Friday, August 10, 2012

CA 2012: Napa/Sonoma (sober edition)

On Saturday morning, we made a beeline for the coffee downstairs and planned our day on the patio.  This is Northern California, so of course you can eat outside in the morning without A) melting in the morning sun or B) getting swarmed by yellow jackets or C) struggling to breathe through the humidity.

Many people chose to eat indoors which completely baffled me.  Outdoor dining only makes sense three months out of the year at home, but maybe those other people aren't jaded Philadelphians like me.

It's incredible how everything thrives in this climate.  Everything seems to flourish so effortlessly.

We would sit around and look at all the birds that would swoop in and out.  Each morning, we saw hummingbirds float around the gardens here. We would hold perfectly still and hope that no one else around us would make a sudden move (not that anybody else was paying attention to the birds).

The ground floor rooms that surrounded the big patio had individual small patios.  Walls of grapevines provided privacy between the private and public spaces.

In the late morning, we hit the road.  Since this was Sober Day (declared and made official the prior evening), we started at the Hess Collection since they have a small art museum on sight.  You can walk right in for free and take a look around.  The art was impressive because there was so much of it, but I thought most of it was pretty depressing.  To me it didn't fit the spirit of the surroundings, but I would still recommend that people go because it was pretty cohesive and many pieces were really cool.  But overall (to ME): depressing.

I snapped this before finding out that pictures weren't allowed which probably means I should have deleted this ... maybe it will entice someone to come here and spend some money?
The view in front of Hess
After we left Hess, we went into the center of town in Napa.  I was so worried that our stay here would end and I would miss the opportunity to get an AM bun at Sweetie Pies.  Four years ago, Napa underwent a huge restoration: Entire blocks of stores and restaurants were being built up, and most of the new store fronts were empty. (This was two months before the crash of 2008.) When we returned in 2010, we were surprised (but relieved) to see that the economy hadn't turned the place into a ghost town, and I was really surprised to see so many stores and businesses in place on this trip.

You can learn the cha-cha on the sidewalk
Ron really whined about taking this picture. His punishment is that I'm posting it here.

Tables at Angele

Repeat honeymoon shots

Hours had gone by since we left the hotel and I realized that I was starving.  Rather than just get an AM bun at Sweetie Pies, we went for a whole lunch.  It was THE BEST which really pissed me off because I realized that there is NO PLACE in West Chester that is really like Sweetie Pies (other than Panera which does NOT count).  This whole problem is COMPLETELY STUPID because people out here would love a place like this.

Can my depth of field get ANY smaller here?
I had chicken noodle soup and Ron split the best-ever BLT with me.  Nothing fancy, and yet SO incredible.  And here's the best part: We each got a dessert to-go for later (lemon lavender sandwich cookie for me, chocolate chip sandwich cookie for him) PLUS a dessert to eat on the spot. Look at this:

Insanity, right?  It's called a High (Hi?) Hatt because the bakery resides in The Hatt Building on the Napa River.  When you slice it open (not very easy with a butter knife), you're rewarded with the huge dollop of marshmallow frosting inside:

A little messy--worth the effort, though.
The frosting is gloppy and silky and very vanilla-y.  It was too much--we (I) couldn't finish it.  There has to be a way to recreate the frosting, but I haven't looked into it yet.

Prettiest dessert case in the world.  Look at the cake in the top left that looks like a pink rose blossom.
Pleasantly trapped in a food coma, I thought we would head over to Sonoma at this point until Ron reminded me, "Remember I wanted to go to Beringer?"  Ah, yes.  So we headed north on 29 again.

Beringer is a really gorgeous estate.  On this particular day, they had a blue grass band playing and people picnicked on the patio around the band. I really wanted to go through the huge mansion which now serves as a store for all things wine-related.

See the crepe myrtles, Mom?
HUGE fig espalier--not sure if mine will ever be this big

They have beautiful gardens here, and the detailing of the mansion is really incredible:

Look at the carved wood paneling

Love the acorn tile!

The foyer--which now houses cash registers--is completely grand.

Even the floors are amazing.
It was already late in the day, so we decided to drive over the mountain to Sonoma and start making our way toward the girl and the fig.  You do not actually have to go over the ridge that separates Napa and Sonoma--you can drive up and around it if you want.  But we always go over it--we discovered this route by accident on our first trip--because you pass some pretty amazing estates and the scenery is just gorgeous.  It's extremely twisty and the roads wind all around, but if you're from Chester County this isn't really a big deal.  If we moved here, this is where I would want to live.  (And although it rains all winter, you'll never get four feet of snow to trap you on top.  HA!)

I really wanted to stop at Chateau St. Jean (pronounced "Gene" not "John"--people love to correct other people on this) even though we had been there before.  (Be careful if you open the link: music.) Martha Stewart actually gave away a wedding here a year or two ago ... and what do you know? A wedding was almost underway the day we stopped by.

You could hear the string quartet warming up.

The cocktail area had corners where guests could try particular wines paired with specific hors d'oeuvres.

We hung around, but not too long because we arrived fifteen minutes before closing and the staff was clearly trying to get people out of the way for the wedding party.  What a great place for a wedding--I can't imagine the dollar signs it takes to book an event here.

Finally, we drove south into the center of Sonoma for our favorite meal of the entire trip.

We arrived about an hour before our reservation so we walked around the center of town ... but arrived literally the minute everything closed.  So we just strolled around the central square and showed up ten minutes early for our reservation.

Almost every restaurant we visited gave us a dish of olives with the bread at the beginning of the meal.  I can't even imagine my sodium levels over the course of the week.  Ron doesn't like olives (and he calls himself Italian--HA!) so I ate every one myself at each place.

The menu here is not overwhelming and huge, but everything is quality.  I always start with a champage cocktail of some kind: I tried my first kir royale here on my honeymoon, but this and the last time I picked a fig royale.

After intense debate and discussion, we settled on the following: soup for Ron, salad for me, one pound of the moules and frites to share, and then--LIKE IDIOTS--we ordered entrees having no idea how stuffed we would be. Usually our judgement is much better. (May I also remind you that we were stone cold sober while reading the menu.)  I picked the BLT tartine and Ron went with the croques monsieur (which he probably does not remembering ordering on our first trip here).  The highlight of the whole meal?  Moules frites.

Oh! Moules frites! How I love you!  I love you as much as the AM bun even though you have nothing in common.  They brought us a big bowl of mussels swimming in a white wine, garlic, and butter broth with leeks and (if I remember correctly) fennel.  And of course, big slabs of grilled and buttered bread for dipping in the broth.  AND the crispiest, crunchiest french fries ever.  I thought Ron was going to die--I haven't seen him enjoy something this much at a restaurant in a long time.  He sat there busily calculating how to recreate this at home: "THIS is how I'm doing the mussels for Christmas Eve. Forget the red sauce.  We're doing wine and BUTTER." Not a single leek went uneaten ... every crumb of bread devoured.  Really, I could have called it quits right there.

But THEN my salad arrived and things got even better just when I thought they couldn't.  Oh! Fig and arugula salad! How I love you!  Not as much as moules frites and AM buns, but pretty close.  Each leaf of arugula in the mountain of salad had the thinnest coating of goat cheese, and every bite had fig and pancetta in it.  Salty and sweet--perfection!

Ok, so now I was really done. DONE.  But I still had a giant sandwich coming my way, and I knew I just couldn't eat it.  If there had been a way to cancel the order at this point, I would've done it but it was too late.  It's probably the first and only time in my life that I almost ruined a fabulous meal because I was so angry at myself for overshooting my order and asking for too much.  I've been upset plenty of times for ordering too little or too conservatively, but I learned here that it's better to have too little than too much.  Both sandwiches arrived, and I literally took two (very small) bites and called it quits. What a waste.  If I could've waved a magic wand, I would've cancelled the sandwich and ordered the lavender creme brulee instead. I don't feel bad leaving behind half of a dessert (although it rarely happens).  But, I miscalculated.  It won't happen again!

A patient and starving man waiting for (what he does not yet know will be) the best moules frites ever.  Or, he could just be really sick of me at this point.
What a great dinner.  the girl and the fig never lets us down.  Again, the closest thing we have to tg&tf is the Blue Pear which is fabulous. But, not the same.  WHY are the Philly burbs so lacking in great places?  WHY??  Most places with good food are too hoity-toity to bother with on a regular basis.  It's maddening.

We rolled ourselves back to the hotel, and I somehow climbed out of my dress and wrapped myself up in yoga pants (the waistband of which cried when it realized how much it would have to stretch to accommodate the best meal ever) and a big T-shirt, scarf, and a jacket, ie., pajamas for public places. Remember the champagne the hotel had given us? Ron had switched out the ice at least twenty times to keep it cold, and we took it out to the fire pit to enjoy on our last night there.

I grabbed some free dessert from the lounge for the hell of it, and we plopped down outside.  We sat around for some time and enjoyed free entertainment from the loud, middle-aged women swimming in the pool.  They were doing that thing where you spend ten minutes in the hot tub and then jump into the pool, shrieking the whole time.  When we weren't listening to them, we were listening to the drunk chanting of a huge group of guys in weird T-shirts and costumes who had come up to see the Raiders at pre-season training.  (Apparently, they do summer training in wine country. Nice.)

After 11pm, we called it quits but we still had a bit of champagne left.  It was still cold and fizzy, and I felt bad seeing it go to waste.  Ron said, "Offer it to that couple on the other side of the fire pit."  So, I did.  Both of them sort of stared at me bewildered for a second, and then they looked at each other. "That's crazy!" said the woman.  And then she said to me, "Not even ten minutes ago, I said to him, 'I wish we had champagne like they did.' It's my birthday in thirty minutes and you just gave me my first wish!"  Her beau jumped up to get them fresh glasses, and I no longer felt bad about the champagne.

The following morning would be the start to our last full day: A short road trip to San Francisco and a change of pace from country to city.  I was sad to think about leaving, but it was time.


Anonymous said...

thank you for this wonderful report with photos! you helped me make the decision to eat at G and F!.

Jo Harper said...

I hope you enjoyed tg&tf!! I just got back last week from my fourth visit there--you can't go wrong in wine country. I hope you did a Platypus Tour? We just did one for the first time, and it was so much fun : )