Friday, June 18, 2010

Napa Valley - Where we changed our name from Sutton to Glutton! (June 2-7)

Well…gluttons is certainly what we felt like while we were in the Napa Valley for 5 nights. Napa Valley, north of San Francisco is the largest wine region in the States with hundreds of wineries and wine tasting opportunities. For those of you who are thinking ‘haven’t these guys had enough of wine already?’, the answer is a firm ‘no’! The fact that the wineries here charge for tastings did mean that we were able to taste in moderation…hehe. The wineries we visited were stunning pieces of architecture in themselves and some with gorgeous views over the valley. Unfortunately we were turned off by some wineries that were quite commercial, impersonal and wine that was overpriced and underwhelming. South Aussies, think Jacob’s Creek (sorry if you’re a fan). We did find some treasures of course which we consumed with much satisfaction.

In addition to wine, Napa Valley is famous for it’s fine dining and culinary excellence. The area is home to a restaurant called ‘The French Laundry’ which in the last few years has won awards for the best restaurant in the world! Unfortunately we chose not to eat there due to the extraordinary price tag of $300+ per person!!! We did however have extremely good food whilst in Napa at a fraction of that price….

The first night in the area we stopped for dinner at Farmstead restaurant in Saint Helena - a very funky place set up in a barn type building with an outdoor bar. We have discovered that sitting at the bar to eat in a restaurant instead of a table is much more exciting and you may just make friends with the locals or even the restaurant staff. We chatted to the Bar Tender all night; met the owner who was so impressed with our van and invited us to stay overnight in the car park (which we did); and we also got to meet the Head Chef – Shamus who was obviously extremely passionate about food. Needless to say, we latched onto him for a while, chatted about cuisine and received new recommendations of where to eat. We have to mention that it was here Tim ate the most incredible gourmet burger ever!! Home made everything including the ketchup and bun!

Another restaurant that we have to mention is Piero in Yountville that serves ‘to die for’ Italian food – everything made from scratch on the premises and their products are top notch, right down to the wine list! We did become a bit of a distraction for our waiter – Colin who we ended up chatting to for a large portion of the night while his other customers were potentially neglected. The food was good enough to lure us back again within a couple of days, this time we sat at the bar where we were entertained by the staff. The Restaurant Manager (Paul) managed to convert us to dessert wine (we told him we didn’t like it, guess he was up for the challenge!). He poured us some local and Italian wine ‘on the house’ which we later learned were priced up to $135 per 500ml bottle. Hmmm, maybe the reason they were so good? Conversion successful nonetheless….we won’t be so quick to judge a bottle by it’s label in the future.

We stayed until close and much to our amusement were invited to go out with the staff for drinks. What a brilliant bunch of people! We talked like we were old friends and laughed so hard we couldn’t laugh anymore! We exchanged details and invited them all to Oz while they invited us to stay with them if we are ever in the Napa area again. We said our goodbyes and the next day couldn’t help ourselves….we returned to the same restaurant for dessert!! But, it wasn’t just any dessert…it was the best chocolate mousse topped with chocolate coated rock salt! If you haven’t tried salted chocolate yet, you must!! It’s what we call a ‘party in your mouth’ experience. Anyway, back from the slight tangent… When we walked into the restaurant we were greeted with handshakes and hugs just like old friends. This time we also met some of the staff’s partners (Natalie & Kelly) who were eating at the bar. We had the opportunity to share some of our journey with them and discovered we were very like-minded. We talked about seizing the day and not wasting a single minute being held back by fear or restricted by possessions. We also discussed maintaining faith in humanity and the value of reaching out to a stranger no matter where you are in the world. The conversation challenged us again to make the most of every moment during this incredible time in our lives.

Other highlights in the Napa…..

- Chocolate tasting at the Culinary Institute of America where we learned that the taste of chocolate is affected by terroir (French word for conditions ie. Climate, soil etc). We tasted some that had berry undertones and another citrus all because the cocoa beans were grown in different parts of the world and under different conditions. Interesting!!

- Food and wine pairing class where we learned how to tone down or amplify the dominant feature in wine ie. Fruit and/or tannins using food.

- Champagne tasting and cheese pairing at Domaine Carneros…a famous winery using French grapes and who has the reputation of making champagne equivalent to Dom Perignon at a fraction of the price.

- AND saving the best for last…..spending time with couch surfers Coco and Josh who enriched our experience so much. These guys need their own post (to come next).


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