got tomato and brie on a baguette.  I might have preferred mozzarella to brie, since it was a play on a caprese salad, but I'll admit that the brie was fancier and probably had more flavor.  It worked pretty well.
breakfast sandwiches
I also got a pain au chocolat, which was something I had last year and ended up craving months after, but I ended up being too full to eat it after my sandwich.  It stayed in its bag and sat in the car, to be eaten later.

After our breakfast, we got the car and took off towards Silverado Trail for our Farm to Table Tour & Tasting at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.  It was a winery that I had come across a few times in the past.  First, I saw a sign for an event with them at Nectar Wine Lounge in Burlingame (now closed).  Then I learned that the cookbook The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey, recommended by food blogger David Lebovitz, was written by the chief cook, culinary director, and wife of the vintner at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.  That was good reason to check out the winery's website, and the tour and tasting sounded like a nice opportunity to eat some good food paired with various wines.

robert sinskey & koi

We arrived a little early, since the place was not far from Yountville Cross Road, so I had some time to snap a couple pictures of the exterior of the tasting room and of the koi pond outside.
Upon entering the tasting room, they poured us each a taste of a crisp white wine—either their pinot gris or their pinot blanc—to drink while we waited for the rest of the people for the tour.  When everyone had arrived, we made a quick stop next to the little kitchen so our guide could ask the cook if she needed us to bring her anything from the garden for our tasting.  She listed a few herbs and things: chives, celery, etc.  It felt a little like it was staged for the benefit of the tour, but the thought was nice anyway.
vineyard kitchen
Then we headed out the back and walked around the building, while our guide talked about sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming.
in the back

She mentioned that they grow lavender as part of their biodynamic practices, helping the soil while keeping certain pests away and attracting bees.  As a result, they end up with lavender to dry and use elsewhere.
drying lavender
Walking through the garden, we were encouraged to pick and eat a cherry tomato if it looked ripe.  They had many other plants too, including various melons and squashes, regular tomatoes, strawberries, tomatillos, peppers, herbs, and of course, the things that we were supposed to get for the cook.  It was a pretty big group, so there was actually little fanfare about that, but our guide showed one lady how to clip what we needed, before running the basket back to the kitchen.
cherry tomatoes
Next, we continued walking around the building, seeing the various equipment for making the wine.  If I remember correctly, there were machines for separating the grapes from the stems and crushing them, tanks of various sizes to hold the juice, and the machine for bottling.  From the more industrial space, we then walked into the wine caves.
wine caves
This was our first tour to include wine caves, so it was interesting to see.  They were man-made caves, and there were various passageways with barrels stacked up along the walls.  There were also plenty of new barrels, waiting to be unwrapped and used for the coming harvest.

Our main stop in the wine caves was at the wine library, where they keep various wines in bottles to age.  It was extra dark in there, so I didn't really get any good pictures.  Not even my new camera could really handle that without a tripod.  We were poured a wine from the '90s to try, and since the guide mentioned that we'd try a newer release of the same wine later, I kept my glass with me when we went back out to the table on the back patio for the real tasting.  That meant that I had a crazy number of glasses in front of me—one more than everyone else—but I ended up being glad that I did.

Each couple was served a tray of snacks to try with the wines and provided with a little menu that specified which food would go best with each wine.
tasting board

There was some salumi from Fatted Calf, served with onion jam, and various pickled things.  These were all paired with a sweeter white.  There were some gougeres—cheese puffs—to go with two pinot noirs.  There were olives, almonds with salt and herbs, and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, which were all meant to be eaten with another red wine.  And there were some cracker sticks to cleanse the palate.  Steve and I agreed that the white wine (Abraxas, Vin de Terroir, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard 2009) and the second pinot noir (Capa Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley 2007) were our favorites.
But there was more...  We also got an adorable little pot of gazpacho—cold tomato soup—to go with the Abraxas white wine and a tartlet of bacon, mushrooms, parmesan, and herbs to go with the Marcien Proprietary Red wine.  On the side, there was a little salad of the herbs we retrieved from the garden.
tasting, part two

I believe it was the Marcien red wine that was the one we tried in the library.  Since I had kept my glass, I got to compare the 2005 with the one from 1998 (I think).  The older one was much more muted and refined, while the newer one had sharper flavors and more acidity.  I'm nice, so I let Steve have a sip to compare too.

It was a pleasant tasting, and we also had fun chatting with another couple sitting next to us.  They were visiting from NJ, although like many people, they said they were from NY.
Once we were finished, we headed back inside to the tasting room bar to pay and get our promised last taste: Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon.  Steve and I also decided to purchase a bottle each of our favorite wines, which were still the Abraxas white and the Capa Vineyard Pinot Noir.

All that was left after that was to go back outside and take a few more pictures.

Just as I had suspected, there was no need to find lunch after our tasting at Robert Sinskey.  We were pleasantly full, and we knew that we needed to save room for our big anniversary dinner that night.

Hitting the road, we took Silverado Trail up toward St. Helena for a stop at one of the other wineries on my list of places to check out.  Started by a descendant of Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer, Rombauer Vineyards was also on my list because it has a garden on the grounds.  We went in for tasting, but we found that the wine wasn't quite as good as the stuff we had just tasted at Robert Sinskey.  The place also felt a little more touristy.  I didn't mind their chardonnay, which they're known for, but it just wasn't as special as I might have expected from the reviews.  I was curious to try the late harvest chardonnay dessert wine, but it turned out to be insanely sweet.  We decided that we'd drop by Honig on Wednesday instead so that we could get a bottle of the late harvest sauvignon blanc that we had purchased last year.

The garden was pretty, but the mid-day light was so dappled that it was hard to get many good pictures there.  As a whole, Rombauer was a little "meh."

creative recycling & rombauer door
After two tastings, I had had enough wine for the afternoon, so we decided to make a stop somewhere that wouldn't involve drinking: the C.I.A.

That would be the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone campus in St. Helena.  I knew that they had a campus bookstore that was open to the public, but I wasn't really sure what else there was.  We did find an interesting little exhibit of corkscrews when we went inside.

inside the c.i.a. & seaworthy corkscrew
We looked around at all the corkscrews, peered into a classroom/demo room nearby, and then looked around the bookstore—Spice Islands Marketplace.  It was full of various pots, pans, cooking and baking tools, cookbooks, specialty foods, and a little of the obligatory touristy stuff.  Most of it was stuff we could get easily at Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table, but we had fun looking around anyway.

Afterward, we walked around the herb garden a bit.  There were a few herbs or varieties of herbs, like "lime thyme," that Steve and I had never heard of before, so we sneaked a leaf here and there.

chives & greystone
By the time we were satisfied that we had seen enough at Greystone, it was about time to start heading back south, toward Yountville and our hotel.  The traffic through St. Helena on Highway 29 was a little heavy, so we didn't stop to look around the downtown area or anything.  I spent the time eating my pain au chocolat instead.  It was warm, and the chocolate was a little melty from being the car.  The perfect snack. :)

We reached the inn at last, where we spent some time just chilling.  I sat on the couch and transferred the pictures from my camera, with Food Network on in the background.  Then, we got dressed for the fanciest of our dinners.