Wine Country: The Food Part I

I'm kinda sad to write up these last posts because it's been so nice reflecting back on all our fun and this is the end to re-living it.  In our world, food ranks up there in the "top priorities" file, so we made our way through the valley primarily focused on the wineries, but then a close second this round was also on the food and restaurants.
For those non-food lovers out there, you're not going to hurt my feelings one bit if you skip these posts.  I'll ramble, I'll post too many pictures, and I'll probably drool a lot (luckily you won't see that part).  Thing is...I'm not apologizing for it.  And if you are my food-lovin' friends, well Just You Wait!!! Although don't get angry for the few places I didn't snap photos.  I was distracted.  Clearly. 
Spoiler Alert: The best meal of the trip was my birthday dinner that Terry made at The Barn.  But that's for the next post.  And don't worry, I've got the pictures covered. 

Starting things off:

Sunday Night
Thai Noodles in Berkeley
Yes, that was actually the name of the restaurant.  We busted our bums to try and get to Spengers Fish Market or Trader Vics, but we got caught up with our luggage and rental car and with it being Sunday, places closed early. Boo. We drove around Berkeley, and this was one of the only restaurants we could find that was still open.  Both our meals were great. We certainly weren't anticipating the start of the trip would be Thai, but it was an unexpected enjoyment. 

Lunch: Taco Truck at a Gas Station. Ohmigod it was so good!  We ate in the car on the way to Etude and I'm sure we smelled like fresh onion and cilantro when we walked it, but sweet mercy it was so worth it!
Afternoon Snack: The Plaza Bistro on Sonoma Square.  We had Dungeness Crab Cakes over fennel & baby arugula salad and red bell pepper remoulade, and Sweet Pea & Goat Cheese Risotto Cakes that were pan seared and topped with sweet pepper compote and smoked bacon.  The crab cakes were unfortunately too oily and therefore mushy, but the sauce was awesome (we may or may not have sopped it all up with the bread).  The Risotto Cakes were all right, not anything that was over the top, just right for the afternoon.

Dinner: Meritage Martini Oyster Bar and Grille  We went here on a recommendation from The Plaza Bistro because I told them I really had a craving for Seafood for dinner.  What an unfortunate mistake.  We passed a few places that we'd heard rave reviews about, and afterwards we were kicking ourselves hard.
The irony of it all though was that none of the seafood options were appealling to me, so I opted to try something new: I ordered Wild Boar Baby Back Ribs that were braised in a Porcini cabernet shallot sauce and served over grilled polenta. (I'm a sucker for something new....and anything with Polenta).  Terry had the Bouillabaise, which is a seafood stew with tiger prawns, manila clams, mussels, and mixed fresh fish in a spicy tomato saffron broth.  Both were average.  Nothing wow'ed us.  And I think we were more perplexed by the horrid ambience in the place than anything else.  Quite possibly the first time that we've directly paid attention to how the setting of a restaurant can effect the overall experience.  Lets just say, Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out would have had a heart attack in this place. 

We began with a food and wine pairing at Kendall Jackson Estate that was out of this world. Rather than explain each picture out individually, here was the menu that we tried with the wine pairing.
  The buckwheat crepe had me wanting to try and learn how to make Crepes when we got back home.
Never thought I would love a fried green tomato.  Turns out, they're delicious, and it paired beautifully with the Chardonnay.

We both individually stated that we could have each eaten a gallon (Terry said a vat, but it's basically the same thing) of the White Bean Soup.  It was so balanced, the bacon had the perfect  fact, the puree was creamy but still had a fine grit in it; put simply it was Divine.
Our first time with Pork Belly.  We hear about it and have the opportunity on occasion, but it just always ends up seeming so "risky".  I still had a bit of a mental block with it ("I'm eating fat...and it's ok"), but Terry helped me stay on track with the Clean Plate Club.  I will say though that the Syrah was perfectly palattely (my made up word) paired with it. 

YUM!!  I couldn't stop myself from gnawing this down, so I was bad and didn't really taste the "pairing" very well in this course.  But the Cab was yummy too!

The Executive Chef, Justin Wangler, served us our final pairing.  He was so kind, gave us so many wonderful recommendations (which we used to our benefit later in the day) for food on the rest of our trip, and was just really enjoyable to be around.  Its very easy to respect someone with a solid passion for food.  (You can quote me on that. :-D)
Desserts were just as spectacular as the previous courses. Again, we both said we'd happily purchase a vat of the Buttermilk Panna Cotta if it was available for sale.  Also, they provide full recipes for all of their courses.  This was a slight variation, but just in the event anyone else is interested: Panna Cotta Link

Our popcorn lasted for snacking through the next day, but we were trying to savor every last kernel.

While we were talking to Justin, he had asked why we were vacationing, and it may have been blurted out mentioned that my birthday was the upcoming weekend.  As we were finishing up, Justin ran back out after us and brought us Vanilla Flan with Caramel Sauce along with a birthday candle. 

Lunch: Healdsburg Bar and Grille
After Justin's recommendation, we swung in for a little bite here.  We ordered crab bites, and a hamburger to split (topped with goat cheese and bacon...NOM NOM NOM).  Sitting outside in the gorgeous weather with a drink, some crab, and a burger...I was in heaven.
Afternoon Snacking: Oakville Grocery Co. AND Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar
We are in love with Oakville Grocery from over in Napa, and so we went nuts when we remembered there was also one in Healdsburg.  We spent way too much time wandering their cheeses, wines, and meats, but we got a hearty amount for snacking the rest of the week.  Then we had a mini picnic on a park bench in the Square.
 our view during the picnic

After a little more wandering, we swung in to Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar and tried their Hamachi Ceviche with Rocoto Chili, Lime Juice, Pepitas.  It was yummy, but at that point I was still so stuffed from the picnic. 

Dinner: Zuzu's in Downtown Napa
We had a hefty drive to get to our hotel for the night which was down in Napa, so we had a very late night dinner.  The entire menu is Tapas style, and we ordered 4 things (again, Tapas so small portions; we did not order 4 meals worth of food!) that every one of them was amazing. I didn't take any pictures (Boo), but I think I was just absolutely exhausted by this point, and I took little niblets of each thing, but I bet in total I had 5 bites of food.  We ordered the Tortilla Espanola which was a Potato & Sweet Onion Spanish Omelette, Harissa Spiked Lamb Burger (SO good!), Flat Iron Steak with Jalapeno Chimichurri, and the Paella, which is one of their Signature meals.  I ate most of the Spanish Bomba Rice from it.  If you're ever in Napa, do yourself a favor, make a reservation, and Enjoy!  There were only 15 or so tables in the whole restaurant, so factor in a bit of wait time though. 

Lunch: Picnic lunch again from Oakville Grocery.  Like I told you, we bought enough for snacking and lunching. SO good!
Afternoon Snack: The Farmstead
We got the recommendation to stop here from our time at Hall Wine.  Their mantra is that everything they serve is directly from farm to table.  The outside of the restaurant is completely surrounded by gardens, and all of the meats are locally sourced.  The outside was beautiful, but the inside was even more breath-taking.

Our Bounty!  The item to the left was Point Reyes blue cheese coleslaw...
Cured ham sandwiches on cheddar biscuits with fresno chile jam.  I had a VERY hard time sharing, and
Meatballs with caramelized root vegetables and tomato marmalade
As we were in the middle of our day, we just grabbed a few small plates to split, but I can only imagine how amazing their main dishes are.  This is a MUST STOP AND EAT restaurant.

Dinner: Barolos in Calistoga
We had a late dinner again (actually, after contemplating just skipping dinner for a quick minute, then realized how silly that would be).  I ordered Shrimp Pappardelle with Broccolini and chili flakes and Terry had Chicken Picatta with a Roasted Fingerling Potato Ragu.  My sauce was slamming and Terry's Chicken was juicy, so I think we tied with who's plate was better.
We may have also somehow found room to split an amazing cheesecake dessert.  No clue how we did it, but it was DELICIOUS!  It was so velvetty,  I swear it had to have been made with Marscapone!

Here's the first half.  Actually, this may not be split quite in half, but it's the perfect split point for then when the girls joined us.  Until the next post....


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