For those who were staying as guests at The Inn On First, we pulled out all the stops for Christmas morning breakfast. It began when Jamie set the table with our holiday china, stemware, and silverware. He ordered a nice bouquet from Beau Fleurs Florist (www.beaufleurs.com) in Napa. With red roses and star gazers and holiday greenery sitting on top of the Holiday Tartan patterned table cloth, he lit the candles and started the holiday choral music, and the feast was ready to begin. We started with a cold fruit soup, with raspberries, strawberry sprinkles, lemon-poached pear, and a creme-fraiche whipped cream. The second course was a platter of warm cinnamon rolls with Strauss Family butter (www.strausfamilycreamery.com, organic dairy products). The main course was homemade brioche mini-loaves topped with poached eggs, a thyme-pepper-lemon sauce, and California Osetra caviar. On the side were smoked apple and chicked sausages. In the immortal words of Jamie: YUMMY!!! Mumm-osas and Po-mosas (Mumm Sparkling wine mimosas with orange juice, or with pomegranate juice!) added cheer and goodwill at the table, as did the decorated Christmas cookies (an old Cherry family recipe). As guests left for the day they were handed their special Holiday Gift to take home with them. What was that gift? Can’t tell you. You’ll have to come yourself and see what we do! Although we struggled with the decision to stay open for Christmas, it was obvious at breakfast that it was worth the cost of our time and energy to celebrate the holiday with others. A bit of Jim and Jamie hospitality, mixed with Jamie’s decorative flair for Christmas, and Jim’s desire to create innovative and delicious food, were the best gifts we could offer to others who wanted a fun and delicious place to celebrate the holiday season. We still had our time together on Christmas Eve, sitting by the fire, drinking Schramsberg’s Brut Rose, eating homemade blinis with creme fraiche and caviar, and then sitting down to enjoy a home-cooked meal of Cioppino and cornbread, finishing with the traditional eggnog and brandy and the Cherry family holiday cookies. Of course, the boys enjoyed their evening as well when we settled down all together and watched Meet Me In St. Louis with Judy Garland. What a great holiday movie to enjoy. I’m already thinking about next year’s menu: how to improve it and make it better. Maybe 4 or 5 courses instead of 3, although I would need to make the portions smaller on all the courses. Ah, decisions, decisions. We’ll see what next year brings! Well, from our family to yours, Merry Christmas. Jim
I was told by a friend that the Napa Valley Grille in Yountville (www.napavalleygrille.com) was a great place to eat; paying close attention to the braised short rib. When our friend, Patricia Blair, came to visit, we decided it would be a great time to try it out. Only a short 15 minute drive from The Inn On First we enjoyed a semi-filled parking lot which meant easier parking than in the summertime. Entering the double door brings you into a cozy and inviting ambience with wood and beige overtones. We found the menu interesting and exciting, with such entries as sweet potato bisque (yummy!) with a small, cold custard in the middle with a vanilla-chili oil vinaigrette. Jamie and Patricia both enjoyed the Mizuna and Mustard Greens salad with pomegranates and a vinaigrette. Jamie ordered the crispy duck breast on top of grandma’s scalloped potatoes (a great complement to the duck), while Patricia and I both enjoyed our braised short ribs that had a hint of chocolate and pepper, served with soft polenta, and a huckleberry compote (great combination!). We paired the meal with Pine Ridge Cabernet (www.pineridgewinery.com) , a nice selection for the braised short rib, but I think less so for the duck. We were told the short rib was the dish specifically designed with the Pine Ridge cabernet in mind. I thought it was adequate, but that there could have been a better selection. It seemed to me that the Cabernet got lost in the seasonings of the rib and didn’t do much to work with the huckleberry. Granted I’m still fairly new to wine tasting as a hobby, but I think something with a bit more oomph (see what a novice I am! I don’t even know what to call that oomph!) would have been better. Compared to the CIA, Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant, this was a little less impressive on the food, but the ambience, being smaller and more intimate, more in line with what we like. We will be going back in January to enjoy the discount coupon they offered us on the way out. We’ll see if it holds up the second time around.
The Inn On First actually made it to the Napa Register for the Holiday Tour. You can read all the juicy details at http://www.napavalleyregister.com/articles/2007/12/19/business/local/doc4769c13e251c6378528373.txt. They even took a picture of the choral group in front of the fireplace, although we weren’t noted at the location of the photograph. Nonetheless, out of 13 inns, our name made it into the article. As a newly formed business this was an important distinction as we are competing against the very best of bed and breakfast inns in Napa. As the newcomers on the block, only 6 months in business, we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the history of some of these innkeepers: upwards of 26 years of experience. How do you compete against that? The bottom line: you don’t. You compete against yourself. You continue to work hard, provide good service, quality food, and hope that you guests will come to appreciate the unique offering of attention they receive here at the Inn. Are we perfect? Not at all. Sincere? Absolutely. We care deeply for each person who walks through the door. We can’t always guarantee, though, that our gifts or offerings will match what the guests require. I suppose that is why we are willing to tell people: “We may not be a good fit for you”. There are times that potential guests express hesitation at staying here at The Inn On First, and we cannot be afraid to encourage them to continue looking elsewhere for lodging. Sometimes it really is best to admit that you cannot meet every need, want, and desire. The best we can do is to offer someone or someplace else that might be able to do that. As for the guests we do serve, we are grateful that they are propelling us to success; and for as long as we succeed we will strive to remember that service above self is what matters.
We drove up valley today to have lunch at the Culinary Institute of America, Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant, (www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/default.asp), and as we drove past the vineyards we could see the beginnings of the mustard plants in bloom. Most people only ever see the vineyards in full bloom with grapes and never get to enjoy the winter beauty of the mustard flowers that grow in between the vines each year. The bright green and yellow of the plants bring a spark of joy and pleasure to the dried brown vines that are waiting for pruning. There is less traffic on the roads, the skies are crisp and blue with puffs of white and grey clouds, and the chill in the air makes you appreciate the fires that are burning at the wineries, in the restaurants, and even back at The Inn On First. The food at Greystone was great. They had a broad assortment of items to choose from, imaginative and fun, and very seasonal. I began with the mushroom toast, with a selection of wild mushrooms bathed with a light cream sauce on top of toast. My disappointment was that the toast got soggy while eating; if they had just toasted it a bit more in the oven it would have held its crispness. There was no disappointment with the flavor. Overall, it was a great dish. Instead of ordering an entree I selected another first course, the Cioppino. Served in a creamy tomato sauce, with shrimp, oysters, fish, and crab, it was a delightful entree that warmed me up on a cold day. It was also unusual in that it wasn’t a tomato-based stew, but rather it tasted a little bit like a Seafood Gumbo, but with a bit less spice. I liked it. Jamie enjoyed the seared bay scallops with risotto, with bits of bacon, potato, and celery. Another friend ordered the quail with a slaw of grilled radicchio and roasted quince; a great combination of flavors. For dessert I ordered the 3 cheeses that came with honey and fresh honeycomb, quince jelly, and candied pecans. Yummy! I am such a cheese lover. Jamie, of course!, ordered the chocolate lava cake that oozed with chocolate as he cut it open. Another yummy dessert! We both loved the ambience, especially the open kitchen and the fireplace in the corner of the room blazing with warmth and light. The wait support staff was attentive without being domineering; although our waiter was occasionally distracted (it was obvious they were understaffed). It was a hip and happening place, which also meant it was a little noisier that I typically like it when I’m with a group of people. It made it difficult on having a table conversation with others at the other end of the table. One member in our party is well over 80 years old and I know she struggled to hear some of the conversation. Good, solid food and presentation; worth the price of admission; may need some work on service.
Last week we participated in the Napa Bed and Breakfast Inns Holiday Tour, our first major event as the new owners of The Inn On First. More than 350 participants streamed in and out of the house for 5 hours, enjoying delicious Crab Tostadas made by Pilar’s restaurant (www.pilarnapa.com) and Drunken Skirt Steak and Bleu Cheese crostinis made by Bleaux Magnolia (www.bleauxmagnolia.com). These were paired with Mumm Napa Sparkling Wine Brut Rose (www.mummnapa.com) and Badalcci’s Cabernet Sauvignon (a recent 95 point winner with Wine Spectator) and Pinot Noir (www.baldaccivineyards.com). With 12 other Bed and Breakfast Inns as part of the tour every guest was ensured to have plenty to eat and drink by the night’s end. This was the first year that many local limousine and car services donated their vehicles to the event (a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer), including Platypus Tours (www.platypustours.com), Beau Tours (www.beauwinetours.com), and Elegant Tours (www.elegantwinetours.com), three of our preferred vendors. Participants were welcomed into each Bed and Breakfast Inn which was decorated for the holidays, were able to view one or more rooms in each inn (we opened Budding Vine and First Crush). We sold out all tickets two weeks prior to the event thanks to an article in the Napa Valley Register announcing the details.Jamie did a magnificent job at decorating the house and as soon as we are able, we will publish some pictures for you to enjoy some of it. The 9′ live Christmas tree in the living room, the pillar candles that line the mantle with red and white holly garland, a Christmas Village that lights up at night, the second tree in the foyer, and even a third tree in the dining room. From our perspective, you can never get enough of the holiday season. When it was all over we were both exhausted and very happy; it was just one more confirmation for us that this incredible journey we began seven months prior when we bought the inn was worth all the hard work and extra hours and energy we had invested. We know we cannot go back to who we were; and the truth is, we don’t want to as we love the who and the how of what we are called to do and be here in Napa Valley. Jim