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Fine Dining Our Way Through Napa Valley – A Culinary Travelogue

  • May 22, 2018
  • By Karen
  • 2 Comments
Fine Dining Our Way Through Napa Valley – A Culinary Travelogue

A Culinary Travelogue

I can officially check off a big bucket list item. I’ve now dined at ALL of Thomas Keller’s restaurants. Here are the quick highlights, which mostly occurred during my July 2017 trip through Napa Valley.

The French Laundry

The French Laundry (a Michelin 3 Star restaurant) was my first stop. I had the absolute pleasure of sitting in the private dining room with a very special group of people on Easter Sunday 2011. That evening launched me (and my husband Russ) on a quest to experience as much fine dining in our lifetimes as we possibly could.

Per Se

In  August 22, 2016, for my husband’s 50th Birthday, we went to Per Se  (another Michelin recognized restaurant) in New York City. Russ still talks about the desserts to this day. We were presented with five desserts at the end of the meal. Each dessert was elegantly displayed and a work of art on it’s on. Talk about “wow’ factor.

Ad Hoc

In July 2017, during our tour through Napa Valley, we walked into Ad Hoc and discovered a casual dining atmosphere with elegant comfort food. On that particular Sunday the menu consisted of a green salad dressed with a vinaigrette and a pork chop (which I wouldn’t normally order).

I was happily surprised by the chop. My serving was not only enormous, it was juicy and tender and I couldn’t get enough of it. The secret is in the brining.  It seriously takes proteins to a whole different level of goodness. I’ve experimented with brining and will continue to do so.

Bouchon Bakery

From 7am every morning there is a line up at Bouchon Bakery, featuring tourists and locals alike.  Bouchon is known for its artisanal breads and traditional French desserts.

I chit chat to everyone so of course I asked staff what their favourites were. (You get some great insight by asking that one question.) The chocolate and almond croissant was a favourite, as were the macarons.  For me it was the almond croissant. For Russ it was toss up between the blueberry muffin and the cinnamon roll.

Bouchon Bistro

I enjoyed Bouchon Bistro (yes, another Michelin restaurant) immensely. Twice in fact. Bouchon left me with a lot to report on.

The fresh salad of the day was brilliantly displayed. The rich colours of the in-season fresh tomatoes and the petite assorted mushrooms were yum. Oh, and the escargot was tender as all heck and featured THAT butter. Sooo rich and creamy. It was the per-FECT-o combo of creaminess and saltiness. The bread (from Bouchon Bakery of course) was placed directly onto the table and served with more of that unbelievable butter.  I could have licked that little ceramic dish clean! The devilled eggs had smooth consistency and definitely tantalized the taste buds. We had the gnudi- not to be mistaken for the gnocchi. (We did make that mistake in dinner number 2. Oops.) We shared the Bouchon steak and pomme fritz (because we had to taste as many things as possible). Did I mention how much I loved the truffles? Ah, and I almost forgot we had the mussels too.

My beverage selections started with Schramsberg, North Coast, Brut Rosé 2014.  I enjoyed the freshness of this Rosé. Even though France is the holy grail of champagne, I like to engage in local fare.

When it comes to wine choices. I sometimes like the sommelier to pick for me.  This was one of those times. FYI this is a great way to make a new friend.

So at Bouchon, I asked the sommelier Matthew to pick for me. The first glass was a blend; mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc to round it out. For the next glass, Matthew asked me to guess its origin and type. I was 1 for 2. I guessed France, which was correct, but missed the type, which was Chateauneuf Du Pape.

Inquiring about wine with Matthew led to us asking questions about him and vice versa. He invited us back to Bouchon Bistro a few days later and we happily dined there again for the second time in a single week.  (FYI it takes a bit to get a reservation here. )

A great tip for trying popular restaurants is: if you can, choose a weeknight for your dining pleasure as there tends to be a bit more wiggle room for desired times.

The Bardessono Hotel

One of the many things I love about Yountville in Napa is that we can walk to and from dinner from our hotel.  We stayed at the luxury Bardessono Hotel. Its contemporary elements charmed the pants off me.  Also, taking care of the environment is a core value of the Bardessono, which I appreciated so much.  All the staff were jovial and provided exceptional service.  

While we were there, Russ and I spa’d and lounged at the rooftop pool.  Oh, the relaxation was divine!

It’s worth mentioning that Bardessono has a partnership with Lexus.  With an overnight stay you have the opportunity to test drive a Lexus, a hybrid utility vehicle RX 450h or their 2015 Lexus GS 450H Sedan.  We took advantage of this and cruised along the back roads to St. Helene.  

Golfing in Napa

We also golfed on three courses during our adventure: Sonoma Golf Club, Silverado Golf Club and Mayacama.  As much as I enjoyed all of these course, Mayacama was a dream.  My golf skills were not exactly on par (no pun intended) for this game but the beauty all around us was jaw dropping. The landscape, the clubhouse, the members’ lounge– just wow!

San Francisco Fairmont Hotel

We headed into San Francisco early one morning for our last 35 hours of our vacation. We checked into the iconic San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, which sits atop Nob Hill, where the cable car lines of California Line and the Powell Line intersect.  

When Russ was checking in, I stepped over to the concierge desk and asked for some dinner recommendations for that evening.  (Yes, I know…last minute Nelly.) The great thing about staying in a luxury hotel is that they do have some pull with restaurant reservations.  

The concierge suggested a restaurant.  I said to Russ, ”That’s the name of the restaurant we went to in Spain for our anniversary.”  The concierge confirmed a 6:15pm reservation and I overheard him say, “They are celebrating their anniversary.”  I didn’t have the heart to correct him.

Michael Mina

We spent our “anniversary dinner” at Michael Mina.  It’s a Michelin restaurant- do you see a theme happening here? When we sat down there was an anniversary card waiting for us.  

We enjoyed the chef’s tasting menu.  8 Courses lasting 3 hours. Fortunately, the menu included more truffles- yeah! -as well as sea bass and lamb.

I made another friend, the manager Eric.  He is a super nice man who enjoys chatting with his guests.  His wine knowledge is very extensive. He invited us to reach out for a reservation at Michael Mina’s Seattle restaurant.  Don’t mind if we do!  Thank you, Eric, for your kindness.  

Going Home

Sunday morning had arrived and we were sad to leave the city where we enjoy ourselves very much.  We have beautiful memories in San Francisco.

Russ met up with the concierge who made our “anniversary dinner” reservation while checking out. He asked Russ, “Did you get my present?” We had- it was a bottle of bubbles left in our room during dinner. Russ thanked him for his kindness- even though when we found it, we were so full we couldn’t even think about drinking it.  It was a very thoughtful gesture.

We will be back, San Francisco.  We have many more Michelin restaurants to explore.   

BIG LOVE!!


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By Karen, May 22, 2018
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About Me
Hi, I’m Karen.
At this point, I understand myself well enough to know exactly how to cultivate joy on my own terms. So I savour life like I would a 9-course meal…with wine pairings, naturally. This is where you can draw inspiration for living your most adventurous, courageous, luxurious, and beautiful life—one delectably guiltless mouthful at a time.
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