Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christmas Time In Napa

Cakebread Cellars barrel rooms.

Hey, did you know I went to Napa for the weekend while Husband and I were visiting his parents in the Bay Area for Christmas? We had an absolutely fabulous time. As I observed to Husband on our drive home (he was lamenting that we were leaving so soon), Napa is a vacation spot where basically all your do is drink wine and eat really great food. It's accepted. And really, that's what Husband and I like to do when we're on vacation. When people ask how a trip was I tell them whether the food was good in that area. When people ask what we did, I tell them all about the great places we ate. For example, France? Amazing. In Paris we could fall out of our hotel and and find a bakery selling chocolate croissants for next to nothing that were the most amazing things we've ever tasted. In Normandy the food was heavy and rich without being heavy and rich, which is all I know how to describe it. Delicious and comforting! Our honeymoon in Hawaii? Great, amazing fish. Had to seriously scout out places to find a sliver of vegetable, and they usually cost up the butt if we did find any. Seriously. We ate at one place that had meat on one side of the menu and fish on the other. No sides, no salads, no fruit cup. After a few days of eating like this, I felt completely disgusting. So yeah, I'd say Napa is the ideal vacation spot for us! Especially since I am a self-admitted lout!

Anyhoo, we drove up Saturday afternoon, myself, Husband, his parents, and the dogs, and checked into our hotel: the Napa River Inn. Can't recommend this place enough. It was clean and quaint (and I don't mean that as a nice way of saying small). The staff was very friendly (the bell hop gave the dogs treats). We got adjoining rooms without having to ask, and we found in one of them a little dog welcoming package, including food bowls, treats, and a towel for the floor for each of the dogs. The rooms were spacious, and it was right in the center of town. You could walk anywhere. And let me tell you about the breakfast! There is a bakery right next door. It's amazing. When you walk in your room there is a card to fill out for your complimentary breakfast the next morning. You fill out what you want from 3 categories and what time you want it delivered to your door. The next morning I got a scone, a breakfast sandwich, and a fruit cup. Husband got the same, but paid a bit extra for a cinnamon bun instead of the scone. Image the hugest scones and cinnamon buns you've ever seen, and now double it. That's what we got. I ate the fruit cup, about 1/3 of the scone, a few bites of cinnamon bun, and half the breakfast sandwich and I felt like I would be stuffed for days. And it was so good I didn't want to stop eating it!

After we checked in, we were hungry, so we went straight to a winery I heard had a great deli (thanks for the tips, Kelly!). V. Sattui winery definitely had its good points and not so good points. The grounds were gorgeous and their large stone buildings were beautiful to look at. They had a ton of picnic tables outside, so there was plenty of room to sit and eat. Their deli and shop had some really great items, cheeses and meats that went on for days. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that they would actually make you a sandwich from all the breads, meats, and cheeses they sold. Not so. They have a ready-made food "deli", and that's it. You don't want mayo on your sandwich (I try not to touch the stuff)? I guess you just have to wipe it off. Even though you can buy your own bread, cheese, and meat and assemble it yourself, and even though they have the means to do it for you (a knife is really all that's needed), and even though they could probably make more money by charging you double, they refuse. I just couldn't get over the ridiculousness of that. That said, the already made food was quite good. We got some sandwiches, soups, and roasted vegetables and shared. Everything was tasty except the vegetables, which were still basically raw. I would certainly come back, bring my own knife, and make my own sandwiches. Next time. Oh, it was also insanely packed. Like it took 30 minutes just to get to our number to order the food, which is actually good because it took about that much time to find enough space between all the bodies of other people to even see the display case to find out what they have and decide what you want. I heard someone ask if they were always that busy, and the guy behind the counter responded that they were actually often even busier. How is that possible!? They also had an independent vendor giving away samples of fudge. It was so delicious we bought some.

V. Sattui. A good variety of wines to choose from, but I didn't much care for them. The Madeira had that cloyingly sweet taste I really don't care for.

While I would definitely come back for the deli, I would skip the wine tasting next time. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't that good, and from my perspective, there's no excuse to drink bad wine in Napa (or even not great wine). On purpose, anyway. I found the whites too sweet and the reds a bit too tannic for my taste. But I'm glad we went here first because it put us in the mood to find better wines to taste!

Next we stopped at Cakebread Cellars, a winery my friends recommended. They are by appointment only, but I called to schedule an appointment basically the day before, and actually ended up calling them 3 times to reschedule my appointment time that day, and they were super accommodating. I basically called them from V. Sattui and asked if we could change our time to the next closest so we could basically go straight there, and they said sure. We still had about 45 minutes to kill once we got there, so we took the dogs for a walk around the grounds.

Oh yeah, did I mention we had the dogs in tow? Well we weren't allowed to leave the dogs in the hotel rooms, so we threw them in the back of Husband's dad's car (it's a hatch back, so nice and roomy). They didn't much like being left alone while we went off drinking and gallivanting (ok, seriously blogger? Your spellcheck sucks balls. You can't tell that galevanting is a misspelling of gallivanting? Come on.) around, but they loved walking around the rich and fertile land, and contributing some of themselves to the wine-making process.

Yes, I took a picture of my dog peeing. He looked so cute! And ok, it looks like he's peeing on grape vines, but really he's peeing about half a foot from the main gravel path. It was more exciting when you didn't know, wasn't it?

Anyway, Cakebread was by far my favorite winery the whole trip. We got to the tasting room about 10 minutes before our appointment. I checked in and was told to wait off to the side for just a minute. After about 15-20 minutes I was getting a bit perturbed, as they were helping everyone who came in after me, but were totally ignoring me. Finally someone noticed me standing there looking pissed and asked me what was the deal. I may have had a bit of acid in my tone when I said I had no idea, I was told to wait just a minute and then was forgotten all about. I'm pretty sure that's why we ended up getting a private tasting, and everyone else was in big groups of about 10 people. Heh. Oops! But score for us!

The glasses never stayed filled for long. The wine was so good I couldn't stop drinking it!

The tastings are done in their barrel rooms, which was very intimate and fun. pouring lady (??), she was awesome. She was very knowledgeable about the wines, and very talkative in general, in a good way, not in a shut up and pour me some wine kind of way. She was apparently trained as a chef, but decided she loved wine more and switched professions. She told us all about the wine varietals, grapes, growing regions, good years vs. bad years. We asked her questions, and she always had a great answer. I learned more about wine in that hour than I have in my 27 years on this earth. It was great. And the wine was amazing. Delicious. Expensive. We bought some. I wish we had bought more. I wish I would win the lottery tomorrow so I could build a house across the street and taste wine there every day. Yum!

After Cakebread we decided the dogs had been so well behaved, we took them to a dog-friendly winery I had found on (how awesome is that website!), Alpha Omega. I had never heard of this winery, so I wasn't expecting much besides a tasting room we could take the dogs to, but I was so pleasantly surprised! Their tasting room is modern and sleek with a lovely outdoor seating area and some seriously cool bathroom fixtures. I went in ahead to make sure they were really dog friendly and the guy told me "we're friendly if they are". Oh Theo and Rex are friendly all right! They loved the attention, and some people seemed to enjoy having the furry ones around to lighten the mood. And best of all, the wine was really gosh darn good! We bought a bottle of their rose and their cabernet, if I remember correctly. But it was rather pricey, and the tasting was rather short, only 4 wines (so basically on par with Cakebread). One woman who worked there gave Theo and Rex a ton of love and attention. We actually ended up seeing her in town the next morning with her own dogs, and she not only remembered us enough to come over and say hello, but she actually remember the dogs' names! How dog friendly is that? I would definitely come back, Theo in tow.

A small but enjoyable tasting menu

My one big regret on our trip to Napa was that we never made it to Silver Oak Cellars. We tried! Unfortunately, we lingered too long at the other wineries on Saturday, and by the time we drove up at 5:45, we discovered they had closed at 5:30. Boo! And when we went back first thing Sunday morning, we found that they were also closed on Sundays. Nooooo! Whyyyyy? I will definitely make it there next time.

After we got back to the hotel we played with the rugrats for a bit, and then headed next door to Celadon for dinner (thanks for the great recommendation again Kelly!). I was a bit befuddled by this one. First off, it was small and quiet, nice and intimate. There were other people there, but it wasn't busy or loud. The food was amazing. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals. The pork belly buns were delicious (though Husband thought they were too fatty, which is I think what pork belly is supposed to be like. It was good fatty, not gag-reflex fatty.), the duck confit and spinach salad I was still dreaming about the next day. And the Moroccan inspired lamb was just...omg. So good. And I could not stop eating the couscous it came with off of Husband's plate. Seriously. But. But. The wine. Was bad. There were 4 of us, each of us got a different wine from the wine list. 2 of us even asked for suggestions. And every single one was crap. I was astounded. This is freaking Napa! How do you have a single bad wine on your wine list, let alone all 4 of them, if not all? It was completely disappointing, and kind of dampened the meal because we were so confounded. It'd say next time, I would definitely still eat there, but I would either bring my own wine and just pay the corkage fee, or drink water and have wine in my room after dinner.

The next day we had the most wonderful Sunday brunch at Redd, recommended by the same friends who recommended Cakebread Cellars, so we were excited to try it. It was fantastic! We got there kind of ridiculously early, so we decided to walk around the neighborhood with the dogs, which was a nice way to build up our appetites since we were still a bit full from the huge breakfast we got. We were still early, so the place was totally empty, but it filled up later. We tried the potstickers (excellent), diver scallops (worthy of a wet dream), and duck confit (always a winner). They also had some fun and delicious cocktails. It was a fabulous experience, I can't wait to do again next time I'm there. I would definitely go back for brunch, but I'll bet their dinner is even better.

We ended the trip with a stop at Opus 1 winery. We intended to end with Silver Oak, but well, you know how that turned out, and Opus 1 was nearby. This is some 'spensive wine. We're talking $200/bottle, so we didn't go with the intention of buying, but we thought it'd be fun to taste. At $35 for a single glass (a rather full half glass, not a tasting glass), it was a bit of a splurge, but when you're in Napa, you just gotta go for it. Once they pour you your wine they leave you to wander their massive castle grounds. We spent most of that time wondering why they have such a big building, but such a tiny tasting room. What are the other rooms for? It's not a hotel. Maybe events? Anyway, I thought it was kind of hilariously and charmingly over the top. Husband thought it was a bit intimidating, but I think he was mostly just intimidated by all the BMWs in the parking lot. We didn't have an appointment, but they weren't busy, and let us go right in. When you enter the big, ridiculous double doors there is a large sterile, marble-floored room with a single desk and the receptionist who does the appointments. That might have had something to do with the intimidation as well. The wine was, of course, amazing. I savored every bite. And with a bite or two of that fudge from V. Sattui we bought the previous day, it was sinfully good.

Opus 1 winery. When you approach the giant double doors, there is over the top opera music playing. I couldn't make this up.

All in all it was only a day and a half, but it was such a day and half. We had a truly great time, and I look forward to going back for a bit longer of a stay. I was actually a bit scared to go there and plan the whole thing. For some reason I found the whole thing rather intimidating, but once I got there it was so easy and laid back, I had a grand time. It's the kind of place you can just wander around and inevitably find someplace amazing, or at least familiar if that's what you want. If you go to Napa, I don' think you'll be disappointed.

Oh, and by chance we stopped at Oxbow Public Market, which was a short walk from the hotel. Holy moly was that place cool! If you're looking for something to take home from Napa, definitely check this place out. They have vendors of every sort selling everything you could want: cupcakes, spices, cheeses, olive oils, sauces, and of course, wine! We holed up at the cheese store and a very knowledgeable girl gave us some samples based on what we said we liked, and we came home with some great cheese and bread for an afternoon appetizer. Loved it!

Have you ever been to Napa? Where did you go? What did you think?

Our next vacation is coming up after Easter: Monterey. You can bet we'll be doing some wine tasting there too!


Kelly said...

Yay! Glad you had a good time :)

I definitely agree about V. Sattui. We didn't like their wine much and it was so crowded that the pourers did not seem to care much about what you thought. But the sandwiches and cheese we ate were so good that they made up for it.

And I do actually remember not being thrilled about the wine at Celedon! A lot of it wasn't even from Napa, right? Although Ben's wine was awesome there (he had red and I had white.. maybe that was the difference).

I'm bummed we didn't make it/or even heard of Cake Cellars, it sounds great. And your hotel looks awesome too (can't believe it was so nice AND dog friendly!).. I want to stay there just to get the breakfast! hehe

If you ever go there w/just your hubby you should try La Belle Epoque It was soooo nice an the breakfasts each morning were to die for. Plus there was a wine reception w/appetizers every evening :)

JuLo said...

Kelly, that B&B looks adorable! Which room did you stay in? I'm all about the afternoon wine receptions. Maybe next time we can drop Theo off with grandma and grandpa and cousin Rex and head up without them! Mwhahaha!

Kelly said...

We went all out and stayed in Caroline's Suite :) It was in a house across the street from the main building so it was very private and we had our own porch and backyard :)