(Dining) Adventures in NorCal Part 1

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been many days since my last blog post. And – this one will be about my dining experiences in Napa last week. Stay tuned for the next installments, which will chronicle my night o’ steak in San Fran and a night o’ sushi in SoCal.

My job affords me the opportunity to do some travel from time to time. Well, that’s the case this year anyway. Last year, it was far more frequent than “from time to time.” At least I have my American Airlines platinum status to comfort me. This past week I had the extreme pleasure of visiting one of my favorite parts of the country – the SF Bay Area and the Napa Valley. If ever you cannot find me, this would be the first part of the world to look.

Le menu

On Tuesday, my colleague and I arrived in Napa to meet with some of our key partners, which included an amazing resort and a phenomenal winery. Not too shabby for a day’s work. Thanks to the resort – which also was kind enough to affordably host us for the evening – we ended up at a restaurant called Cook for dinner in St. Helena. The only direction we gave the hotel was that we wanted someplace really tasty that didn’t require us to dress up at all. And Cook more than surpassed all expectations. In fact, we were told by pretty much everyone that this was an insider’s place – a favorite of the locals, but not really well known to tourists. Couldn’t have been more perfect.


We started with an antipasti plate and the fried calamari. While the antipasti plate could have used more cheese (you can never have too much cheese), the various salumis were well made and provided a good range of flavor. The whole roasted garlic was a nice touch, one not seen often enough, in this eater’s opinion. The calamari was nice and crisp. Perfectly cooked with the calamari tender in the center. And the lemon aioli was a nice, clean compliment.

Gargiulo G Major 7

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wine. Oh, the wine. Thanks to my dear friend Sharon at Gargiulo Vineyards, we had the sublime pleasure of enjoying a bottle of 2007 G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. I encourage you to click the link to read more about it. Do yourself a favor – get some of this wine. And stockpile it…it’s a small production masterpiece.  The wine has a beautiful color, a pleasant, slightly tannic aroma, and a smooth flavor that complemented both entrees that we ordered for the evening.

For my dear friend Glynis – a teleme and carrot risotto with roasted lamb. For me, a pappardelle pasta with pork and porcini sugo. Both were delicious, but I will say that Glynis struck the jackpot with her entree.

Risotto and lamb

The risotto was creamy with a smooth, slightly sweet flavor. I didn’t even try the lamb and would have eaten multiple plates of the risotto, gotten full, and kept right on eating. Her restraint in not finishing the entire thing and then licking the plate was quite astounding. I don’t think I’d have done the same. The pappardelle was cooked perfectly and was freshly made. The pork was tender and the earthy flavor from the porcini was subtle but a nice addition to the dish. Glynis said it reminded her of beef stroganoff. I don’t entirely disagree, but the only resemblance I can attribute is that both are comfort dishes that just make you feel warm inside and out.

Dessert was extra-special, though caused a distinct divide at the table. I mentioned that I couldn’t decide between the flourless chocolate cake and the caramel-balsamic gelato, so we ordered both. Turns out, Glynis was going to go for the cake anyway. Things worked out nicely.

Cake and gelato. Mmm...

The cake was moist and surprisingly light, unlike most other flourless cakes I’ve had. Served with caramel, whipped cream and a little grey salt, it was a perfect example of sweet and salty. The gelato was a bit more controversial. I loved it…G hated it. The acidity of the balsamic was a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramel. It had a silky texture and I found it to be a refreshing end to the meal. Not too sweet, yet sweet enough to feel like dessert and wrap up the dinner.

No coffee or after dinner drinks for these ladies. Just a quick chat back on the patio at the hotel and then it was time to call it a night. I’m pretty sure my tummy actually smiled after dinner.

The next morning, we met before meetings commenced to have  breakfast at the Grill at Meadowood. I’m sure you’re thinking, “hotel breakfast”? Really? This is no ordinary hotel or resort. It is slightly reminiscent of the resort in Dirty Dancing. In fact, I may have practiced my best mambo while walking down one of the paths. Maybe.

That morning, Glynis and I opted for the same breakfast – omelets with smoked salmon, spinach and cream cheese paired with seasoned breakfast potatoes. We only differed in our bread choices – wheat toast for her, english muffin for me – and what we chose to put on said bread.

Hello marmalade

I never thought I liked orange marmalade. The few times I’d tried it in the past were less-than-memorable, and it certainly wasn’t anything I’d seek out. That is, until I tried the orange marmalade at Meadowood. Holy cow. I detected what we figured was a hint of star anise. It truly made all the difference. If it wouldn’t have been totally uncouth, I’d have eaten the marmalade with my spoon. Or perhaps just put a straw into the dish and slurped it all. I doubt I’d been invited back had either of those actions taken place.

Cream cheese in an omelet? Yes!

The omelet was fluffy and well cooked. I’m a weirdo when it comes to eggs. Typically I like them slightly more done than is considered appropriate by most chefs, but less done than my mom used to make them (sorry mom). In this case, the eggs were prepared just as I like them. The spinach was exceptionally fresh and just slightly wilted. The salmon was delicate and the cream cheese added a richness to the dish. The only thing missing, for my taste, was some fresh dill. My favorite salmon/cream cheese omelet is at Ann Sather in Chicago. They use dill. Just saying.

All in all, a successful 24 hours in Napa. And that was just the beginning. Just one phrase is necessary about my next post: In-n-Out Burger.


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