Now that the thrill of New York’s elite eaters have come and gone in the wake of the NY Times write-up, and the national press has simmered down after the chef’s picture showed up in Bon Appetit, we returned to a still busy restaurant with a large group of friends. Groups are treated to a preset menu where they bring out food until you can eat no more. Just when you think you cannot take another bite of anything, the next course shows up. You literally have to tell them to STOP sending food. We enjoyed a lovely asparagus salad, a corn soup, farro in an avocado sauce with corn fritters, pizza with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, and their signature cauliflower puree. I have to admit that there were a couple of other courses in between that I lost track of that were no less wonderful, small bites of great flavor in your mouth. Yes, I know, it’s all vegetarian. Trust me. I’m a carnivore and love my beef. Yet I’ve eaten there 5 times and I’ve never been dissatisfied, nor have I walked away hungry. Due to its popularity reservations are a must. There is a communal table open for walk-ins, but the wait can be long and tedious. This is a “must” stop for anyone staying in Napa.
It was lunch time and my niece, Catherine, was visiting and we wanted to try something new. We had heard that Annalien’s was a good place to eat and I was in the mood for Pho, a noodle soup with lots of vegetables and sometimes chicken or beef or shrimp. We started with the Salmon Spring Rolls because they are not deep-fried, and with the accompanying peanut sauce and hot sauce our palates were awakened and we were happy with the choice of appetizer. Catherine ordered the Green Papaya salad with shrimp, Jamie ordered the Lemon Grass soup with shrimp, and I ordered the Pho Ga (with chicken). There was not a bad bite in any of the dishes. I thought the Lemon Grass soup was a little on the small side (at least compared to the bowl of Pho), whereas the Pho was more than I could eat and I shared the rest with Jamie. Catherine’s salad was just right (what, the Three Little Bears?- too big, too small, just right!). What I loved most about the Pho was the side of little dishes (jalapeno peppers, green onion, sprouts, and three different sauces to enjoy). I used everything but the jalapeno peppers (I can only manage so much heat these days) and it married nicely into the dish. Although we didn’t get a chance to speak with Annalien, you will see her around the dining room speaking to guests and talking about the food. Quite an enjoyable experience; one that I would recommend, and within walking distance of the inn.
Mel and Steve came into town and we decided to meet them at Angele for dinner. A great choice for a warm night and sitting outdoors on their patio with a view of the river. (Be warned: when the sun went down the wind picked up and the patio turned cold…they turned on patio heaters for us and even brought out a chef’s coat for Jamie to wear as he was cold…in August/September, that is usually not a problem). We started with a lavender martini- wow! Very tasty, with bits of lavender flowers in the drink and a lemon sugar on the rim. Mmm, mmm, good. We shared a couple of salads- a Ceasar and a house specialty salad with butterleaf lettuce, bleu cheese, and candied pecans. A good start to the meal. I decided I wanted the special risotto they were serving: morel mushrooms, white asparagus, with seared scallops. Because I have a personal issue with mixing mushrooms with scallops, I chose to have more mushrooms and to bypass the scallops. That was a great choice for me. I finished my meal with cheese and three small sides: candied nuts, a lovely jam, and some honey. The others enjoyed their Halibut served with green beans and potatoes and they shared that always great banana gratin. You have to try it. It is a most unusual and tasty dessert. Although they have lovely alfresco dining at night, I much prefer to go here for lunch. For those who arrive before check-in time (3:30 p.m.) and want a bite to eat, this is the restaurant of choice to send them to…the food is good and the patio is a nice place to sit and rest for awhile.
My first experience of Press? We were seated at table and a couple was brought to the table next to us; and then two minutes later they asked to be moved. Jamie and I looked at each other and shrugged. Then it happened a 2nd time. Hmm. I did shower. Then it happened a 3rd time! We finally called the waitperson over and asked what was happening: “They all want to sit outside on the patio.” We both laughed. Okay, so apart from the nice patio area and the beautiful Napa evening we were enjoying…I began with a Basil Beauty, a lovely martini with fresh basil that was just yummy. It was a perfect start on a hot evening. Our table was along a large bank of windows on comfortable cushions and large chairs. In the distance you could see the mountains and the blue skies amid the trees that surrounded the patio. We started with a selection of house-made breadsticks, breads, and biscuits that they delivered to the table. What an unusual and wonderful combination. I could have and should have stopped there with a salad. I went with the chopped salad with bleu cheese and apples while Jamie started with the Bibb Lettuce salad with a mustard vinaigrette. Both were good, solid starters. Yet, we were here for the beef, and beef we were going to have. We both settled on the Kobe beef steaks: filet mignon and a New York strip; and we added two sides: wild mushrooms and english peas. The mushrooms were phenomenal, and the peas were fresh and lightly crunchy. I hated peas as a child, but only because they were canned or frozen. Fresh peas, though, when prepared well, really make a dinner something special, such as at Press. We enjoyed a bottle of David Fulton ’02 Petite Syrah. Wow! It was smooth with a satiny finish. Perfect complement to the steaks. A word about Kobe beef. When all was said and done- I want to be honest- it was hard for me to discern the difference between Press’ Kobe beef vs. Cole’s Chophouse beef (21 day aged) and thus difficult to absorb the price. I will also state that I am NOT a beef connoisseur and there are those who will say that it is worth the extra price. I would still recommend Press (they have Kansas beef as well at less of an expense) as the food was good, the ambience inviting, and I thought the cocktails were inventive.
Hurley’s in Yountville (about 15 minutes from the Inn) was next on our list to visit. I had once tried a bite of the Boar Stew at a street fair in Yountville last November, but this would be our first visit to the restaurant. We chose to sit inside and I’m glad we did- I like the ambience. Dark colors, big windows looking out over the street, a nice wine bar along one wall. We started with cocktails- a Poma-tini (yummy martini with pomegranate juice) and a Maker’s Mark Manhattan (a Cherry family favorite for over 50 years). Beginning with the squash blossoms, I was disappointed in the flavor. There was an oddity to the dish that didn’t sell my palate on the dish, but Jamie’s asparagus salad and our friend’s (Rob) spinach salad took me there. The spinach salad with the fresh, poached egg on top was the real winner of that course. I couldn’t help but go back to the boar stew and I wasn’t disappointed. They also had salmon (chef’s catch from his recent trip to Alaska) which was Jamie’s choice and was great. The Halibut, Rob’s choice, worked well together with the other elements of the dish, but the fish was overcooked (easy to do with Halibut, I’m afraid). We decided on two desserts: the berry pudding, which was light and delicious, and the ice cream sandwich, which was a wonderful end to the meal. We all fought over the plate on that dessert! If I was to plan your meal: go with the spinach salad or asparagus salad, then the salmon (if there is any left) or the boar stew, and definitely leave room for the ice cream sandwich.
We read that the new smoker was up and running and decided it was time to try the Bounty Hunter in downtown Napa. Walking up First Street from the Inn, the restaurant is only a fifteen minute walk. The ambience is very casual, with tables and bar stools throughout the space, with a few booths available. Because it also a wine tasting room, their wine selection is incredible. Perusing the menu the Beer Can Chicken and the Full Rack of Ribs struck our fancy, as well the starter Caesar Salad for both of us. We enjoyed a Beringer 02 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with the meal which was a very rich addition to our very down-home meal. The Beer Can Chicken is funny in presentation as it comes on a stand that surrounds the Beer Can so it looks like it is sitting up on the plate. With a carving knife in hand Jamie stared at the chicken and the chicken stared him down. Not knowing how to carve it himself he handed me the knife and fork and I took it apart in less than three minutes. (My culinary instructor would tell me I’m slow as we were supposed to be able to carve a whole chicken into pieces in less than one minute while in school, and I had practiced for weeks to achieve that goal- I must have carved 30-40 chickens in a single week; the practice was going to pay off when we had to clean over 300 chickens for a big event being held at the Culinary Academy)(Anyway, back to the food….) The Chicken was well worth the carving: moist and delicious it was a great meal. The ribs were just as good, falling off the bone as I pulled them apart. If you are into finger-licking food, this is a great place to go for ribs and chicken. As an added warning: don’t wear white to the meal; you’ll be wearing some of your sauce, I guarantee, as I did walking out of the restaurant.