After we drove back from San Francisco, our first stop was the grocery store.
Sadly, this was still exciting for me, but we did manage to get the shopping done quicker than the week before. One of our purchases was a cactus leaf. I never ended up using it for anything, I ran out of time, but I still should look up some recipes to see what I could have done with it!
J was having taco withdrawals so we drove to the closest taqueria and got take-out tacos.
They tasted a lot better than they looked. I think these ones were $1.75 each.
I think dinner that night was some rather expensive fish J got at Oxbow.
Monday morning we set off North, through Saint Helena, our destination the Robert Louis Stevenson state park. But first we stopped at this rather over the top winery so I could take a photo.
And then we stopped for tacos (of course). This particular truck is parked in the car park of a convenience store and you order at the truck and get given an order slip that you take into the store and give to the cashier. The cashier totals your order, you pay, and the cashier stamps the slip and you can go back outside and wait for your food. Once your order is called you hand the guy in the truck the slip and he gives you your food. There was no signage or instructions around this process so everyone was trying to pay the guy in the truck and he had to keep telling people to pay inside. Maybe a sign would save time? Anyway, the tacos were the same high standard we had been experiencing. I had a chicken one and a chorizo one.
Back on the road and into the park. The main trail is a hike to the top of Mount Helena but we chose to do the Table Rock trail. There is a small car park on either side of the road where these trails start and they are easy to miss.
Some photos from along the trail.
The first mile to the overlook is relatively easy and well-marked. However, the remaining distance is not well marked and you have to descend into the valley and hope you are going the right way. We didn’t make it all the way to Table Rock, as black clouds were rolling in and we didn’t have wet weather gear.
On the way back into Napa we stopped off at the Wholefoods store. What a marvellous place this is! And not just for its wine bar. Yes, take a break from your shopping and have a vino or three.
We sat and had a beverage while people wheeled their trolleys past us. Why can’t Coles or Safeway do the same? I am sure tipsy shoppers would buy more!
Dinner that night was at Ad Hoc, another of Thomas Keller’s restaurants in Yontville. The reason we were dining there is that I needed a fried chicken fix, and this place had the reputation of doing an excellent version. But…. They only do it on Mondays. And, I had read it was only every second Monday. This was the only chance I had and would it be the correct Monday?
The menu changes daily and can be read online in the afternoon or you can ring the restaurant and listen to the menu on the automated system.
I kept anxiously checking the web page and finally that night’s menu came up. Woo-hoo, we were going to be getting our fried chicken on!
(I don’t know whether I got lucky with the week, or that the every second week thing was just a rumour, but either way I was happy)
We drove over to Yontville and had a quick stroll before dinner. I had to take a photo of this sign.
Can anyone tell me why 24 minutes? Not 25 or 20?
Time for dinner!
This is the view from the front door. We were seated in another section, down the back and to the right.
Ad Hoc serves a four course family style sharing menu, with the option of paying an extra $12 (on the night we went) for another dish that comes out at the same time as the main dish or course.
Even though there is a lot of food to come, bread is still served.
It was extremely good but I would advise you not to eat it. We only had one piece each and that was too much.
The first course was a salad of baby iceberg wedges with red radish, bread and butter pickles, golden beets, shaved rainbow carrots, caraway dressing and spiced chickpeas.
Now being Australian and used to eating salad with my meal and not before, I still find this concept odd, but in saying that, this salad was awesome. Light and crisp and served the purpose of getting our tastebuds fired up like an amuse bouche.
We were still loving the abundance of half bottles of wine in America.
Once the salad was cleared the table suddenly became very crowded with approximately five dishes. I think we made them take the bread away just so we could fit everything on the table.
This was the optional (additional cost) dish, shrimp and grits with piquillo peppers, diced ham and parsley vinaigrette. It, like most dishes we had at Ad Hoc, was very generous and not really required. J wanted to try it and I think he enjoyed it but couldn’t eat it all.
Then the highlight of the meal, and the reason we were there, came out.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken!
Woot! Perfectly coated and fried chicken, with the right balance of spice and saltiness. Please remember there were only two of us, and that is a lot of chicken, and I did my darned best but it defeated me, but it was a very worthwhile battle.
To balance out the friedness (yes that is a word despite what my spell checker is saying), there was a side dish of very tasty green beans served with a mushroom veloute and crispy shallots.
The other side dishes were whipped Yukon gold potatoes, and buttermilk biscuits with blueberry jam. No photos of these, but I had a mouthful of each to try them and again the standard was very high.
We really did not need more food. So what did we do when this lovely cheese plate came out?
We dug straight in of course! Though we did leave the (yet more) bread and just ate the cheese and apple slices. I know America has a reputation for serving, and eating, bright yellow cheese (and cheese from a can) but there is some good stuff around as well and we sampled plenty of it on this trip. We did have the yellow stuff too though, which you will see below.
Our final course was dessert, a vanilla panna cotta with strawberries and cinnamon shortbread cookies.
Honestly, we were full to breaking point and my saving grace was that I don’t like panna cotta so after trying the strawberries on top, I ate a cookie and put up the white flag.
Amazing food at a reasonable price ($52pp) but there was way too much of it. J says he regrets this meal just because of how much food there was (and yes, I know no-one was shoving it down our throats).
But the friend chicken was worth it and overall I would recommend giving Ad Hoc a try, just don’t eat lunch, don’t order the additional dish and maybe skip the bread.
I am pretty sure breakfast the next day was light (at least I hope it was!)
J worked and I just pottered around the house.
We ducked out to Browns Valley market for sandwiches for lunch. These are ordered at the deli section and you pick your bread, protein, cheese, condiments and if you want, stuff like lettuce, tomato, red onion is also included. You can end up with one massive sandwich.
I have an addiction to potato chips, so am always on the lookout for different brands and flavours. We picked up some dirty chips at Browns.
I also got our washing done. For some reason Americans don’t believe in washing lines (I believe they put everything in the dryer) so I had to work with what I had to get our clothes dry. There was a dryer but I am always worried about stuff shrinking so avoided it as much as possible.
When I was growing up, my parents had a pet goat, it was literally their first kid.
So, I have a soft spot for these cute guys, and once I discovered a paddock full of them around the corner I had to stop and say hello every time we went past.
Dinner on Tuesday night was home cooked and can’t have been too exciting as I don’t have a photo of it and can’t remember what it was!
I do know lunch on Wednesday was another sandwich from Brown’s. I think this bread was called rye swirl.
I also hit the Napa Premium outlets again and got myself another good selection of bargains.
That evening we drove the 30-45 minutes over to Petaluma to K and D’s place for dinner. D is a business associate of J’s.
This is not their letter box, but just around the corner from their house I made J stop so I could get a photo.
We were very warmly greeted and got sorted with drinks and nibbles. We then went outside where D was cooking dinner. He heated the coals of the BBQ up first, and then placed them under the grill and added ribs and foil wrapped garlic bread.
We asked about the ribs as when we purchased them the previous week we thought buying them pre-cooked and already marinated was cheating. But D assured us that pretty much everyone buys them this way and he only knows one person who buys them raw and without marinade, and it is quite a process to do it yourself.
In saying that, D does make his own marinade that he uses to baste the ribs with as he cooks them.
D and K’s Eskimo pup was supervising proceedings.
Dinner was the ribs and bread, served with homemade beans and potato salad.
So so good.
K made a dessert of macerated strawberries on a French bread like base. Also delicious and perfect after the rich main course.
It was a great evening and it confirmed in me just how hospitable Americans are. I had never met D or K before but felt so welcomed and the warmth and friendliness was so genuine and natural. (Wishing you guys all the best for your move to Reno!)
We made the drive back to Napa and awoke to wet weather on Thursday.
This was supposed to be the day J drove me to San Francisco airport so I could catch a flight to LA and then home, but a few weeks before I left Australia there was a change of plans.
My boss and another team member were booked to attend a conference in San Diego the following week. I found out that they were due to depart Melbourne the day I got back, so asked my boss about the possibility of tagging along to the conference. I said I would pay for the cost involved in changing my flight if work would pay for the conference and hotel package offered by the conference organiser. It was all agreed and organised and I ended up with another six nights in the States!
This was my last day and night in Napa and the morning was spent at the house. J and I then headed out for burgers for lunch.
D had told us the night before about Squeeze Inn and their famous cheese skirt burgers. We had not heard of it, but when D said where it was, J knew exactly where to go (he knows Napa so well now!).
The décor is cross between fast food and a diner, and ordering is done at the short end of the counter as you come in the door. Your name is called out when your order is ready. This photo was taken after we had been there about 20 minutes, it was packed before then.
We both had burgers and shared a serve of fries. J opted not to get a cheese skirt. I, of course, had to see it for myself.
Wowsers that is a lot of (yellow) cheese. And to be honest, I took a photo and pulled the skirt part of it, just keeping the cheese that was actually in the burger. I just couldn’t stomach that much cheese and to be honest wasn’t sure how you were supposed to eat it. But all in all, it was a good burger.
J had to visit a client after lunch so he dropped me off at the outlet for one last shopping trip and I then walked back to the house when I was done.
Dinner that evening was booked for Oenotri. I have blogged this Italian restaurant before and J pretty much always has a meal at the bar when he is in town. We like the food and wanted something simple but tasty.
We had made an online booking (through the link on Oenotri’s website to OpenTable) and turned up at the allotted time.
When we walked in the door there were two hostesses greeting guests. One was already in deep conversation with a party of four and the other looked after us. The issues was that they were holding a wine dinner that evening (with winemakers in attendance) and everyone who walked in the door was asked whether they wanted to do the nine course wine dinner or order off a limited version of the normal menu. We were then handed both menus to look at. This caused confusion and chaos in the small entryway throughout the evening as people stood and discussed what they wanted to do. There was no way we wanted to do a nine course degustation that evening, but the limited menu had all the items we had already decided we wanted so we agreed to go ahead with the booking. I noticed a lot of people didn’t make the same decision as us and left.
We were seated at a table with a bit of a view of the open kitchen. I still covet the chairs.
We had brought our own wine and that was soon opened and poured for us. And admittedly poured very fast throughout the short time we were there. It was very rushed.
Having a limited menu plus already knowing what we wanted meant we were ready to order pretty quickly. The waitress asked us if we were ready, we said yes, she then blatantly stared across the restaurant, watching and listening to what was going on over there. She had no interest whatsoever in listening to our order.
And this is where we should have got up and walked out, but it was wet and we didn’t feel like finding somewhere else, plus our wine was already open. And, to be honest, this is to be expected at Oenotri. They do amazing food, but the staff are shit. Last time we were there the bartender ignored us for at least five minutes (the bar is tiny, eight people max and it wasn’t full) and J said he is always ignored for at least that long whenever he goes there by himself.
But we keep going back, which we shouldn’t but when the food is good and is exactly what you feel like…..
So anyway, we eventually told our waitress our order and the food started to come out.
We shared a margherita pizza (mozzarella di bufala, san marzano tomato sauce and tomatero farms basil).
Still one of the best pizzas I have ever had.
And then we had a pasta each, and shared a green salad.
J had some sort of seafood pasta.
And I had the lamb ragu.
Both excellent and we were happy with the food.
I don’t normally post photos of salad, but like most of the food at Oenotri, this one was above par. It was mixed lettuces with meyer lemon vinaigrette and parmigiano-reggiano.
We were feeling quite rushed but still had almost half a bottle of the stunning Kistler chardonnay left so sat and talked and sipped.
We contemplated dessert but had to ask about it, none was offered, just coffees. The waitress looked a bit stunned but went to check what could be done. She eventually came back and said we could have the desserts that were on offer on the degustation menu. There were two choices and by that stage we were a bit over it and nothing really appealed. So we made the decision to get take-away dessert on the way home. We did get some cookies with the bill.
OK, here are my overall thoughts on Oenotri and some advice to management. Food is excellent, but service staff (on the floor and behind the bar) are pretty shocking. They make no effort to interact with customers and are obviously not interested in what they are doing, or doing their job properly. If you are going to have an event, you need to advertise it better. I saw nothing on the website when I went to book. I have noticed an events tab, not sure how long that has been in place but if the event is on in the next few days, maybe put it on the home page. Work with OpenTable so that when a booking is made for a night when an event is on, an alert or message pops up telling the diner this fact. There was a great deal of confusion at the entrance all night because the majority of diners had no idea that an event was on. If you are going to have an event, book the whole restaurant out for it. Don’t make the diners choose whether to participate or not. It adds confusion for the wait staff and presumably the kitchen as well if there are two menus going on. We also got the feeling we weren’t treated as well as those around us who were doing the degustation.
So we headed over to Wholefoods to get our own dessert. I wanted Ben and Jerry’s (so much cheaper in the US) and J didn’t believe me when I told him there was a flavour that had potato chips in it! I had to get it out of the fridge and show him.
We didn’t end up buying that one, we stuck with boring old chocolate, and some liquid dessert (and some trashy gossip reading).
We were up early the next morning to drive to Sacramento to catch a flight to San Diego. When I was changing my flights the Qantas rep had advised me that American Airlines (who they use for domestic flights in the US) don’t have a direct flight from San Fran to San Diego and I was better changing my flights to be San Diego to LAX and then home instead of getting them to book me San Fran > LAX > San Diego > LAX > Melb.
I definitely did not want to have to transfer through LAX to get to San Diego so agreed I would book this portion of the trip separately. From Napa, you can fly out of Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Rosa or Sacramento. The best option airlines wise was going to be Southwest, as they seemed to have the most direct flights, and they have a free two checked bag per person policy. We chose Sacramento as getting there in the early morning would be easier than San Fran or Oakland.
It was an easy enough drive and we were soon parked and on the bus to the check-in terminal. Owing to a lot of shopping and bringing back stuff for both J and his business partner, I had two fully loaded suitcases. We could have four between us so that wasn’t a problem, it was just the weight of them that was going to be an issue. J was only going to be in San Diego a few nights so he had a carry-on. A quick bit of shuffling at the check-in desk and we got both bags under the 50lb limit, though I was now worried about my carry-on allowance!
We got through security after a bit of delay. We were in the business lane but it merged with the economy line at the ID and ticket check podium and the woman in the economy line had ID in one name but her ticket was in a shortened version of her name and the security lady would not let her through as the names did not match. Another security guy came over to relieve the woman and he said he would sign off on it, so eventually the woman with two names was through and so was I.
We got the train to the terminal we needed, had bagels for breakfast and boarded our flight. We were served a cold drink and a snack and it was smooth flying. We did fly over Yosemite which was a bit exciting (love that place). It is also worth noting how close planes in US air space can get to each other. You can often see one below you and one above you. This is normal, but in Australia it would be incident reported in the news and an investigation would ensue.
We soon got our first glimpses of San Diego and were landing at the small airport. To be continued…