As mentioned in the most recent Notes from the Chocolatier’s Kitchen, I had the pleasure of taking a vacation to San Francisco and California wine country. The wines are obviously wonderful in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. But one of the things I love the most about the region is the fabulous food scene. From little boutiques and artisan food products in the tasting rooms to the world-renowned restaurants, it’s easy to find delicious eating for everyone.
I have been waiting, patiently, to return to the area for the butternut squash ravioli at a restaurant in Fairfield that I unfortunately lost the business card for; pear soup and french fries at Mustards Grill; and the gourmet hamburgers at Gott’s Roadside. During our last visit, over five years ago, I wouldn’t have called myself a ‘foodie’. We had just launched Delysia Chocolatier and the exotic ideas, flavors, and inspiration were yet to unfold. But now – for the ‘foodie’ I have become, there just are not enough meals in a day to indulge in all of the fabulous establishments in the area.
Here are my favorites in the area that I have discovered so far.
The french fries are to die for. I don’t know their secret – Do they double fry the potatoes? Are they cooked in duck fat? Whatever it is, order a helping and eat them while they are scalding hot. And be sure to request their chipotle aioli. It is out of this world!
The menu consists of daily rotating specials, as well as their standard fare that have become staples over their 30 years in business. Portions are quite large, so consider sharing. Personal favorites are the Lemon Garlic Chicken and Mushroom Spinach ‘burger’. Friends dining with us raved about the Mongolian Pork Chop, stating it was the juiciest they have ever had. We returned a few days later for lunch so Rahul (my husband) could taste test for himself – he definitely approved!
Owned by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, Mustards Grill focuses on local and sustainable food. Cindy pioneered this concept in the region and we are glad she did. Dining at Mustards is always a delight.
And for another treat from Chef Pawlcyn, check out Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. We didn’t have an opportunity to dine there this trip, but it’s a must stop the next time we are in the region.
This is Rahul’s favorite and was the first stop once we arrived in Napa Valley. And I was thrilled to see a veggie burger has been added to the menu – one of the best I have ever eaten. Ask for fresh sliced jalapenos with the jalapeno mayo. Of course, when you visit Gott’s the first time you must have the real thing – starting with the Texas Burger. Yes, we traveled all the way to Napa, Calfornia to eat a Texas Burger. With pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, salsa, and avocado all on a toasted bun, it’s comfort food and a taste of home.
I was also surprised to learn that Gott’s serves breakfast – and fabulous breakfasts at that. Their Southern breakfast sandwich is a must – buttermilk fried chicken tenders, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and charred jalapeno mayo.
There are 2 locations in the region – the original in St. Helena and the Oxbow Market location. If you are craving perfect comfort food but happen to be visiting on a busy weekend, opt for the latter location.
I really wanted to go to The French Laundry. But it was Memorial Day weekend and they were booked solid for our entire stay. Then I learned that Thomas Keller had a new restaurant in the area, Ad Hoc. Located in the heart of Yountville, Ad Hoc is a quaint casual location with a set menu that changes daily (when we visited it was fried chicken night). But be sure to book a reservation early. We dined on a Monday night and the only opening was for 9:30pm. (And they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays).
Despite some wait staff issues we experienced (it was 9:30 at night), the food was delicious. The meal is a family style, 4 course affair – salad, entree with sides (fried chicken, collar greens, mac & cheese with cornbread), cheese course, and dessert (pecan pie with bourbon cream). My favorite portion of the meal was the stone fruit salad – white peaches, arugula, cabbage, parsley, and sliced almonds served with stone fruit vinaigrette – it was probably one of the best salads I have ever eaten. The recipe can be found in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.
Located right on the square of Sonoma, El Dorado Kitchen is a boutique hotel and restaurant. With a wonderful relaxing setting (ask to sit on the courtyard patio under the fig trees), fabulous wine list comprised of superb vintages from around the world, and farm driven cuisine you can’t go wrong. Menu options change seasonally.
During this visit, I ordered the mushroom risotto made with Swiss chard, chanterelles, and truffle oil. It was divine – so smooth and creamy, with the perfect balance of vegetables to risotto. Husband enjoyed the fish and chips with artisan tartar sauce.
And while you are in the area, stop in to some of the local wineries. Our favorites are BR Cohn, Sebastiani, and Gloria Ferrer.
Walking distance from our hotel was the Oxbow Market. I didn’t know what to expect. But when we walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks, proclaiming WOW! Similar to Public Market in Seattle and many others we have visited in Europe, it was love at first site.
Then we discovered Ca’ Momi Enoteca and I was in heaven. Authentic Italian food like my grandmother would make. Gnudi (similar to gnocchi), pizzas, salads, and pastas. My absolute favorite (so good we went back the next night for dinner) – a basil pesto linguine with potatoes and green beans. Sounds strange at first, but absolutely wonderful. And if you like a little spice in your Italian food, they serve a hot pepper olive oil – we were told it contains ghost peppers, habaneros, calabria peppers, and other spices that are being kept secret. Our palettes loved it – reminded us of our ghost pepper bark.
On our last day, we only had time for breakfast – a fast breakfast at that. Directly across the street from Domaine Carneros and Clos du Val, attached to The Carneros Inn is the most adorable restaurant, the Boon Fly Cafe. With the friendliest staff, quaint small dining area reflecting the farm to plate concept, guests seemed delighted as their meals arrived. We explained that we were in a bit of a hurry and we were told meals take 7-8 minutes to make from the time of order. For fun, we decided to time them – and would you know, our food came out in 8 minutes flat. I was more than impressed!
The Boon Fly Cafe is known for their donuts. Served in the cutest little metal pail, they were divine – the best donuts I have ever sunk my teeth into. Then the pancakes arrived – fluffy, perfectly round circles of delight. This was definitely a made-from-scratch, as fresh as it could get restaurant concept. We wished we had discovered this place earlier!
These are some of our favorite restaurants in Napa Valley and Sonoma County that we have discovered so far. What are your favorites that we should check out on our next visit?