Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Taste of Yountville

The well-known saying goes, "When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do." However, here in Napa, that saying can usually be tweaked to "When in Napa, Do as the Tourists Do." So we did! Today we set out and went exploring the "Taste of Yountville" festival - apparently an homage to Napa Valley's culinary centerpiece. The town of Yountville is home to more acclaimed and world-renowned restaurants in a 3-block stretch than anywhere else in the world: Redd, Ad Hoc, Bottega, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Hurley's, and of course, The French Laundry (considered to be one of the best - if not the best - restaurants in the U.S., maybe even the world).

So I expected great things - certainly scrumptious food. I can't say that I was disappointed, but the offerings - although delicious - were fairly pedestrian. Hm. Culinary capital of America, in the heart of the bounty that is Napa Valley, and I'm looking at Chinese chicken salad, pulled pork sliders and tri-tip soft tacos? Ho-hum. Even the wineries that were there pouring were (dare I say it?) run of the mill. Not that I'm complaining - I'm not. I just would have liked to have seen some more originality and flair, especially considering the prices.

That being the case, we wandered the length of the town, seeking out the few gems along the way. The most delicious morsels I sampled were from Michael Chiarello's Bottega: two different flavored arancini balls on a skewer (a pumpkin, and a fennel/Meyer lemon). They were perfectly formed, beautifully cooked and simply gorgeous - the perfect bite. It was exactly the sort of nibble you can easily eat while strolling and holding a glass of wine. The most unique dish I had, on the other hand, was very different entirely: frog legs in a pastis creme sauce from Bistro Jeanty. It was tasty, don't get me wrong (great infusion of fennel in this dish as well - it must be in season!), but it was utterly incomprehensible as a street food. The delicate frog legs were right at home, for they were literally swimming in the sauce. It was more soup than sauce, but they served it on a plate... with a fork...? Awkward and messy. Bummer.

As you stroll through Yountville, one of the prettiest sites is the French Laundry Garden. Right there on the main drag - sans fences - Thomas Keller and crew grow all the fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant across the street. It's a fabulous site to see, and obviously, having it so open and accessible isn't a problem. People seem very respectful of the obvious tender care that has gone into the meticulous garden, and it seems to go undisturbed despite its temptations. This time of year, the garden is awash with lettuces, onions, leeks, garlic, herbs, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower.... too many goodies to mention.

Our biggest find of the day, however, wasn't a special gourmet treat made by any of the local celebrity chefs or an exceptional vintage of a world-class cabernet. It was the BBQ truck manned by the Yountville Fire Department. Off in their own little corner of town, these guys were grilling up a storm, and serving up huge platters of excellent grub, at a fraction of the cost of all the big name restaurants on the main drag. We had found our spot! Ran and I got a rib/hot link combo plate, purchased a cold beer, and found ourselves a quiet place to share our lunch. And that, my friends, was the absolute best Taste of Yountville that anyone could ask for!

Arancini Balls:

Frog Legs in Pastis Creme Sauce:

The French Laundry Garden:

And if you're dying to know what the best restaurant in America looks like, here she is - The French Laundry:

The Yountville firefighters save the day! Hot links and ribs!


  1. Those firefighters save the day on a regular basis...why would 'A Taste of Yountville' be any different? They do have the upper hand...they're used to saving the day - every day.

    Nice pics!

  2. I have to take care not to read your delicious blog while on my laptop... drooling is a major problem, and it's cheaper to replace a keyboard on my big machine than spazz the laptop forever.

    What a fabulous day you had!