Thursday, February 17, 2011

Culinary Road Trip: Napa Valley

 This past Saturday, my wife and I made a day trip up from San Francisco to the Napa Valley.

Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2253

First off in our tour of the area was a stop at Bouchon Bakery, which is the town bakery owned by Thomas Keller. It's literally a small structure sitting next to Bouchon, his French Bistro inspired restaurant. Inside there is a small display and ordering spot with a large bakery in the back. Even at an odd hour in the morning, there was a sizable line snaking out the door with people stopping in for breakfast or even a snack while in town for vacation or a wine tasting. Once inside, we were like kids in a candy store and ordered way too much! We tried the bacon and cheese scones, a croissant, two macaroons, a cookie, and a cinnamon caramel sweetbread. All were good, but the standouts to me was the bacon and cheese scone which was out of this world (and carried a sizable amount of bacon grease in the mixture), and the macaroons which were chilled to perfection and had a soft cream filling...more like a macaroon sandwich. We tried a little bit of everything and saved the rest to snack on for the rest of the day and weekend. I also tried the Hot Chocolate, which tasted like a warm liquid version of the chocolate ice cream I made the previous weekend from the Ad Hoc cookbook! We sat outside in the warm sun and enjoyed our treats. Here's a picture of the storefront while waiting in line: 

 Oakville Grocery
7856 St. Helena Highway
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 944-8802
Still full from our breakfast snack mission to Bouchon Bakery, we visited the Oakville Grocery for a light lunch and to look around as it came highly recommended to me by someone who has spent alot of time in the area. The Grocery sits on the main road running through the Valley and is obviously a popular place for tourists and the limo and vans filled to the brim with groups of people going wine tasting tours. By lunchtime the tiny store is packed with buzzed 40-something yuppies looking for picnic baskets and munchies. Once we managed to squeeze ourselves to the back of the store to order lunch, we got a BLT with avocado, a crab cake, and some coleslaw to split with an old fashioned glass bottle coke. The food here is very good, but when paying $10 a sandwich and ~$30 for lunch it would be nice to not feel like I was in the middle of a bachelorette party or college reunion! We ate our lunch in the back on some picnic benches before hitting the road to see a few wineries. Here's a shot of the outside of the Grocery: 

 We mostly toured around the Valley all afternoon enjoying the scenery and warmth but we did visit a few different places for tastings. Among my favorites were Silver Oak and Cade Winery. Silver Oak is a pretty popular wine with most men that I know as they produce big bold cedar Cabs that pair well with steaks and other red meat. Silver Oak is pretty prototypical of the many tasting warehouses in the Napa Valley where the limo pulls up, 8 frat buddies pile out in shorts and flip flops, they pound their two tastings, buy a bottle of wine, and get back hopefully into the limo that dropped them off there bounding towards the next stop. The winery is very pretty though, and since it was such a nice day the nice servers were happy to let you roam the grounds with your tasting. The tasting here costs about $25 for two tastings, but in a nice touch they give you a souvenir Silver Oak logo wine glass to take home with you. Here is a shot of the Silver Oak grounds:

In a nice juxtaposition, we also made our way up to Cade Winery based on the recommendation of a co-worker who's significant other is a wine distributor here in Chicago. In order to get to Cade, you leave the valley to climb a surrounding mountain via a small two lane road (thanks GPS!) and you find a small entrance to the winery and tasting room. This is much different that the other wineries that I saw in the Valley, reservation only, the tasting was much more quiet, relaxed, and informative. I really liked their SB (even not being a big white wine guy) and their Estate Cabernet which is very good and closer to a Bordeaux style.

Here's the sign and logo: 

And a shot of the very neat view off the back of the mountain and the surrounding tasting area:

After getting our fill of the tasting and winery circuit, we made our way back to Yountville and decided to go on a long walk in the setting warm sun before tackling dinner later. Yountville is really a pretty nice little town once removed from the touristy areas along the main drag through town. There are small quaint parks, trails through local wineries, and nice vacation homes. We also decided to walk down to the other side of town to check out The French Laundry, and in particular their 3 acre garden that sits next to the restaurant. Their garden is really fantastic, not huge, but large enough to reportedly supply The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc with 30% of their produce. In line with my complete man-crush on Thomas Keller, when walking by The French Laundry I spotted him from across the street standing in the garden talking with some guests, and had to snap a picture in full tourist mode! Here it is (he's the guy in the white chef's jacket, obviously):

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

After successfully creeping out even myself in stalking Thomas Keller, we made our way to dinner at his other restaurant in town, Ad Hoc: 

Ad Hoc was built as a "temporary" pop-up restaurant by Thomas Keller and his restaurant group after he needed to fill some recently purchased space in town. Ad Hoc focused on serving "family style" meals but with the extreme attention to detail that diners have come to expect from Keller. His executive chef here is Dave Cruz who, much like down the street at The French Laundry, creates the menu each day from scratch. Each menu consists of a salad, entree, cheese course, and a dessert. Our menu from last week is as follows: 
Spinach Salad
tfl garden sunchokes,
soft boiled hen egg,
roasted chioggia beets,
pickled asparagus,
shallot vinaigrette
Liberty Farm's Seared Duck Breast
wilted frisee, spring onions,
celery treks , braised radish
red rice, rapini leaves
maldon flatbread, rocket arugula
cranberry dressing
Orange Poundcake
buttermilk sorbet


Once we had made reservations at Ad Hoc about 5 weeks prior to our visit, I signed up for their e-mail list that sends out the daily menu the 5 days a week they are open (Thursday through Monday) as well as bought the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook which I've already read through completely and even cooked from in advance of a dinner party we threw (see Chicken Pot Pie and Banana Bread Pudding posts above). Needless to say, I was pumped for dinner and it didn't disappoint.

The spinach salad features sunchokes from the very French Laundry garden we had just walked past and was obviously very fresh and light. The hen egg added a nice layer as did the very good pickled asparagus.

For the main course, they had a seared duck breast (which is actually featured in Ad Hoc at Home). I thought it was very good, but I am a huge fan of duck. It was pretty simple dish, served in an all-clad pan, that really let the super high quality fresh duck breast speak for itself. Since my wife hates all things duck, she asked if they could make her a vegetarian dish instead and they brought out a fillet of sauteed Alaskan halibut which she said was fine. Both dishes were served with a side of red rice. As a special addition to the meal, there was also an option to add a rabbit side dish (it was presented essentially as three sushi-like rolls filled with rabbit meat) which I thought was very tasty.

Perhaps the highlight of the entire meal was the cheese course called "seahive." The waiter said that the cheese was brought in from Washington state and is a favorite of the chef. It was served on a piece of maldon flatbread and with a cranberry dressing on top. It was fantastic!

Dessert was a small individual poundcake served with a side of buttermilk orange sorbet. Each on their own was good, but eaten together it was heavenly and a perfect way to round out the meal.

Overall I thought Ad Hoc was great and even more so after reading their cookbook and having an appreciation for the concept and food before eating there. In my opinion the weakest part of the meal might of been the main course, but even that was way above average! The service was fantastic, from the bar staff (inexpensive wines and bottled beer) to our waitress who very nicely gave me a copy of the menu (including the Ad Hoc folder!) to take home with me.

After dinner we hoped back into the rental car and made our late night hour-long drive back to the city. While we were crazy about the food and wine in the Napa area, we were both not so sure we'd rush back on a weekend or a day trip. The area really is a culinary destination and deserves a long weekend on it's own. I did decided however, I won't be back in Napa without a reservation and visit to The French Laundry!


  1. crazy, I was just there! Jealous you got into ad hoc, we tried a little too late. Look forward to your foodventures in chicago.

  2. ps added your blog to my blogroll

  3. thanks for the post! so glad you liked the Seahive, however, the waiter was mistaken- Seahive comes from Beehive Cheese Co. in Utah- o well, we are still super excited and geekin' out that Thomas Keller likes our cheese too!
    -Beehive Cheese

  4. @Alicia - Beehive Cheese Co.

    Clearly I was wrong in my post and mixed up Washington and Utah. I did google your company and see that I can actually order the same Seahive cheese! I plan on placing an order shortly and trying to recreate the dish we had!

    Thanks for posting!


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