May 27, 2008

California Part 1: Napa

(Nicholson Ranch Winery)

This trip was so wonderful, it's hard to know where to begin. So I'll start by saying that there is no better weather in Spring than in Northern California. I know it does no good to complain about the weather (like when I stepped out of the aiport in Nashville and the first thing out of my mouth to my man was not "Hi honey! So happy to see you!" but "What the hell is going on here with the humidity? It's disgusting and when did this start? and WHY do I live here??!! I want to go back to California!!"

Ok, so I know how to overstate things. Especially obvious things. But I think he still loves me and missed me.

This was my first trip to California since my own personal food revolution had begun. And one of the things I couldn't stop noticing is that everything, everywhere in No.Cal. is "seasonal and organic." It's like Mastercard and Visa out there. There is not a restaurant serving anything that's not seasonal and organic (at least by their own claims). Even the one 'regular' meal I had with a good friend, Andy, from college --we ate sushi in the small town where he lives-- had "local mushrooms" in the miso soup. It was very tasty, I might add.

So... where to begin with the food? The food! It is everywhere, it is beautiful, it is high-quality, it is super abundant and fresh everywhere you go, especially in the Spring. There were fava beans, English peas, Spring onions, new garlic, green beans, morels, baby lettuces, and more. The strawberries and the wild fennel on the side of the road were waving goodbye as the cherries were being ushered in.

This is a candy-striped beet! I'd never seen one before...

And the seafood? How wonderful to find three or four main seafood options on every menu. Everything from Northern halibut to arctic char to local cod and Tomales Bay clams. It was an embrassment of riches. One would never have to eat meat again. But even the meat and poultry in many of the places I dined came from farms, ranches and fisheries guided by principles of sustainability.

It's like I was plopped down into my best dream of eating exactly the way I want to eat and although I knew that California was way ahead in the local, seasonal and sustainable game (in fact they started it), it was still a very pleasant surprise and I am inspired --again-- to cook, shop and eat this way as much as I possibly can.

Six course lunch
Overlooking the most beautiful cliff in the Napa Valley
Seriously, I thought I had died and gone to Italy

I should point out that my girlfriend, the bride, is the Special Events planner at Auberge du Soleil, a fabulous, luxury resort and spa in Napa. So when she took me and another friend there for lunch on the day before the wedding, we were 'styled' beyond belief: wined and dined and given as much attention as if we were famous celebrities. It was FUN.

Amusé: one housemade potoato chip with caviar, creme fraiche and chervil (a petite bite of Heaven)

Starters: (we shared everything) Burrata mozzarella with roasted red peppers, egglpant and zucchini with crostini...

Poached shrimp salad with curry and crispy artichokes;

Potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms, pea shoots, and some kind of lovely foam...

Intermezzo course: Veal sweatbreads with thyme jus and fois gras ravioli

I could have stopped there and died a happy person. But there was more...

Mains: (things started to get fuzzy here and my notes are not as clear, sorry. Did I mention the wine?)

Ahi tuna tartare with fresh spinach and some kind of little cheese basket;

The most delicious scallops ever with spring vegetables and ruby grapefruit compote

Chicken breasts with asparagus, wild mushrooms and fois gras ravioli;

And, the piece de resistance, dessert: Dark chocolate ganache-filled phyllo dumplings with tarragon ice cream (!!!!)

Note to self: Next time (when you're rich and famous) you need to STAY at the hotel so that after the six-course lunch you can walk down to the pool and lounge in a cabana and never wake up, ever. Until dinner.


  1. nice account so far, joyce...your notes and pictures are bringing me back....

  2. did you just comment on your own post? that's very cute... as you are.

    i am very familiar with the place although i have never been. when i was reading and you first mentioned auberge du soliel my jaw dropped and i was so thrilled that you got to go. i came close bit we opted for a different place or something. it was 5 years ago. their spa is also supposed to be sublime.

    the lunch looked just spectacular. way to go...

  3. No, that wasn't me! I think that I know who left the comment but I can't figure out how they did that!

  4. Minus a few of the courses, that meal sounds divine. :)

  5. This was a dream vacation wasn't it!!