Friday, February 18, 2011

Eating in Yountville

Bored as I am with being convalescent and house-bound, it occurs to me that this would be the perfect time to dip back into vacation memories. Sadly, while I take notes when we travel to Europe, I didn't bother in California, assuming, I guess, that I could surely remember for a trip of only one week. Sadly, my memory is not even up to that. Pater's isn't much better. But we did resurrect three lovely meals from our visit to Yountville (until we rather randomly booked a few days at a resort there, we didn't know that Yountville is the culinary epicentre of the Napa Valley, and has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere on earth!):

We ate here our first night, strolling over from our room at Villagio -- so nice not to have to think about driving when in wine country! The restaurant is quite gorgeous, but comfortably so, a room worth dressing for but one that could also easily tolerate more casual wear. Of the three Yountville spots we checked out, this was the largest, and I have to say it was the one that made me most conscious of food as an industry. Still, service was attentive and professional, although in the end we were brought our bill before asking for it and without a final check if we might have enjoyed, say, a brandy.

Highlights as I can remember them were a wonderful creamy mozzarella cheese, a burrata, served with butternut squash as a starter, then duck confit -- we shared the yummy Torta di Noci (black walnut persimmon cake). Wine was a Belle Glos pinot noir which comes in a very sexy bottle, its collar draped in Valentine red wax, delicious.

Another lovely room, perhaps my favourite especially as our concierge had managed to get us perhaps the best seat in the house, nestled in a romantic L right in the corner surveying the whole panoply of foodie pleasure, able to look up at the delightful wall mural, a witty take-off on Magritte's Ceci n'est pas un pipe. I couldn't resist beginning with oysters on the half shell, and we also shared a variety of olives. My roast chicken was perfectly prepared, and accompanied by something called Savoy cabbage fondue -- no dunking involved, don't worry!
If I were a better food reporter, I could tell you what Pater had for his main and probably even tell you the wine (definitely a California, probably a Pinot Noir, but I wish I could be more specific). I can tell you that we enjoyed one of the best tarte au citron ever, and we've tested a few. . .

This charming bistro is the least showy of the three restaurants, but probably my favourite nonetheless. This is the only one in which we recognized the owner (from his photos) walking round the room, chatting with diners, giving instructions to staff. The fare here was French bistro simple -- a quiche au poireaux (leek quiche) as a main for me, after a savoury
terrine de lapin (translate that terrine depending on your species-squeamishness!), while Paul was happy to dig into a cassoulet after whetting his appetite on delicately smoked trout. What I will not soon forget, though, is that classic, perfectly simple dessert of the best, creamiest, housemade vanilla ice cream with Armagnac-soaked prunes. This is one we're going to try at home although without access to Jeanty's ice cream, it won't be as astoundingly seductive. Still, what a combo!

Three such superb meals in as many nights. And as we walked back to Villagio the last evening, after dinner at Bistro Jeanty, we heard K_Whooo,k-whoo! k-whoo, k-whoo, and followed the sound through the dark, looking for its source. What a thrill to see first one large owl on a power pole, and then its mate swooping down to join it.

It's not our usual holiday, and when we first arrived at Villagio and Yountville, we were dismayed to find we seemed to be in something of a gated community in an insular small town. Not fans, initially, of the pseudo-Greco-Roman ruins styling of the resort, we soon came to appreciate the friendly, professional, attentive service. Our suite was well designed and comfortably appointed with extras such as the fireplace whose logs were replaced daily, the complimentary welcoming Chardonnay, the Nespresso machine with three choices of coffee. The on-site spa was fabulously inviting -- not just for those who booked services, such as the salt scrub I enjoyed, but also for drop in use of the lemon steam room (bliss!) hot tub, sauna, and self-serve salt scrub bar. Even Pater got into the spirit over on the men's side, trying out all the exfoliating products and coming back to the room with the smoothest face ever (I'll admit I got a chuckle out of that, 'cause he's generally a soap and water kinda guy!).

Bike rentals were complimentary -- and the bikes were very well maintained, plus the concierge offered helpful route tips.
A huge (free) breakfast buffet was served daily-- a wealth of hot and cold choices covering two tables in the lobby with an omelette station out by the pool -- and until 10, which is more generous than many places which shut down while some are still sleeping in.
And afternoon tea each day, also served in the lobby, included scones, finger sandwiches, and petits fours. Even better, the tea could be gathered up, as with breakfast, and taken to one of the comfy big couches or the sets of armchairs arranged near the fireplace. We spent numerous enjoyable moments curled up there with books.

Ah, I'm feeling refreshed (and a bit hungry, truth be told) just reminiscing about our time in Yountville. We probably won't be back there for a while, but I'd recommend checking it out if you get a chance. The Villagio prices are not budget prices, but we found they provided remarkable value if you factor in the free meals, the bike, and the use of the spa. In fact, while we had plans to drive the Napa Valley while there, we didn't get back in the car until we'd checked out -- how relaxing is that!

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