Napa Valley

On Monday we explored the grandeur of Yosemite National Park (read here) and on Tuesday we drove north to Napa Valley. Yountville and Calistoga are favorites.

Of course Hannah (rightfully so!) compared everything to the movie Parent Trap! -ha.

I loved how this winery mixed fall decor with succulents. (I was taking copious notes!!)

This statue will always remind me of visiting Yountville right after my son and daughter-in-law lost their beloved dog, Max. It was such a sad time for everyone so seeing this statue entitled ‘Who Saved Who’ was very sweet.

Wandering around the old Marketplace building is enjoyable both from the perspective of the shops as well as the architectural elements of the building.

Hannah’s love for Young Frankenstein knows no end!!

Scott and I have been to the Napa Valley region in the winter, the late spring and now Fall. It’s fascinating to see how things change from season to season. One magnificent highlight dies back as a new spotlight appears somewhere else.

The French Laundry. I have talked before about my respect for this restaurant and its owner and chef, Thomas Keller. Named the Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 and 2004, recipient of the coveted 3-star Michelin award and ultimately called “the best restaurant in the world, period” in 2005 by Anthony Bourdain.

In the 1920s, the building was owned by John Lande who used it as a French steam laundry, thus the name.

The restaurant wasn’t officially open yet so Hannah and I wandered around to the back…

It was beautiful and calm in the back. Easy to imagine guests milling about on a cool, Fall evening.

But then I noticed the open windows across the way and about dropped to my knees! It was the kitchen!!! I stood for an awkward amount of time – in reverence – and watched all the kitchen staff in their sharp, white uniforms, diligently working to prepare the evening meal.

In my imagination, this was Chef Thomas Keller. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it! 🙂

The door that leads to the magic.

Not to mention that Anthony Bourdain once walked through it. Maybe stood outside and smoked a bit before returning to the kitchen to see how they prepared his delicious meal. sighhhh…..

Across the street from The French Laundry, is their garden. Without hesitation, it is the most beautifully perfect garden I have ever seen. We spent a long time walking around, reading about the different types of vegetables growing, etc. It’s the garden every gardener dreams of in their wildest imaginations.

And let’s face it – it’s all about the irrigation capabilities, right??

Bees to support the garden…

The most adorable chicken coop area…

And an enormous herb greenhouse.

It is a dream to imagine living like this. Supporting yourself through your own sustainable gardening.

We have yet to identify this nut tree. Anyone have any ideas?? (It doesn’t appear to be an almond when we broke it open.)

Down the street from The French Laundry is a Thomas Keller owned bakery, Bouchon Bakery. While I can’t afford the $310 a plate dinner at TFL, I will happily pay for the best croissant I’ve ever had. And the best macarons. Each time I come I think it might be a fluke, but no…they are the best in the universe!!!

Hanging in the Marketplace building is a colored drawing of the cookbooks from the local chefs of Napa Valley. I want every book – and the drawing of them!

We spent most of our time in Yountville, then drove through Napa’s plethora of vineyards. We’ve seen these vineyards in 3 seasons and each one is as fascinating as the next. It was fun to be experiencing it with Hannah this time.

Rows and rows of perfection.

Miles and miles of fun.

A perfect way to relax.

 

 

 

Sideways to Napa – part one

It was definitely one of our weirdest decisions. The electrician came in the morning to look at an outlet that wasn’t working properly. We worked on some house projects then did a bit of clean up in the yard. Then – about 1pm we decided it was actually a really nice day for a drive. Where should we go?? How about Napa.

In the car. Google Maps engaged. To Do list left at home. And off we went…

It was a bit of an odd time to go to wine country. The vines haven’t really started growing yet. But because of that, it was interesting to see the old, gnarled trunks – and wonder how many years they have been producing fresh new vines and grapes for our eventual enjoyment.

We were headed to Calistoga, California. I read in my handy-dandy California guide book (that has post-it tabs sticking out all over it) that Calistoga is a quaint little town to visit. So that’s what we plugged into our GPS.

On our way to Calistoga, however, we saw a sign for a Visitor’s Center and wondered if it would give us any additional information. So Scott scooted over some highway lanes and exited…

…into HEAVEN!

We literally had no idea what exit we had pulled off on.

Yountville, California. First of all, for any fellow Chef Geeks out there, this is MECCA for fine dining. If you’re a fan of Chef’s Table on Netflix, you might recognize The French Laundry. Chef Thomas Keller is a renowned chef who has been named Best Chef in America and has two restaurants with 3-star Michelin ratings. (The only American chef with that distinction.) Plus his bakery has a 1-star rating.

I think we drove for quite a few blocks with my hand over my mouth, gasping. When we finally stopped and got out, I almost felt disrespectful taking a picture of this famous restaurant. Many renowned chefs have spent time here, learning under Chef Keller’s instruction then gone on to open their own fine dining restaurants. (Sidenote: after we got back home I googled to see if there were any prices online…knowing there most likely wouldn’t be. But I found multiple sites that simply stated that a meal for two would run no less than $300 a person.)

Full disclosure: one of the reasons I remember the restaurant from Chef’s Table is that I loved the font of the restaurant title. I guess I’m an even bigger Font Geek than a Chef Geek. -ha!

The sun was SOOOOOO high and bright so taking pictures was a challenge.

But speaking of cool fonts…how about this F O R T Y  F I V E  T E N?! And the amazing white wisteria!

It was fascinating to see sleek, modern wineries as well as old and elegant wineries, all mixed in together. Each were competing for wine tastings and ambiance. One after another after another.

This luxury hotel was jaw-dropping. Wide open art galleries, pristine waitstaff, elegance coming and going. Vintage House – and those black window trimmings…oh my heart.

The wisteria. The phlox. The cherry blossoms. The dogwoods. Everywhere in California – it’s simply been amazing to see spring on the west coast. It is impossible to describe the brilliance and magnitude.

Scott and I were fascinated with these two men…

The man and the baker carrying out bags of bagettes to his car. What’s the story?! I was so curious. Their difference in stature certainly stood out on the cozy sidewalks of this fascinating town.

We weren’t dressed properly for the $300/per meal (…and by ‘dressed correctly’ I mean a checkbook with $600 of disposable loot) but we did have the flakiest, butteriest, delicious’est Michelin-star croissant I’ve ever had at Bouchon Bakery.

Yountville wasn’t necessarily a ‘walk and shop’ type of town. It was filled with luxury everything: hotels, spas, wineries, restaurants. There was a Marketplace area we walked through with a few shops, chocolatiers, cigars and of course – wines.

If you look closely, you can see the bubble above Scott’s head as he counts zeros…

I liked this t-shirt…!

(Is this heaven?!) This side of heaven or the other side – I will be a Vespa owner.

This was a large courtyard that I’m sure is used for events and tastings.

Even the town’s fan-leaf palms didn’t dare have brown-tipped leaves (as are common in all other fan-leaf palms!)

The design of this hotel and spa took my breath away as we drove by on our way into town. As we walked by, we went over to read it’s history…….I shouldn’t have been surprised…

My old alma-mater: USGBC. To receive a LEED Platinum is very difficult. But to do it as a hotel is almost unheard of. It is very difficult for a business like a hotel to prove environmentally sound procedures. Think of the laundry and toiletries alone. So for Bardessono to have achieved the top LEED level is incredible. One of only two hotels in America to have been awarded a Platinum level. Impressive!

And right across the street was this old French Country Inn. Everything about it looked like a cottage tucked away in a the French countryside. Like I said, the old with the new. It was a heady combination and provided lots of visual stimulation overload.

Scott liked this sign in their window stating that in case of an earthquake, this building was not safe to be in.

But at least it’s not a Midwest tornado that we would have to go through this door to the basement. Yikes!

Yountville’s Town Hall…

There were tourists walking all over town – in their linens and flowy skirts. It was like being on a movie set. But along with the tourists were plenty of residents. People out walking their dogs and working in their yards.

Another constant throughout the city (due to the time that we were there…around 4:30pm) were wait staff. Men and women in starched black and white attire. They were getting out of their cars and heading into work. Most of the restaurants were only open for dinner so they were arriving to work to start a busy night. I would like to believe their tips are substantial.

After our jaw-dropping walk through Yountville, we went back to our car to keep driving to our original destination: Calastoga.

(on to the Part Two post…)