Kellie and I knew we weren't likely to get into the French Laundry (I was trying for a third foray into nirvana), but this is not to suggest that anything we ate was less than exceptional. You have to try (really) hard to to find a bad meal in Napa Valley.
We were staying at the Napa River Inn, which is located in the town of Napa at the restored, historic River Mill. Within walking distance (like, outside our hotel door) are three restaurants: Angèle, Celadon, and the Napa General Store (which has a pan-Asian cafe), one bakery (Sweetie Pie's, which provides breakfast for the hotel guests -lucky us!), an art gallery, a spa and a performing arts center.
Friday night found us at Angèle, whose owner, Claude Rouas is the former chef owner of L'Etoile in San Francisco, and the founder of the famed Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. I have a soft spot for Angèle: it always reminds me of being with people I love. My "bachelorette" dinner was held there with Sondra, Ellen, Anna and Wendy (who, having forgotten her wallet at home, was forced to panhandle 50 cents at a restaurant to get through a toll gate. While dressed in Dolce and Gabbana.). Hubby and I had our first dinner together on our honeymoon at Angèle.
Kellie had heard the duck confit was excellent, so we ordered a dish to share. Presented on a bed of lentils with a tangy vinaigrette, fatty duck never tasted so good. Kellie had the butter lettuce salad next and I had the (say it with me) foie gras. I ordered the gnocchi with wild mushrooms for Kellie since she had never eaten gnocchi; and I was confident that her experience at Angèle would not emulate my and Greg's gnocchi horror. For myself, comfort food was high on the list, as I was still bathed in the happiness from lunch at Tra Vigne, so I ordered the boeuf bourgignon. Two bites into her dinner, Kellie looked up at me.
"This is so good I want to cry."
"And now you understand my absolute obsession with coming here and eating here."
Her eyes glistened. My throat ached. Emotions were high. Bear in mind: we hadn't fully recovered from our late night partying Thursday night; had been tasting wine all day Friday; and were at that moment consuming the second bottle of Navarro. Kellie and I have discussed our various drunks states (Me: "I can be a mean drunk, a silly drunk, a sleepy drunk or a hysterical drunk." Kellie: "Oh GREAT. And I'm going wine tasting with you?!"). Apparently when exquisite food is involved, we're blubbering drunks. (Greg: "Still, you shouldn't under-estimate the power of great gnocchi.")
You don't have to eat at expensive or renowned restaurants to find good food -- the Oakville Grocery is a great stopping point on the way up to Oakville and Rutherford for a sandwich or some prepared deli foods. And while you're at it, there's an absolutely lovely selection of confiture, organic honeys, olive oils and other wonderful accoutrements for the pantry. At the Oakville Grocery, I picked up some organic honey for several colleagues because I was so enamored of the packaging. I am such a marketing victim. Kellie saw a mustard display and nearly passed out with joy. Apparently, she's a huge mustard freak so she tried all their different mustard tasting selections. I'm an olive oil addict so I separated from her to try the different olive oils.
If you're already up in the St. Helena area, Dean and Deluca is the place to stop. On our way up to Calistoga on Saturday, Kellie murmured that she wanted cheese and bread to go with her wine. I veered off into Dean and Deluca's St. Helena branch -- I think Kellie's gasp of delight wasn't much different than mine when I first went.
"The Dean and Deluca in New York doesn't look like this!" she marvelled. (I remember thinking, "The Dean and Deluca in Washington, D.C. doesn't look like this!")
Everywhere the eye could see, there was food -- fresh produce, fresh bread, a meat counter, a chocolates and confectionary case, teas, olive oils, imported foods, fresh meats, a wine store, dried mushrooms -- this was a gourmand's dream store; being fond of the intimacy of its rival in Oakville, I think of Dean and Deluca Napa Valley as the Oakville Grocery on steroids. No matter: Kellie was enchanted and I was ecstatic to see ruby red Seascape strawberries. We spent an hour in the store, wandering around. Old wine barrels had been recycled for use as serving platters and lazy susans. A row of gadgets, a veritable Williams-Sonoma lined one wall. A wine store stretched out in the back, including a smaller, more intimate room for large format bottles and unique or rare wines.
Recognizing the familiar black boxes with yellow emblems of Mariages Frères tea, I made a beeline and did a little dance (which is not a sight you want to behold, as I lack timing and nearly knocked over a display of water crackers) when I saw they had my beloved Marco Polo blend. Of course, it was double the price I had paid in Paris, but I suppose if you throw in the cost of a plane ticket, this was much cheaper.
A loaf of bread, a slice of goat's milk camembert, a wedge of Manchego and a bar of Vosge's "Wollomooloo" macadamia nut chocolate bar later, we headed up to Chateau Montelena.