Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Road Trip Part X - Paso Robles, Day 3 & 4

After another great breakfast (this time it was croissant french toast and bacon), we spent spent most of our last full day of the trip at Hearst Castle in Cambria, which was a short 30 minute drive from the inn. We stopped by Medusa, a mexican restaurant in downtown Cambria, for a quick lunch before heading to the Castle. As I was a first time visitor, we took the recommendation of the Hearst Castle website and chose tour #1, which included tickets to the IMAX-type movie that depicts Hearst's life and the building of the castle. The tour itself was informative, and the grounds and buildings were beautiful. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, and I'd recommend doing one of the tours if you are ever in the area.

We spent our last wine and appetizer hour with Diane and Jim, getting to know them better. I'm definitely envious of their life! After the sun set, we headed to dinner at Villa Creek (owned by the same people who own the Villa Creek winery we visited the day before). The place was packed and the service suffered because of it, but the quality of the food made up for the slow service. We started with a yummy corn soup, I had the veal stew with mashed potatoes (a special) and Steve tried the quail. I thought mine was better, but both were very tasty. For dessert, we shared a huge serving of peach pie a la mode. We enjoyed dinner with a Villa Creek wine, the 2006 Willow. This dinner was $150 with tip.

We enjoyed another restful night's sleep with the fireplace on this time (it was finally cool enough to use it) and then sat down for our last breakfast of the trip. And what a breakfast it was. Diane made this AMAZING quiche with sausage, leeks and cheese, which she served with fruit. Steve still talks about that breakfast. I think I may need to ask Diane for the recipe.

We took several trips to the car to load up our luggage and the massive amount of wine we bought and made it over to our reservation for a tasting at Torrin. Torrin rents space at Booker Winery, which is where we had our tasting. Scott, the owner/winemaker, was in the middle of harvest, so we got spend about an hour witnessing most stages of the winemaking process up close and personal (we tried grapes that had been picked the day before, saw the just crushed grapes, saw them punching down other vats of grapes that were farther along in the process, etc.) Our visit with Scott ended with a tasting of two of his wines (we bought two bottles of each).

We hit the road, and an hour later, a quick stop at Patrick's Side Street Cafe in Los Olivos for lunch was in order, after which I resisted the temptation to do more wine tasting (which if you've been to Los Olivos, you know how hard this is since the tasting rooms line both sides of the street in that small town). We then drove the rest of the 2 hours home happy and full.

Road Trip Part IX - Paso Robles, Day 2

The next day we had the first of three gourmet breakfasts at the inn. Diane made us lemon souffle pancakes with raspberry sauce and sausage. Yummy. We then spent the morning at the urgent care clinic (don't ask), before starting our whirlwind day of wine tasting. We started at Turley, bought 6 bottles of fantastic zin and then went to Linne Calodo, where they were pouring some amazing wines (they are a little pricy though). We bought two bottles then moved on to Denner, where we bought a bottle of the mourvedre to have with our picnic of cheese, crackers and nuts at one of the picnic tables at the winery (picture above). We drank the entire bottle of wine (I'm still not sure how) and then went on to Villa Creek for our last tasting of the day. Our palates were pretty blown by then, so I don't remember much about this tasting, although we did buy 4 bottles here, so I hope they are good!

During the wine/appetizer hour back at the inn, we met the other two couples who were guests there, and again enjoyed the sunset from the outside seating area (the picture at right shows the same view, but later during the moonrise). One of the couples we met was going to the same restaurant we were going to that night (which was Artisan), so we changed our reservation time so that we could share a table with them.

Artisan is an amazing restaurant. From the food, to the service, to the decor, everything was flawless. We started with the cornbread with lavender honey butter (a must), then I had the meatball gnocchi appetizer with tomato sauce (very good), then salmon with corn puree and black eyed peas, fresh corn, turnips and cherry tomatoes (seriously delicious). Steve had roasted tomato soup as his appetizer, then moved on to the sea food stew with saffron broth. We shared peach cobbler and trio of creme brulees with the other couple, and had another wine we brought with us, a 2005 Denner Ditch Digger. Dinner ran us $130 with tip and $15 corkage.

Road Trip Part VIII - Paso Robles, Day 1

The next day we drove the 5 hours to Paso Robles, stopping at Chili's along the way for lunch. Once we got into Paso, we went straight to the inn, Canyon Villa. Although we loved the Farmhouse Inn (the best of all the places we stayed on this trip), the Canyon Villa was a real find. It is a beautiful house that looks like a Tuscan villa, perched on a hill overlooking vineyards. The owners, Diane and Jim, were gracious hosts who run this 4 room inn with what seems like effortless ease. We were shown the Siena room, which is in the front of the house, and which boasts a jacuzzi tub, fireplace and a little balcony from where we could see tons of deer each morning on the hiilside. We were the only guests for the first night of our stay, and enjoyed the daily wine and appetizer hour outside watching the sunset by ourselves before making our way to Deborah's Room at the Justin Winery for dinner.

The winery is pretty far from the main area of Paso, and we were late for our reservations, but the waitstaff was gracious about our tardiness. Dinner was another multi-course extravaganza with wine pairing. I had the cannelloi (very good), foie gras (great), trout (the winner, especially the 2-way cauliflower), and the shortcake (also very good). Steve had the bisque, the scallops (very good), the short rib (tender with an amazing sauce), and the S'mores (good) The waiter poured us way more wine than was on the menu, which was great, but boy, were we full afterward. Deborah's room has only 6 tables, and is very beautiful and romantic, so I would definitely recommend it for a special occasion. We will be back the next time we are in Paso. Dinner came to $300 with tip.

Click below to enlarge the food menu and the wine menu:

Road Trip Part VII - Napa Valley, Day 3

After breakfast the next day, we went to our tasting appointment at Storybook Mountain. We were given a tour by a little German woman who was the wife of the winemaker. This winery specializes in zins, so we bought 4 bottles of our favorites before going to lunch at Taylor's Automatic Refresher. Taylor's is a small gourmet hamburger stand that is very popular. You go up to the window to order, and then sit at one of the many picnic tables and wait for them to call your name so you can go pick up your order. We had burgers, onion rings, sodas and a chocolate shake. It was about $35 in total.

We went to Mumm's after lunch and enjoyed some sparking wine on their outdoor patio overlooking their vineyard (picture at right), bought some white wine for an upcoming party and then went back to the inn to relax before the social hour. For dinner we dined at a local favorite called Cook. The place was packed with people who obviously all knew one another, and at one point I think Steve and I were the only non-locals there. The food was great, and not very expensive at all. We shared a corn soup to start (delicious), then I had a risotto with shrimp and pesto and tomatoes (a special for that night, which was also tasty), and Steve had a pasta bolognese (the winner of the night), and we shared a flourless chocolate cake for dessert (very decadent and good). We had yet another wine we brought from home, a Chateau Montelena Zin from 2004, which was delicious. We spent $125, including tip and $15 for corkage.

Road Trip Part VI - Napa Valley, Day 2

The next day, we enjoyed the inn's breakfast, which is served buffet style, and includes an egg dish (different every day), make your own waffles, fruit, muffins, scones, bagels, english muffins, juices, etc. You can sit inside or outside on a patio overlooking the vineyards.

Our first winery of the day was Alpha Omega, with a brand-new luxurious tasting room and a few wines that we liked (although they seemed a little pricy). We bought two bottles of Syrah and before making our way over to to Kelham winery (reservations required), where we did our wine tasting in what looked like someone's living room. The wine maker looked like he was in his mid-30s and model-handsome, but seemed very knowledgeable. We bought two bottles of cab and a chardonnay here.

Mustards Grill was next on the agenda (we seem to always eat here on every trip to Napa). This visit we shared the onion strings, I had the cheeseburger, and hubby had the ravioli (which neither of us had tried before, and was really good). We soon realized that the owners of Pappapietro Perry (a winery in Sonoma County that I am a member of), were at the next table over. They were very nice, and seemed pleased to meet some of their members. Lunch was $75 with tip (we didn't have any wine).

After lunch we went into the town of Napa to Robert Biale Winery. We had tried one of their wines before, the "Black Chicken" zinfandel, which we loved, so we tracked down this tiny place prior to our trip and had made a reservation (a must, according to their signs, but several walk-ins were accepted while we were there). They gave us tastings of 7 or so zins, all of which were great. We bought 4 bottles and made it back to the inn just in time for the nightly wine tasting.

We had dinner in Yountville, we'd made a reservation at Bistro Jeanty. We each started with the tomato soup en croute, then I had the special, which was risotto with rabbit, morels, peas and truffle oil (which was amazing). Steve (the hubby) had daube beef with mashed potatoes, carrots and peas (also very good), and we shared the tarte tatin for dessert (one of the best desserts of the trip, truly exquisite). For wine, we shared another of the bottles we brought from home, a Domaine Drouhin 2003 Laurene Pinot that my boss gave me for Christmas a few years before. It was excellent. Dinner was $125, and included tip and $20 corkage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Road Trip Part V - Napa Valley, Day 1

On the way over the hill to Napa Valley, we stopped at Pride Mountain Vineyard, where we had a very informative tasting and tour, highlighted by gorgeous valley views, our first barrel tasting of the trip, and, this being harvest, we even got to taste some freshly-picked grapes in their crates. The wines were excellent, so we bought 4 bottles.

We love going to V. Sattui for a picnic lunch every time we are in Napa Valley. It's a beautiful spot surrounded by trees and picnic tables, with a great selection of meats, cheeses and a hyperactive deli case. We bought 4 kinds of cheese (cheddar, aged gouda, a soft French cheese, and our favorite, a cream cheese spread with artichokes and garlic), salami, a baguette, roasted garlic, truffled mac and cheese and cheese ravioli with tomato sauce. A nice picnic for about $55.

After lunch, we visited Cult Wine Central, which houses dozens of small wineries that don't have their own tasting room. We tried 5 yummy wines and loved it so much we joined their club, and bought 6 bottles to take home. My husband had stopped counting our purchases already, but I couldn't resist!

After that, we made our way to the Wine Country Inn, where we checked into Room 20. Another big room with fine amenities; a huge bathroom with our second heated tile floor of the trip, a shower with his-and-hers shower nozzles (one tall, one short!), a jacuzzi tub overlooking a tranquil vineyard, a covered balcony, wood burning fireplace, king bed, and a Bose stereo. Service at this place was ok, but not great compared to the first two places. We felt that they were very busy, and possibly understaffed as a result.

At 5pm, we went to the main area of the inn for their wine and cheese social hour (well, really, it lasts two hours). Each day, a representative from a different winery comes and does a tasting for the guests. There is a selection of cheese and other homemade appetizers to choose from, and many guests use this as an opportunity to get to know other guests and compare notes on wineries and restaurants. We enjoyed visiting with new people at these nightly events.

For our first dinner in the Napa Valley, we went to Bottega, Michael Chiarello's new restaurant in Yountville. The food here was uniformly excellent. We had the polenta under glass (the best dish of the night), the hubby had the duck confit (flavorful, but a little dry) and I had the short ribs (the sauce was great), we shared the truffle fries, and had sorbet as dessert. We brought a 2001 Constant Cab from our collection back home, and it was a head-turner. The sommelier offered a decanter, and several staff and guests complimented our choice! We started wondering if we should've saved it for a more special occasion! It was a very fine, smooth wine that paired perfectly with the meal. Another highlight was when Chiarello himself came over to our table to check on us. We tried to avoid seeming star-struck! This dinner came to about $130, which included tip and the $20 corkage fee.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Road Trip Part IV - Sonoma County, Day 3

After another yummy breakfast at the Inn (this time we started with fruit and a scone and had the choice of blueberry french toast with sausage or huevos rancheros), we headed to the town of Sonoma, which was about an hour away. Our first stop was Ravenswood winery, where we tried 7 or 8 wines, most of which were really good. We bought 4 bottles of zinfandel and then moved on to a jam-packed downtown, which had been decked out for the Harvest Moon festival. We parked the car several blocks from the closed-off plaza, where there was a parade and many tents filled with artwork, food, and wine. We did a tasting here of local wines (many of which were ok, but nothing moved us to purchase).

The girl and the fig had been recommended to me by several people, and this local favorite did not disappoint. I was a little concerned at first since I didn't realize when booking this place that only the brunch menu would be available on a Sunday. I needn't have worried. We started with the cheese and fruit plate, which consisted of three cheeses, spiced nuts, and a compote of figs and cherries. I then had the duck confit hash with poached eggs (very tasty), and my husband had the croque monsieur (decadent, but really delicious). We spent about $80 for lunch, tip included.

After another relaxing afternoon in the room, we walked to the Farmhouse Inn's restaurant (click to enlarge the menu at right), which has a Michelin Star. This turned out to be the best meal of our entire trip!! At the wine tasting class the day before, another couple had mentioned a fabulous tasting menu they'd ordered there, so we asked about that when we sat down. As it turns out, the Farmhouse Inn doesn't have a regular tasting menu, but it was part of a special tour package not available to regular diners. We were, however, in luck. Maybe they just liked our faces, but the chef could actually just create a tasting menu just for us! Each of our six courses was great, but the winner was a grouper served with risotto. Our teacher from the tasting class, the master sommelier, was not working that night, but his assistant helped us pick out a 1/2 bottle (hey, it had been a long day of wine tasting!) of an 07 Jamek "Ried Klaus" riesling for our first two courses, followed by an 04 Castello di Verduno Barbaresco with the Squab. For dessert I chose the Valhrona chocolate souffle, and hubby got the Gaverstein Appple Terrine. This amazing meal was $330 with tip, and was a fine ending to our time in Sonoma.

On to Napa!

Road Trip Part III - Sonoma County, Day 2

After a great night's sleep in the Farmhouse comfy bed, we went down for our first breakfast at the Inn. We had fruit with yogurt and a strawberry muffin to start, and then had a choice of eggs benedict over a cheddar chive biscuit with potatoes, or waffles with peach compote and a sausage patty. It was lucky that we didn't have reservations for lunch until 1pm!

After breakfast we headed out to our first winery, Lynmar. The tasting room is a new facility with an amazing view. We spent an hour looking out over the valley enjoying the wines, and ended up buying two bottles of their Syrah.

Next it was onto Merry Edwards, our only winery appointment in Sonoma, a sit-down tasting just for the two of us. The pourer gave us a little education about Merry and her winery and poured 4 amazing pinots. When everything you taste is that good, it's tough to decide what to take home! We bought 6 bottles and then headed out to lunch.

From what I read before the trip, Willi's Wine Bar is known for their international small plates and their wine flights. Well, I can tell you that we enjoyed both. We made up our own wine flight of 4 different wines, 2 oz pours for each of three different 2007 Russian River Valley pinots and one Turley zin (the wines were all excellent). For food, we had the mu shu pork bacon (basically very yummy thick cut bacon with the fixings for mu shu pancakes), scallop dumplings, mac and cheese, BBQ duck over cheesy polenta, and truffle fries. I though the duck was the winner, but hubby loved the mac and cheese more, but it was a hard call because every dish was super good. It was about $100, including tip.

After lunch we hit Gary Farrell winery, which had even better scenic views than Lynmar, though we didn't find a wine we liked there.

Back at the Farmhouse Inn, the Inn's master sommelier and his assistant gave us a primer on blind tasting wines and the use of key characteristics to try to determine the origin and varietal. It was very educational and a lot of fun!

The rest of the afternoon we spent much like the previous one, with wine and cheese on our balcony, enjoying the bathtub, and then the cozy bed with the fireplace on for a nap before a wonderful dinner at Mosaic, which was just 5 minutes from the Inn.

We were sat on the back patio at Mosaic and were greeted by a very friendly server who made a point to look at what wine we brought from Sophie's Cellar so that she could bring us the right type of glass. It was here that we'd broken out the Paul Mathew Ruxton pinot we'd bought at Sophie's Cellars, and we loved it.

The server explained how the tasting menu works. You just pick out dishes off the main menu and the chef makes them smaller. We did the 4 course menu, and picked three appetizers and one entree. The appetizers: tomato soup en croute, which was great, a saute of mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes served with a wedge of brie and crostini, also good) and their fennel pollen-crusted scallops with local cherry tomatoes and polenta (the winner!). Our entree was a coffee-crusted filet with mushrooms, mashed potatoes and blue cheese butter with a chocolate cabernet sauce. This too was excellent, but we were both too full to finish! The total for this meal, with tip, came to about $175.

We came back to the Inn, lit a fire in the fire pit (not an easy task at 11pm since there aren't many lights in the garden), and toasted our marshmallows for the s'mores. It was a great end to a great day!

Road Trip Part II - Sonoma County, Day 1

After another early breakfast, we hit the road for the 5 hour trip to Forestville. We had a quick but tasty lunch at Taco Bell on the road. It was no El Cid.

Once we got to the Russian River Valley, we bought picnic supplies at Sophie's Cellars before going to our next bed and breakfast, the Farmhouse Inn. We had heard that if you bought a bottle of wine at Sophie's Cellars, you could take it to one of several restaurants in the area and corkage would be waived. We bought a 2006 Paul Mathew Ruxton Vineyard Pinot Noir at the recommendation of the owner, as well as some cheese and some salami for our room.

We arrived at the Farmhouse Inn, checked in and opened the door to our HUGE beautiful room (#17). The room is in the "Barn" which was recently built on the back of the property, and #17 is on the second floor in the back facing the woods, and has lots of privacy. The bedroom has a super-comfy high four poster bed that faces a gas fireplace, whose glass box enclosure is also open to the balcony. A spacious adjacent living room had a sofa, 2 armchairs and small fridge stocked with water (complimentary sodas are also available at the main office) makes this room already roughly the size of our condo! The bathroom is similarly generous, with a shower big enough for two, a two-person jacuzzi tub that looks out onto the deck and the woods beyond. Heated floors in the bathroom were a nice touch on cold mornings.

After checking out our room, we went back to the main office and stocked up on complimentary bath products (handmade soaps, brown sugar scrub and a milk bath powder). We also picked up the makings for gormet s'mores (homemade graham crackers and marshmallows and dark chocolate, also complimentary), which you can make at the firepit in the garden.

We spent the afternoon in our room, enjoying the cheese and salami from Sophie's Cellars, taking a bath in the giant tub and reading in the bed. The only bummer of this room we found is that the Inn's wireless internet signal is not strong enough to make it to us, so we had to go down to the main office to get internet access. It may seem like a perk, but with our lifestyle, internet access has become more and more like electricity, phone, and plumbing. Just really a necessity...

After our relaxing afternoon, we headed into Santa Rosa to eat at Syrah. This restaurant boasts a 4 or 7 course tasting menu where the chef choses the menu for you (meaning you have no idea what you'll be getting). We shared a wine pairing. An amuse bouche, a crostini with a warm goat cheese and mushroom spread, had been placed under the broiler until it was golden and perfectly heated through. This paired with a J Vineyard sparking wine, also for the first course, which was an heirloom tomato salad with Humbolt Fog goat cheese and basil oil and balsamic vinegar reduction (I thought this might be too plain, but it was perfect). The second course was a scallop and pork belly combo that was just amazing, which was served with a local chardonnay. The third course was a new york strip with mashed potatoes and a cabernet reduction, paired with a Napa cab. Dessert was a sampler of three items, mango and passion fruit sorbet, chocolate bread pudding and a plum crisp (all were very tasty), paired with a late harvest white dessert wine from a local winery. All in all, the food, wine and service were very good, and if we lived around here, this would definitely be one of our favorite spots! The bill totaled about $270, including tip.

Road Trip Part I - Yosemite

My husband and I went on a road trip about 3 weeks ago, and ever since we got back, I've been wanting to start this blog so that I could share info on the restaurants and places we stayed on the trip since everything was so wonderful. Our trip was for 11 nights, first we drove to Oakhurst, outside Yosemite, where we stayed for two nights, then on to the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County for 3 nights, then Napa Valley for three nights, and finally Paso Robles for three nights. We decided to stay in bed and breakfasts or small inns at each place, so with that as our only parameter, I started searching on tripadvisor.com for the best places in each of the areas.

Our first selection was Chateau du Sureau, a 10 room Relais & Chateaux property in Oakhurst, about 10 miles from one of the gates to Yosemite National Park.

This place had the most amazing service. To enter the property, you pull up to beautiful iron gate and ring up to house. As soon as the gate opened, we could see two people in Victorian servant garb rushing down the stairs of the house to meet us. One showed us around the property (which includes a beautiful garden area with swings, a gazebo, a pond, a giant chess board and a bocce court) while the other drove out car around the house and unloaded our luggage into our room (we stayed in the Mint Room) before we got there. We were brought roast beef crostini with glasses of good red wine about 15 minutes after we arrived. We spent the first afternoon in the garden on the swings and in our room relaxing. The room itself was very beautiful, with a canopy bed, antique furniture and a huge jacuzzi tub.

For dinner the first night we went to the restaurant at the Chateau, the Elderberry House. The restaurant itself is beautiful, and the service was flawless. When we were seated, the first thing we noticed was that the menu had our names printed it, a nice souvenir. The 5 course dinner and wine pairing was outstanding. Everything we had was superb, especially the salmon "lasagna" (although the bland-seeming eggplant soup was just ok). Before dessert, we were offered the opportunity to move to the patio to enjoy the remaining course. It was a lovely night and a great end to a wonderful day. The bill was about $380, which was one of the most expensive meals of our trip, but definitely worth it.

Here's the menu (click to enlarge):

The second day we were up early, had a European-style breakfast (cold meat, cheese, fruit and bread), and headed to Yosemite, where we met up with friends of ours who work and live in the park. They treated us to a wonderful lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel (an amazing Fiscalini Farms Cheddar Cheese & Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Soup and a burger for me and a monte cristo for my hubby) and then to a complimentary tour of the Valley floor. We also got to see their house, which has views of Half Dome!

After the long ride home (it takes about an hour to get from the valley floor of Yosemite back to the Chateau), we didn't feel like another fancy meal, so we went to a local favorite, El Cid, which served decent Mexican food, under $40 for the two of us, including drinks and tip. We went back to the Chateau for another restful night's sleep in our beautiful room and got up the next day early ready to move on to the next stop - the small town of Forestville in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma.