Ad Hoc: for the temporary relief of hunger.

That’s their tag line for the restaurant: for the temporary relief of hunger.  Some friends came into town and we took them to Ad Hoc as a belated wedding gift.  LauraLe is a vegetarian and they easily accommodated her dietary needs, while Craig is a carnivore like Jamie and me.  Her white asparagus was so tasty that I would have claimed myself a “temporary vegetarian” for more of that.  Not that we were disappointed with anything; it’s just that some pieces of the meal really stand out.  Such as the mussels with Spanish chorizo, the beautifully cooked turnips (and I’m not much of a turnips fan), chunks of romaine, and tasty garbanzo beans.  That was my favorite part of the meal; well, that and the bread that I sopped up the juices with off my plate.  The lamb chops that came with the main course were cooked medium rare and were nicely charred from the grill; served with crusty, brown, roasted potatoes and green beans.  The cheese course was good as a marker between dinner and dessert; the dessert being their variation of tiramisu.  They claimed it was the “best you’ll ever taste”; unfortunately, not true.  It was good, but I’ve had better.  Okay, I’ll admit my food snobbery here- I’ve MADE better.  The music is still very hip and happening there (the wait staff choose their playlists), the ambience is casual and upbeat with a hint of class, and the service is good (nice work, Trevor!).

The gift of Ad Hoc is that it is a four-course prix fixe meal, and before you arrive you generally know what you’re getting.  Generally, I say, because the cheese course changed from what was published to what was served- alright, so that was my disappointment- I really wanted the marcona almonds and the wildflower honey, not the tapenade and onion marmalade on toast, as my accompaniment.  Still, no complaints.  We’ve yet to make it to their fried chicken night which is a local’s favorite…I’ll have to save some calories for that one.  Ad Hoc: still high on my list of MUST EATS in Napa.

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Ubuntu: vegetarian that is not Berkeley!

I know.  A vegetarian restaurant.  Why would you go?  You love meat, poultry, fish, the chewing of flesh against the teeth and tongue- yes, there is something visceral and real in all of that.  But I would encourage you to suspend your disbelief and to give Ubuntu a try; their cuisine is a huge step above all other vegetarian cuisines.  The strawberry pizza (oh my!), the marinated olives (we fought over the last one), the lavender-sugar marcona almonds (you kept swearing you could stop eating them any minute), the chickpea fries with romesco sauce (still a favorite of mine), and their usual cauliflower dish (very rich, but oh so scrumptious).  Dessert came and we just ran out of room- a single bite was all I could take, and was not disappointed: the cheesecake in the jar (velvety rich with marscapone cream cheese).  We paired our meal with sparkling wine and that was a great choice for us.  We all walked out full and very deeply satisfied.  If you’re still not convinced, think of it this way: start at Ubuntu, and if you walk out and still want meat, Cole’s Chop House is right next door and can satisfy that urge!

What’s a vegetarian to do? Or a pescatarian?

First of all, inform your innkeepers early about your food preferences.  That is most important so that we can plan and work around your needs.  We’ve been able to accommodate gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, kosher, vegetarian, pescatarian, and vegan dietary needs.   I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can be done; and the more notice we receive, the better we can prepare something hot and delicious for your stay.  I’m a huge carnivore, but at times I like to order as a vegetarian or pescatarian at restaurants and have found that I have plenty of options.  The most obvious restaurant is Ubuntu, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in Napa (this is not a “crunchy-granola” kind of dining establishment with overcooked and saturated in butter vegetables, but rather a high-end, beautifully presented, and incredible rich in flavor restaurant), that offers vegan options; comparable to Greens Restaurant is San Francisco.  Angele and Zuzu’s can also accommodate most dietary needs.  Again, if your innkeepers know ahead of time, we can inform the restaurant and they can better prepare something with great flavor and quality.   All of these restaurants provide fish and vegetarian options and typically will adjust their dishes for your needs.  Angele has worked with me when I didn’t want any meat or fish, and I enjoyed a beautiful white asparagus and white wine risotto with morel mushrooms.  Zuzu’s offers small vegetarian and fish dishes that their tapas-style menu can accommodate many needs, as does Elements.  Ad hoc in Yountville is another restaurant that can adjust the menu around your needs, although with a pre-fixed 4-course meal advance notification is a must.  Martini House in St. Helena is well-known for its 7-course mushroom tasting menu.  I’ve also worked out plenty of vegetarian and pescatarian options at any of the Italian restaurants (Allegria or Don Giovanni).

The Gabrielle Collection and the Pietro Collection: grace and sophistication.

We were fortunate to be invited to join Justin from Elegant Tours limousine service to taste wine at the home of  Wayne and Gabrielle in Napa to experience wine tasting that was intimate, unique, and fun.  This is not a “public” winery but appointments can still be made; with the understanding that wine will be purchased before you leave.  There is a tasting fee of $35/pp to cover the costs of food and wine, but it is worth the experience.  As you pull into their driveway, hidden behind acres of vineyards, you notice the large, expansive lawn that sits around a private pond filled with frogs, lilies, and grasses.  The house sits back behind oak trees that are well over 300 hundred years old, and there are gardens to be discovered as you are taken on a tour of the property.  And that is just the introduction!

You are then invited to sit under one of the trees in this beautiful setting and are treated to a platter of cheeses, salami, sausage, crackers, honey, olive oil, chocolate, and homemade salts as part of the pairing with the wines.  Wayne has his own collection, named after his grandfather, Pietro, and Gabrielle has various blends available that will tantalize your palate.  We enjoyed everything we tasted.  For those who love blends, this is a perfect match for you!

For 90 minutes or more you are part of the family, welcome to be a part of their home and their history, and soon you will feel that you are speaking with old friends you haven’t seen in awhile.  There is a grace and sophistication to everything they do: the ambience, the food, the wine, the company.  The wines are delicious and they range from very affordable to the more elite status.  This is one of those unique and intimate experiences in Napa that is hidden from the public eye, but available to our guests.  Yes, they will allow us to make reservations for you.

Bottega: another taste, another winner.

Yes, we returned a second time to try out some other dishes on the menu. I was very interested in their grilled octopus salad which was absolutely stunning. Simple greens tossed in a vinaigrette and layered with grilled octopus, potatoes, and salsa verde. I loved it. I also had the green eggs and ham, which was poached asparagus with a deep-fried soft-boiled egg on top. The combination was perfect and made me think I need to incorporate this dish into breakfast with my own twist. Look for it sometime this year! Jamie really enjoyed his usual green salad, and ate up all of his braised short ribs, with the meat falling off the bone. Part of the joy of Bottega was getting there early, ordering some sparkling wine, and sitting out on the veranda with the wood burning fireplace. A nice way to start the meal, and even to finish it there with a glass of Port. The restaurant is still very popular and reservations in advance are a MUST.

Town Hall Restaurant: a San Francisco favorite!

We know that plenty of our guests will be spending time in San Francisco as part of their stay in Northern California, and we would like to recommend to you Town Hall restaurant on Howard Street.  The cuisine is Southern, with really crispy fried chicken, and osso bucco that falls right off the bones.  The chopped salad with a ton of different vegetables is just incredible, as is the Barbeque Shrimp that has a hint of heat and spice.  We were going to pass up on dessert but the waitress convinced us that the pot de creme was not to be missed: with chocolate on the bottom and butterscotch on top.  Oh my!  It was absolutely incredible.

Now, the ambience is loud and happening, so if you are looking for a quiet and romantic spot, this is not it.  But if you are hankering for some really great homestyle Louisianna, southern cuisine, then Town Hall is a definite stop for you.  It is casual and very sophisticated, with great flavors and food.

How I would schedule your romantic weekend getaway…when you want to propose!

It would start with arrival at the Inn at 5:00 p.m.  Enjoy the sparkling wine in the room, some snacks, and sit out in the garden to enjoy the evening.  I would make a 7:30 p.m. dinner reservation in Napa with a casual walk back to the Inn planned for afterward.  In the morning enjoy a hearty breakfast either in the dining room or out in the garden followed by a couple’s massage in the room at 10:30.  Two weeks prior to your stay I would have scheduled you an appointment at Pride Mountain Vineyards for around 1:00 p.m. and would have ordered lunch for you to pick-up from Oakville Grocery around noon.  At Pride Mountain you would enjoy the great wines as well as the spectacular views of the surrounding valleys.  You would know to go either to the mountain-top picnic table with a view, or to a more secluded spot in the glen to sit down and enjoy your lunch.  Once a bottle of wine has been enjoyed with some food you would talk about your lives and how wonderful it is to be on vacation together in such a beautiful part of the world.  ”Speaking of beauty,” you would say….and eventually that would get you to the proposal.  Enjoy the grounds and the aftermath of joy in the “yes” that was given and later drive down to Yountville for a small sweet snack at Bouchon Bakery with a single shot espresso.  Sit outside at the cafe table, hold hands, and enjoy the bliss of new beginnings.  You return to the inn and take a nap, enjoying an afternoon snooze, and then plan on dinner around 6:30 along Main Street in Napa.  After dinner (Friday and Saturday nights only) I would have ordered you tickets for the Jazz/Cabaret club, Silo’s, where you could enjoy Michael Greensill and Wesla Whitfield serenade you magically with love songs from the decades, both playful and sentimental.  At the end of the show I would return to the inn.  Of course, two weeks prior to your arrival, I would have scheduled to have the Lover’s Package set up in the room, with a bottle of sparkling wine on ice waiting for you to open, a bowl of homemade truffles/chocolates, and rose petals in the shape of a heart on the bed, with soft music playing in the room when you return from your day trip.  Draw the jacuzzi bath and luxuriate in the perfect romantic day you have just had in the Napa Valley. The next day the ring should be prominently held out for all to see as you are greeted by innkeepers and guests alike.  You will receive lots of congratulations and one word of advice: choose a response to the question “When’s the wedding?”  That is the first question everyone will ask.  Even an answer such as “Sometime next year” is sufficient.  After that…well, that’s up to you!