Thursday, July 8, 2010
Left Coast Vacation 2010: Day 2 - Domaine Chandon, Bottega Napa Valley and Chappellet Winery
After an incredible meal at The French Laundry, our second day started early (thank God for still being on Eastern Time). We dragged ourselves out of bed for a hot air balloon ride above the Napa Valley... or at least that was the original idea. But mother nature had plans, and a combination of blustering winds and fog resulted in a delayed departure from Healdsburg. When we finally got up in the air, the balloon ride was a zen-like experience as we hovered over 2,000 feet above ground. I only wish landing was as peaceful as flying. Persistent winds forced us to land in an open field far from major roads which meant we had to wait about a half hour to be picked up. All in all, the experience was certainly unique and one that I'd recommend doing once.
Originally, a champagne brunch was scheduled, but due to the all of the miscellaneous hangups we were given tasting coupons to Domaine Chandon Winery. Set off the main road of Yountville, in a secluded area lies Domaine Chandon Winery and its Michelin-rated étoile Restaurant. Already having lunch reservations, MW and I skipped the restaurant and headed upstairs to sample some bubbles. Chandon's tasting room was spacious and contained a long bar that backed into tall windows, making for a magnificent view and plenty of light. I enjoyed our server who described the Reserve Pinot Noir Brut as his "refrigerator champagne," if only I was so lucky... Chandon is known for their sparkling wine and MW and I chose to do one Classic Tasting and one Reserve Tasting. The Classic Tasting included samples of the Extra-Dry Riche, Rosé, Blanc de Noirs and Brut Classic. The Reserve Tasting included samples of the Reserve Pinot Noir Rosé, Reserve Pinot Noir Brut and the Reserve Chardonnay Brut. I wish I could give you a better run down of each of the samples but only recall that MW and I enjoyed the Pinot Noir Rosé the most.
Feeling a bit refreshed, MW and I headed to Bottega for lunch. Opened in 2008 by Food Network heartthrob and Top Chef Masters douchebag Michael Chiarello, Bottega has become a welcome addition to "Keller Row," aka Washington Street. When I chose Bottega for lunch I was looking for a departure from haute cuisine and eagerly anticipated a more rustic-style Italian cuisine. Arriving a little before our reservation I took in the restaurant's open layout. In addition to the bar area in the front, there were two dining rooms and an outdoor patio. The hostess informed us that the patio area was reserved for a private event and led us to our table in the dining room. Dusty brick walls, high ceilings, large windows and earthy tones; if Chiarello was going for the Tuscan villa vibe he hit a home run.
I started with a Strawberry Lemonade and we were given a large wedge of crusty Italian bread. MW loved the bread, a perfectly crusty exterior giving way to a soft and chewy interior, even better when combined with the House-Made Marinated Parmesan Dip. We would have been perfectly happy with this alone.
Instead, we moved on to appetizers. MW ordered the Wood Grilled Octopus with Olive Oil Braised Potatoes, Pickled Red Onion and Salsa Verde. A riff on the classic Italian octopus and potato salad this dish was equally successful. The tender octopus picked up a smokey note from the grill and the entire dish was lifted by the pickled onion and herbaceous salsa verde.
I chose the Polenta Under Glass with Caramelized Wild Mushrooms and a Balsamic Game Sauce. Initial research revealed this one of Chiarello's signature dishes and after my first bite, I understood why. Sometimes the simplest of dishes are the best and this was precisely the case with a jar of perfectly smooth and cheesy grits smothered in an earthy umami-filled mushroom and balsamic sauce that tasted similar to a well reduced veal stock. Simply marvelous.
MW's House-Made Egg Pappardelle with a Veal, Pork and Porcini Mushroom Bolognese with Rosemary and Parmigiano Reggiano was disappointingly mediocre. While you could certainly tell that the pasta was home-made and well cooked, the bolognese tasted flat and lacked the synergy of a homemade sauce.
In comparison, my Smoked and Braised Natural Short Ribs with Preserved Lemon Spinach and a Smokey Jus was clearly the superior dish. An enormous beef rib with rich meat so tender it fell off the bone had a hint of smokiness and was a unique twist on this rustic classic.
During our meal we overheard the couple next to us ask if the chef was in the restaurant and was informed that he can be found in the kitchen around six days of the week. A few minutes later chef Chiarello made an appearance in the dining room and was immediately mobbed by middle-aged woman. Tyrant or lady killer, our mostly successful meal at Bottega demonstrated that Chiarello is much more than just a television personality impersonating a chef and instead, knows his way around the kitchen.
* For a recap of day 1 click here and here.
Bottega Napa Valley
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94559
To see all our pics please click the flickr link.