So Napa was actually genius. It wasn't that hot and, other than the Oakville Grocery, it didn't feel that crowded.
We connected with Ric Henry at Karl Lawrence in St Helena and tasted some of the magic that they're pulling out of the ground from the Herb Lamb and Gary Marisoli vineyards. That led to a tasting of somebody's something at Vino Velo across the street where a party was in full swing.
We rolled up a couple of minutes late to a 9P reso at Oenotri in Napa. This restaurant is Chelsea-industrial-meets-California and when they get the food right, that place sings. The menu is Italian - they have a super extensive salumi selection. The waiter was going to launch into a speil on it and we told him to "pick ten" and we'll take a look at the rest of the menu. No real complaint here, the charcuterie was first rate but was all much of a muchness. It surprised me not to find an aggressively aromatic sopressata with fennel, something with bitter orange or different citrus, or even a lardo with a crack of salt. Everything was down the center, super quality but not much exploration. It was served with some flatbread, again very good, but some crisp capers or peperoncini or cornichons with some acid to break the fat would have been great. Missed opportunity more than mistake, this place is worth a visit.
It being Italian, a pizza, a pasta and steak followed. Pizza with squash was near perfect, california style meaning less aggressive oven temps than neopolitan. Wisdom held us to eat a single slice each so we could carry on.
A pasta with clams, porcini and meyer lemon was outstanding. I know - mushroom and clam. Seriously, take out the briny from the clam and there is a woodsy element that works with the mushroom. Put the briney back in and you balance with the starch. The lemon brokered the deal and made it happen.
So in truth, I'm talking about the dish they way I tasted it in my mind-palate because its embodiement on Friday was a little tight and one or two trucs would have coaxed more flavor into the dish and a splash or two of the starchy water would have kept the pasta loose. But the restaurant has a great vibe and my comments have more to do with better than any sense of bad. The service was sharp - in fact the chef served every plate after the salumi and I'm thinking that he thought we were critics.
Last comment on Oenotri, the wine list. Flipping awesome Italian, lots to explore. A 2006 Avigonessi from somewhere in Tuscany rocked it out. There is a page or two of wines "under $30", this place knows what it’s doing.
Saturday started groggy but the fog in the sky and my brain burned off by 9:30 so we were prompt for a tasting at Darioush. If you don't know this vineyard, it's along the Silverado trail just north of Napa. Some Persian industrialist built it after the architectural style of the ancient city of Persepolis, even importing the stone for the building from Iran. No compromise was made. They turn out serious Cal-Cabs and play with the other grapes. A Cab Franc was good, but not what I want to drink and the cabs are at the peak of what the valley does well. Taste and see if its your thing.
But what I want to tell you about is their Russian River Chardonnay and a meritage of Shiraz and Cabernet that they call Duel. The first is Burgundian - gone are the crazy stone fruits of hot weather whites and the pushy-aggressive-oakyness so pervasive in the valley. What's left is balanced and clear like Chassagne-Montrachet. The second was ascendant- the shiraz bringing fruit to the structure of the cab. At about $50 a bottle by the time it gets home to me, a little pricy but a really fun wine. A chef friend who was at Brix and Bouchon when Darioush opened will be getting a serious present, or six, for Christmas.
A tasting of Rob Hunter's 2010 Hunter III Sauvignon Blanc followed in St Helena by the pool at the spa. Girls in bikinis and white wine; nothing wrong with that picture. Needless to say, we made sure that everyone had a drink and the wine rep loved us. Our work being done, time to bail.
We made it to Redd in Yountville for Lunch. Put Redd on your map. Seriously good eats. Plates are clear and focused on flavor.
Our palates were pretty savaged by the grape so it was firmly beer with lunch. The wines list was more a discussion item. The citing of a Bonny Dune sparkling Riesling got us remembering the funny story about Cigare Volant which led us to ask the sommelier to remind us of the original vintner’s name. That led to a discussion of our morning, the outstanding and non-typical valley white at Darioush and the clarity of the Hunter III Sav Blanc. In about five minutes the sommelier had two or three bottles on the table to show us that some reprobates in the valley were making clean whites and we were tasting again. Gotta love wine country.
After lunch we met with Rob Hunter from Hunter III and had a vertical tasting of his cabs, 2004-2007. The ’04 and ’05 are coming into their own. He is not well distributed outside of California but will be, so watch out for the wines.
Tired of a week in restaurants, we cancelled a reservation at Bouchon and made dinner for some friends. Rocket with lemon confit, pasta carbonara, and a chicken paillard with a sauce like a mignonette made from parsley, lemon, onion and tomato. Good to be back in the kitchen.
I’ll close out with a comment on Palo Alto – the one really good meal we had was the Kaiseki menu at Kaygetsu in Menlo Park. Clean and precise; fantastic play with texture, temperature, and subtle flavors. The sake pairings were terrific - I think I can still taste the opening salvo of umami from a Masumi unpasteurized “Arabashiri”.
For you guys lucky enough to live in California, take advantage of this shit.