Cooking with Jason

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Nothing but Napa

OK, that's a lie, because I'm going to tell you about my exam last week as well. To make a long story short, I passed the Level I exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers. It wasn't all that difficult, to be honest. Mr. Weiss' class at school was plenty of preparation; I wish they had just let me take the test instead of sitting through a day and a half of class first. If I take Level II it's a test only, so that's good. I'd much rather study on my own for this sort of thing.

After getting back from the city late Tuesday, I flew to Sacramento Thursday night. The plan was to get a rental car, stay the night in Sacramento near the airport, then drive to Napa Friday and find us a place to live while I do my training at Rutherford Grill. Unfortunately, my flight from JFK took off nearly two hours late, so I didn't land in Sacramento until 1:30am, at which time the rental car counter (I had a reservation, mind you) had closed. I took a taxi to the hotel (thank goodness I booked one near the airport), slept for a few hours, then took a taxi back to the airport to get the rental car. Then, the drive to Napa.

I quickly forgot about my rental car ordeal upon arriving in Napa Valley -- it's gorgeous. Vineyards everywhere. It even looks great now, and there aren't even any grapes on the vines. The city of Napa is much bigger and city-like than I had guessed. It's much more pleasant as you drive north on 29 and go through smaller towns like Oakville, Rutherford, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. I looked at a few places Friday, one good and the rest... not so much.

Friday night, I trekked down to Sonoma for dinner at Cafe La Haye. Norm Owens, who was the sous chef at Canlis during my externship, is now executive chef at a really small place in downtown Sonoma. There are about 35 seats plus four more at the bar, and the kitchen is the size of a closet. He's got two ovens and maybe ten burners, one guy working beside him on the line, another guy doing salads and desserts, a dishwaher, and that's it. It's quite the departure from Canlis to be certain. The food's great, though. I had a treviso salad with candied walnuts, buttermilk blue cheese, and roasted pear vinaigrette. Next, Norm sent me a course I didn't order, crispy sweetbreads on house-ground polenta. Awesome. Then his latest addition to the menu, pork tenderloin with cabbage-apple slaw, whole grain mustard, and a bacon apple cider vinegar sauce. Also awesome. With this I paired a local (or course) pinot noir. For dessert, I had a dense apple cake with whipped cream, and a glass of one of my favorite ports, Warre's 1995 Late Bottled Vintage.

I got an early start today (Saturday), saw a few more places, decided on the good one from Friday, and then did some sightseeing. And by sightseeing, I mean I parked the car in Yountville and then walked around soaking up as much Thomas Keller as I possibly could -- The French Laundry, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, and Ad Hoc are all within a five-minute walk of one another. As it was over 70 degrees today, I grabbed an iced coffee (and a chocolate bouchon, which is like a really dense and fudgy cupcake) at Bouchon Bakery. Upon snooping around the grounds at the French Laundry, I saw the man himself standing in the kitchen. No, I didn't wave or knock on the window and say hi.

For dinner, I decided it was about time I dined at Rutherford Grill. As it was when I dropped in to meet with the GM earlier in the afternoon, the restaurant was packed. I hear them telling people it might be 90 minutes to get a table. Rutherford Grill doesn't take reservations. I was able to grab a seat at the bar, where I dined on a nice thick slice of prime rib with mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage, and key lime pie for dessert. Yum.

After dinner, I drove back to Sacramento, where I'm currently sitting in the airport waiting for my flight. Hooray for airports with wireless hotspots.

Anyway, I found a house for us to rent in Calistoga, which is at the north end of the valley (Napa is at the south end). It's about 20 minutes or so from Rutherford Grill, a bit more with traffic, and in a nice quiet neighborhood. I won't be at all upset if we wind up staying longer than the 16 weeks of my training.

Now all we have to do is work out details with the moving company, figure out how we're going to get across the country, and get nice and settled before I start work the first week of April. These are exciting times!


  • You made a great choice by settling on Calistoga. I don't know if you're into bicycling, but now would be a good time to start. There is some beautiful country just north of you. And some fantastic wines too. Make the trip up north through Knights Valley to Alexander Valley. You won't regret it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home