California Eats

No, I didn’t cook anything last week.  Why? Because I was on vacation!  JP and I took off to Napa Valley and San Francisco to eat, drink, eat some more, and visit a few friends.  We had a great time and ate at some amazing restaurants.  Here are the highlights:

Ad Hoc – Thomas Keller’s newest concept, though not really the original concept at all.  Loved it. Here’s the menu that was served that night (it changes each day).  This was a perfect start to the vacation.

Bouchon Bakery – Hard not to get addicted to this stuff. I mean, look at how pretty.

Bouchon Bistro – Classic French bistro food in a great atmosphere.

The French Laundry – Yes, we really did visit every single Thomas Keller establishment.  JP was able to get through on the reservation line in April, so we saved some $$ for an amazing dinner. The entire experience was as expected – amazing.  The service was impeccable without being overbearing and the food was simply astounding.  I got pictures of mostly everything, though the room was dim, so they’re not the best photos. And yes, I do hate pulling a camera out in restaurants, but I wanted to remember this.

The menu for the evening

Houndstooth plates!

Amuse Bouche #2 – Salmon Cornette with creme fraiche, so yummy and delicate (#1 was a gougere)

Oysters & Pearls – One of my favorites, a Pearl Tapioca sabayon with Island Creek (MA) oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

I forgot a pic of the second course – Foie Gras Torchon with Bing Cherries, Piedmont Hazelnuts, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar & Toasted Brioche and a Roasted Endive Salad (we shared both, but the Foie Gras kicked the salad’s butt, in reality).  But instead, here is the butter.  Two kinds! On the right, local & unsalted.  On the left, from Vermont & salted.

Sauteed Fillet of Japanese Medai with Fennel, Potatoes, Jingle Bell Peppers, Garden Blossoms and Tomales Bay Clams – perfectly cooked fish, brilliantly crisp skin

“Peas and Carrots”: Butter-poached Maine Lobster Tail, English Peas, and Nantes Carrots – There is no better preparation of lobster than this.  Amazingly sweet and tender.

Bacon-wrapped Sirloin of Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit with Swiss Chard, K&J Orchard Peach, Cipollini Onions, and Sunflower Seeds

Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee” with morel mushrooms, fava beans, pickled ramps, and “Sauce Bearnaise” – There never was, and probably never will be, a better piece of beef. So perfectly cooked and packed with flavor.

“Abbaye de Tamie”: Granny Smith Apple “en Feuille de Bric”, walnuts, black truffle, frisee, and cider reduction – a soft cow’s milk cheese made by monks! Super yummy cheese course.

Royal Blenheim Apricot Sorbet with Toasted Barley-Brown Sugar Streusel, Cilantro Shoorts, and White Apron Ale Foam – Really fun palate cleanser and the barley + ale foam combo was great with the apricot.

Dessert #1: Cremeux aux Fruits de la Passion, French Laundry Garden Strawberries, Pistachio Pain de Gene, and White Chocolate Sorbet

Dessert #2: Pane di Ricotta alla Griglia, Delta Blue Blueberries, Pine Nut Nougatine, Limone Cagliata, and Buttermilk Sherbet (we shared both)

Bonus Dessert: Cheesecake (Not part of the menu, so I can’t remember the full description.  I was seeing stars at this point, I was so full.)

Toffee covered Macadamia Nuts – like crack, seriously

And last but not least: Chocolates!  Oh, and also, they send you home with really good shortbread cookies.

The lampshades!

I can’t stress enough that this truly was an amazing experience – something that everyone should do at least once.  Just don’t ask me how much we spent.  😉

If you think we stopped eating after that, you’d be terribly wrong.  Following the French Laundry, on Wednesday, we had an awesome, lighter lunch at Redd (right next door to Ad Hoc) and a great dinner at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega.  I skipped pics at Redd, but took a couple at Bottega – here they are:

Grilled Octopus

Burrata – one of my current addictions

“Polenta Under Glass” – Born on Top Chef Masters!

Pasta with an awesome veal & pork ragu

Couldn’t pass up the truffle-parmigiano frites!

Whole Roasted Fish with Romesco

I would highly recommend both!  And really, it’s no wonder I gained so much weight last week!

On Thursday, we stuck to casual food – burgers – for lunch and had a decent dinner at Ken Frank’s La Toque in our hotel, the Westin.

On Friday, we stopped in Berkeley on our way to San Francisco for lunch at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse.

She’s been doing it since long before most – simple, local food.  We had a great meal here, including a baked goat cheese salad and a pizzetta with scallions, smoked salmon, and creme fraiche.  For entrees, we had the Becker Lane Pork Shoulder and the Manila Clams.  Both were excellent.  Also great – the apricot tart!

Once we got to the city, I stopped taking photos, though I’m not sure why exactly.  To summarize, we had an excellent regional Italian dinner at Perbacco in the Financial District on Friday night with some old friends.

On Saturday, we missed the end of the US-Ghana soccer match in order to make our lunch reservation at the Slanted Door – but given how the soccer match turned out and how excellent the modern Vietnamese food was, I would do it all again.  On Saturday night, we were treated to dinner with dear friends at A16 – the southern Italian restaurant for pizza fans and wine lovers owned by Shelly Lindgren.  The dinner, the company, and the wine were all excellent! And they had Lacyrma Christi – the pizza wine – which you can never find in the states.

And finally, on Sunday, after seeing bits of SF Pride along Market Street, we had an excellent, non-traditional brunch at Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building.  Poached eggs with stellar lamb ragu – need I say more?  And while we wanted to wrap the trip with a visit to Chris Cosentino’s Incanto, we just couldn’t imagine eating more meat or pasta.  So, we made a change of plans and headed to Tataki – one of VERY FEW sustainable sushi restaurants in the entire country.  While I will need to make another trip to hit Incanto, I am SO happy we made it to Tataki.  I am a lover of all things sustainable and all things sushi, and I will admit to indulging in fish I know I shouldn’t be eating, but mostly because that’s what the restaurants offer.  Seeing that it can be done right, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we start to see more places like Tataki, and hopefully something will come to Boston soon!

Wow! I’m full just thinking about all of this food again.  Hopefully this inspires you to make a trip to one of these restaurants – I would recommend any of them.  And of course, everyone should make a trip to French Laundry in their lifetime.  You won’t see what you’re missing until you do, but you’ll be glad you did!

P.S. We also visited some awesome vineyards.  Our favorites? Bell, Robert Sinskey, Grgich Hills Estate, and Iron Horse!

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