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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Couple Who Ate The Wine Country: In Search of The Perfect Meal

Everyone who knows us or our friends has heard of or experienced first hand our love of food. So when better to expand our culinary expertise and delight our taste buds than on our honeymoon? 

Our quest is to eat the wine country in search of the perfect meal. We'll be armed with fresh culinary knowledge, gained at Casa Lana's Gourmet Retreats in Calistoga, CA as we take four local eateries by storm. The venues in alphabetical order by city are as follows:

Matthew Spector
Image courtesy of StarChefs
JoLé, Calistoga, CA
One night we'll stop for dinner at JoLé (inside the Mount View Hotel): 1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, CA 94515-1417. We'll work up an appetite with a brisk short walk (two tenths of a mile) from our cottage to our table. After a long day, we won't have to worry about dressing up as recommended attire is casual dress.

JoLé opened in June 2008 and is the owners' - a husband and wife pair, Matthew and Sonjia Spector - second restaurant (Matyson in Philadelphia was their first). While Matthew was named by StarChefs as a Rising Star Chef in 2009, this relatively new restaurant has yet to earn a star from Michelin (its portions are tapas-sized and range in price from $10 to $15 per plate, placing it outside Bib Gourmand's criteria.) It is definitely a local favorite though. Local Wally calls JoLé's Tasting Menu "the Calistoga version of The French Laundry experience, only much cheaper." And BiteClubEats felt JoLé, along with Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar (run by John Franchetti, formerly the pizza maker at Tra Vigne) and Restaurant Eloise (its chefs New Yorkers Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson were also named Rising Star Chefs in 2009. They closed the restaurant November 29, 2009 and have returned to New York according to ChefDB), should have been considered by Michelin for their 2010 Guide. 

Photography Credit: Antoinette Bruno via StarChefs

Solbar, Calistoga, CA
We'll pop into Solbar - which opened in June 2007 and is the first restaurant in Calistoga to earn a Michelin star - one day for lunch. Recommended attire is smart casual, which according to Love to Know Men's Fashion "means that you dress professionally, but you are relaxed. It is a middle ground between strict business or formal wear and street clothes." As we're lunching at Solbar, jeans and pumas should be ok.

35-year old Executive Chef Brandon Sharp and his culinary team first received their star in 2010 and again this year. Brandon joined Solbar in 2006, leaving Gary Danko in San Francisco where he was Sous Chef. Locally, in addition to Gary Danko, he also worked with Thomas Keller at French Laundry as Chef de Partie. Brandon received his education at The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.  

Lucky Pig: Slow Roasted Shoulder of Long and Bailey Duroc Pork, Black Sesame Crepes, Pickled Pineapple, Sweet Chili Mustard Sauce, Mongolian Peanuts, Lettuce Cups, and Rice Noodle Salad with House-Pickled Vegetables
Lucky Pig
Photography Credit: Antoinette Bruno via StarChefs
One of his signature dishes is Lucky Pig - it's currently on the lunch menu (did you think I'd tease you with something you couldn't have? Shame on you for thinking that.).

Want to wet your appetite some more? Follow his blog to see what he's up. He even gave a peek into what they considered for this fall's menus and what didn't make the cut.

We'll head south to Yountville, CA, a city that claims to have the highest Michelin star concentration in the world - 6 stars in just 6 blocks. (Depending on traffic this wine country stop is roughly half an hour to an hour away.) In a valley known for its grapes, Yountville celebrates its chefs. In addition, two Yountville restaurants, Bottega and Bistro Jeanty, are now included in Michelin's Bib Gourmand category. (Bistro Jeanty received a Michelin star from 2007 to 2009 and had been thought by Michael Bauer in December 2008, and contradicted by The Accidental Wino, to be coasting on its success. Michelin apparently agreed with Bauer taking the star away in 2010).

We'll be dining at two of their One Star restaurants - REDD for brunch and Etoile for dinner - and a restaurant in the Bib Gourmand category. 

Nick Ritchie
Image courtesy of StarChefs
Bottega, Yountville, CA
We'll also dine at Michael Chiarello's Bottega for Lunch (dress code is once again smart casual with dress jeans ok). Bottega opened in December 2008 and was just recently added to Michelin's 2011 Bib Gourmand list. 

This nod is not surprising as 28-year old Nick Ritchie, Chef de Cuisine at Bottega, was named by StarChefs as a Rising Star Chef in 2009. (Bottega was also a James Beard Semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category in 2009.) Nick, like Brandon Sharp of Solbar, received his education at The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.

While a long-time fan of Michael Chiarello (I've been preparing NapaStyle recipes or adaptations of them for friends for almost four years), I'm extremely unimpressed with the restaurant's website. Press related to the restaurant hasn't been updated in forever and Nick Ritchie or his accolades are entirely absent.

If the front of the house is any indication of the quality of a restaurant, so far I'm not impressed with Bottega. Now granted Bottega is not a Michelin Star restaurant like Solbar or REDD. But then again JoLé isn't either. Sadly, no one at Bottega appears to pick up the phone or return messages.

If you're in the area for dinner with a group of 4 or more you can experience the Chef's Table - approximately $100 per person with wine pairing. Parties of 4 can join up with others for a communal dining experience and direct interaction with the chefs (a group of 6 to 12 and you can take over the entire table). As we were aiming to eat at as many Michelin star restaurants as possible and had limited time, we weren't able to squeeze in a seat at the Chef's Table. This is still on my Must Do list for the moment.

etoile, Yountville, CA
For dinner we may dress to the nines (dress code is smart casual - jeans definitely a no go here and jacket is suggested for dinner), and head over to Etoile for 7:30pm reservations. Of all the websites, I'm most impressed with Etoile's. Why? It identifies the entire culinary team. As a foodie I like knowing who's working behind the scenes and what their specialties are. Etoile like Solbar earned received its first Michelin star last year with the 2010 Guide and maintained it with this year's 2011 Guide.

Richard Reddington of REDD - Yountville, CA, 
Richard Reddington's passion for food and wine was sparked by his travels throughout Europe as a young adult and fueled by his experiences working in some of the worldÕs best kitchens. As Executive Chef at Redd, Yountville's highly anticipated new restaurant, he'll offer a contemporary interpretation of Wine Country cuisine, one that references his own classic French training and incorporates a variety of ethnic influences, reflecting his 15-year epicurean journey. His awards include 2003 San Francisco Magazine 'Best Rising Chef.'
Richard Reddington
Image courtesy of MarcoNews
REDD, Yountville, CA
REDD is on the outer edge of Yountville where Piatti's used to be (in the late 1990s Piatti's was a frequent stop on our way out of the wine country as parking was plentiful and it was slightly off the beaten path): 6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599. I enjoyed Piatti's floor plan and open windows so I'm looking forward to seeing REDD's decor. Dress is business casual which according to Love To Know's Men's Fashion typically means no jeans, sneakers, or knits. As we'll be dining for lunch, dress jeans are probably ok.

REDD opened its doors in November 2005 and is one the oldest of the restaurants we'll be visiting on our honeymoon. 44-year old Executive Chef Richard Reddington earned his first Michelin star in 2008 with the 2009 Michelin Guide - three years after opening the doors - and has maintained that star for three years, including the 2011 Michelin Guide. He knows something about what it takes to earn and keep a star, having worked for two of France's 3 Star restaurants Arpege and Le Moulin de Mougins. 

Reddington is best known for food and wine pairings, crediting sommelier Larry Stone for turning the light on. So with our Brunch, we should try at least one of the recommended pairings if not a tasting menu (luckily dinner is in town so we could spend the afternoon exploring the town on foot). Additionally their Pastry Chef Nicole Plue was awarded Outstanding Pastry Chef by The James Beard Foundation in 2010. Dessert is a definite must have for us at this stop. 

Curious as to how we planned our mini-moon and why we waited a month? Here are the details:

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