Last Thursday night (Nov 6), the restaurant Redd in Yountville was showing no signs that the economy is keeping diners away from enjoying outstanding cuisine. When we arrived for our 7 pm dinner at Redd, the restaurant was packed. The bar was standing room only and all the tables were in use or reserved. The place was still jumping when we departed a couple of hours later following a memorable meal.
Just when we were beginning to think that the Napa Valley was feeling the repercussions of the economy, we found that on Wednesday and Thursday night last week, the Yountville restaurants were alive and well with bar stools and tables packed with patrons.
Yountville Stars in the 2009 Michelin Guide
It is amazing what a restaurant mecca the small town of Yountville has become. The latest Michelin Guide of 2009 has four Yountville restaurants receiving its “Star” ranking. The French Laundry is the only restaurant in its Bay Area and Wine Country restaurant guide to receive the coveted Three Star rank. One Star was awarded to Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, and Redd. This is impressive considering there are only 32 restaurants in the guide with one or more stars. Congrats to Yountville.
Dinner at Bistro Jeanty
With the gloom of the economy casting a pall on just about everything these days, a trip to the Napa Valley just might be the perfect escape. Harvest is over but fermenting tanks are going strong and there is that delicious smell in the air of wine being made. The vines are turning various shades and Fall is a wonderful time to be in the Napa wine country.
There is some economic relief in sight in the Valley because as the harvest ends, many of Napa Valley’s finest lodging establishments begin their Fall and Winter rate specials. Our guess is that because of the economy there will be more specials and packages as lodging establishments and other businesses try to lure visitors to the area. Now is the time to plan a budget trip to the Napa Valley.
Here are some tips on how to save some cash visiting the Napa Valley.
In Yountville along Highway 29, Mustard’s Grill is one of Napa Valley’s best-known restaurants. It is a favorite among winemakers, locals and tourists. This year begins its 25th year of operation. Chef Cindy Pawlcyn opened Mustard’s in 1984 and now is involved with two additional restaurants, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Go Fish, both in St. Helena. We have been to all three of these restaurants and enjoyed them all.
Our June 15th edition of the Wine Spectator arrived in our mailbox with a special wine country section focusing on five different California wine venues including the town of Yountville in the Napa Valley. We happened to have been there last week taking advantage of a $150 a night mid-week special at the Yountville Inn. After reading the Wine Spectator article we thought it would be a good idea to add our “two cents” to Wine Spectators take on Yountville.
The immensely popular Taylor’s Automatic Refresher of St. Helena and San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza now has a third location, the Oxbow Market in the city of Napa. St. Helena is the original 1949 location of the once drive-in burger joint revitalized in 2000 by winemaker Joel Gott and brother Duncan. You have probably seen Joel Gott’s value priced wines at various wine shops. Both the St. Helena and the San Francisco locations are jammed around the lunch hour. You will see long lines at both locations but the lines move at a remarkable speed.
We decided to check out the Oxbow Market location for lunch last week. Early this year we posted a blog about the Oxbow Market and how deserted the place was shortly after its grand opening. The place is busier now, more merchants have moved in and the weather has improved. However, it was not bustling with tourists on a Thursday in mid March. For example, the newly opened Oxbow Wine Merchant had no more than 8 people roaming their vast wine store and tasting bar.
The newly opened Taylor’s Refresher is on the corner in one of the adjunct buildings to the main Oxbow Market facility. They too were doing an okay business but not the long lines you would find at the other two Taylor’s. At the height of the lunch hour, we were third in line and had a wide choice of where to sit both inside and outside.
It is remarkable how good the food tastes considering it is basically a fast food joint. Everything seems to be of high quality and burgers of various sorts fly off the shelf. The wine list is terrific with good choices for folks who want just a glass or a half-bottle. We shared a half-bottle of Chappellet Chenin Blanc, a great wine with the Chicken Club and the Fried Calamari. The wine is served in those fancy stemless Riedel glasses and that is a much better choice than a plastic glass. Almost everything else is served in plastic containers.
Taylor’s Refresher is a good choice when you want something that is good and very quick. Otherwise, try one of the fine eateries inside the Oxbow Public Market.
The Good: Very good menu choices, good wine list, speed of service remarkable.
The Bad: Plastic containers, the pour for the wine glass servings is too small.
The first time we looked into the window at All Seasons Bistro in Calistoga, we thought this restaurant couldn’t be very good. There are no fancy tables and chairs and the dÃ©cor sort of gave us the impression that we shouldn’t expect too much. That was our mental picture five years ago. Since then we have dined at All Seasons Bistro several times and it remains today our favorite Calistoga restaurant by a wide margin. A couple of weeks ago we dined there again and we were not disappointed. Our meal and experience were perfect.
We dined on a Friday night and were surprised to find that the restaurant was not that busy, while on the opposite corner, Brannan’s restaurant was packed. We’d stopped at Brannan’s first for a glass of wine and to enjoy their beautiful mahogany bar and a jazz combo that plays on weekends. Brannan’s is cool but All Seasons Bistro has the food.
For dinner at the All Seasons Bistro, Janelle had the red wine braised beef ribs and Joe had the house made pappardella pasta with a bolognese meat sauce. For dessert we split the warm chocolate torte with strawberry ice cream and chocolate sauce. What a delicious treat! Everything was prepared exquisitely by bistro chef Daniel Holt and pastry chef Summer Sebastiani. Another big plus for the restaurant is the wine list. It is huge. So big that All Seasons Bistro does their customers a favor by preparing two wine lists. There is a one-page list of the more recognized labels and there is also a binder with their complete list of wines. We chose to browse through the larger list and we were delighted to find a wine that we had tasted during our day of wine tasting in the Calistoga area. It was one of our favorites of the day. The wine was a Zinfandel from Summers Estate Winery. The wine was just perfect for our lovely dinner. Our total cost of the meal including tip was a reasonable $120.
We are not the only ones who think the All Seasons Bistro has good food. The Michelin Guide for 2008 gives it a one-star recommendation. That is quite an honor for this small, nondescript Calistoga restaurant. The restaurant also has a great reputation for its catering services and caters many of the weddings and events in the Napa Valley.
The Good: The food is excellent, terrific wine list
The Bad: Not open seven nights a week.
Tourists heading to the Napa Valley and Carneros usually bypass downtown Napa as they head north into the Valley. As a consequence, they miss out on some wonderful places to dine and taste wine. We have written previously about Pearl’s and Pilar’s, both great restaurants in downtown Napa. Last week we visited the Bounty Hunter and we can add it to our list of “secret” places in the town of Napa.
The Bounty Hunter is very casual looking and your first impression might be that it is more of a cowboy hangout rather than a fine wine shop and restaurant. Once you have settled in, you will discover that this is great place to dine for lunch or dinner and do some serious wine tasting.
The Bounty Hunter first started out as strictly a wine bar and wine store and then later added the restaurant. The wine list has some 40 wines by the glass. You can try them in a 3 or 5 oz. pour, or try one of the several well-thought-out tasting flights. You can try the “About Bubbles,” the “Great White Flight,” or the “Pinot Envy Club,” just to mention a few. Tasting flights, like the ones at the Bounty Hunter, are a good way to learn about wines and hone your wine tasting skills. We watched as a party of four selected a tasting flight. The server was very savvy and not overbearing in anyway. He made everyone feel comfortable.
Our main purpose on our visit was to have lunch. By the time we arrived, the lunch crowd had left so there was no waiting and we had our choice of seating. Janelle had the Bounty Hunter Blue, a wonderful salad with blue cheese, organic butter lettuce, and Applewood bacon. Joe had a terrific pulled pork sandwich. Our food was elegantly presented and excellently prepared. Our check came to $35 without tip and that included a glass of wine each. We will be back for dinner one of these days to taste what we hear is a fabulous barbequed chicken.
The Good: Unpretentious wine bar, 40 wines by the glass, 400 different wines for sale, great food.
The Bad: Too bad we can’t get to the Bounty Hunter more often.
The Boone Fly Café is a good choice when looking for casual dining when visiting wineries in the Carneros wine region. It is just about the only casual choice unless you want to head into to the town of Sonoma or Napa to find a good lunch spot. The Boone Fly is located in the Carneros Inn. This inn reopened a couple of years back and has become a very chic and fashionable place to lodge.
Getting to the Boone Fly Café can be difficult if approaching it on Highway 121 heading east. The Boone Fly is the big red barn structure and as soon as you see it you will need to turn left. There is a left turn area, but it is much too dangerous to approach from this spot. A better choice is to enter at the stop signal at Highway 121 and Old Sonoma Road and park near the lobby of the Inn. Then walk about 400 yards to the Boone Fly.
On the inside the Café is very cozy. As you walk in the door, straight head is the open kitchen with cooks furiously making good food. To the left is a cool looking bar where you can drink and eat, and to the right is the main dining area, open, spacious, and very inviting.
We ate lunch here after visiting a couple of Carneros wineries. The menu is varied with several good choices, including some delicious flatbread with various toppings. The wine list is good, except for the wines by the glass; they could use a few more choices. Both our meals were terrific, a juicy large hamburger and a tasty flatbread with blah and blah. Service was good and relaxed.
The Caneros Inn is quite the spot or so it seems. The Inn is nearly full during the week and on weekends; forget about it unless you book ahead. The Carneros Inn is an expensive place to stay, but the Boone Fly is a comparatively good bargain for meals for guests and outside visitors.
The Good: Cool place, looks like it just has to be fun.
The Bad: Terrible left turn to get to the Boone Fly.
Too bad for visitors to Calistoga. Brannan’s Grill closed its doors in 2018.
Brannan’s Grill has been a tourist’s favorite spot and Calistoga fixture since 1998. The corner restaurant on Lincoln Avenue continues to attract the tourist trade, especially on weekends, where the bar is jammed and reservations can be tight.
We visited Brannan’s Grill on a Monday night. You can count on Brannan’s to be open every day for lunch and dinner. The first thing that catches the eye as you enter is the bar. The bar itself is a gleaming, beautiful mahogany structure made in Germany in 1880. The lighting is perfect making the bar atmosphere very inviting. The bar menu has some interesting cocktail specialties and a couple of wine flights that are reasonably priced and interesting to try.
We ate at Brannan’s several years ago and thought our meal was just so so. This time around we were much more delighted with our dinners. Janelle had the roasted chicken and Joe had the grilled rib eye steak. The chimichurri sauce on the ribeye was a wonderful sauce that complemented the steak. We rated our dinner a 4.5 on our Five-Point rating scale.
Our only disappointment was the wine list. It is quite extensive but there are not enough choices in the $30 to $40 range. We did find a bargain selection, and a great match especially for the steak with the chimichurri sauce, in a delicious Sebastopol Vineyards Three Blocks Syrah for $32. The corkage fee is $15 and waived if you buy a second bottle, even a half bottle, making for a better than average restaurant corkage policy. Our dinner bill came to $108 without tip, we did not have dessert.
Monday night is not one of the busiest nights in Calistoga yet Brannan’s was a busy spot that night. We were not rushed and we had a slow and relaxing dinner. Our overall experience was fun and enjoyable.
The Good: Terrific atmosphere, wonderful bar, very good food.
The Bad: Good wine list but need more choices in the $30 to $40 range.