At least once in every food-obsessed person’s lifetime, the opportunity to go absolutely nuts must be seized. This has been an amazing year for us and we’re celebrating our good fortune by indulging in what may be our most epic culinary splurge – ever! It’s Friday, December 9, 2011 and we’re sitting in our beautiful room in Yountville, California’s Vintage Inn, just steps from Ad Hoc, Bouchon and one of the world’s greatest temples of food, The French Laundry. Yountville is a diner’s paradise, chuck full of the best food California has to offer and we’re here to eat as much of it as we can stomach in three days.
We started this weekend’s celebration with lunch at Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. Tucked away in a discreet, but easy to get to spot on Washington Street (arguably the globes most prestigious culinary address), Bottega fits right in with the stylized European-inspired architecture common to this short stretch of a town with its rich, earth colored interiors and old world sensibility – entirely appropriate in the heart of California’s wine country.
Our meal started with a nice hunk of crusty bread and a bit of olive oil embellished with bits of hard cheese and herbs. The antipasti menu had us agonizing over so many choices, but we managed to settle on the Wood Grilled Octopus and the Lamb & Egg. Both were excellent. The octopus was served with a slice of olive oil braised potato, pickled red onions and a salsa verde. While the dish was delicious, one of us was less impressed than the other because of his near obsessive adoration of the many octopus dishes we devoured in Spain this summer. Now nothing seems to meet his high bar.
The Lamb & Egg was amazing! The kitchen’s “house made” lamb sausage is served with a pepperonata (caramelized peppers) and a crispy soft boiled egg, red endive and smoked olive oil poached enoki mushrooms. The creamy, soft-yolked eggs are briefly boiled then lightly battered and finally quickly deep-fried. The crisp, slightly bitter endive tempered the richness of the egg yolk and sausage. The mushrooms, while texturally perfect, were a bit flavorless and superfluous with everything else going on in the dish.
Bottega’s pasta menu is inspiring. We opted for the Red Wheat Tagliarini Bolognese. Thicker than spaghetti, the tagliarini was cooked as it should be – toothsome and well seasoned. It came smothered in a rich, meaty sugo of veal, pork and porcini mushroom scented with rosemary and enriched with parmigiano reggiano. We wanted to lick our plates clean once it was gone, but thought better of it. We still had the Paprika Oil Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak to eat, after all, and we didn’t want the rest of the dining room to suffer a couple of poorly mannered chow hounds. The steak arrived just as ordered, medium rare and tender, accompanied by Yukon Gold potato chips, salsa rossa and a pile of arugula.
We washed the meal down with a Trumer Pils and a flight of zinfandels served to represent the diversity of styles available in a wine that has its origins in Croatia. The Italian was light and unremarkable while the Chiarello produced California zinfandel was typical of the region with its big, chewy fruit. The Croatian wine was the star of the trio. We would have been happy with a bottle.
Service at Botegga was spot on – informed, efficient and friendly. Our meal was memorable and a fine beginning to a long weekend of grand dining.
Our Friday dining splurge didn’t stop with Bottega. After lunch, we did a little shopping before returning to the hotel for an evening wine tasting and a walk. We needed to keep moving to work up an appetite for our next big meal at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, a decidedly casual destination that serves hearty, four course, prix fix meals that change nightly.
Our first course was a salad of baby mixed greens, toasted sunflower seeds, shaved shallots, pickled baby fennel and cauliflower, olives, anchovies and crispy capers, dressed in a red wine vinaigrette. The Snake River Farms Pork Loin gave us pause until it arrived. The savory, juicy pork was surprisingly delicious as were the accompanying black eyed peas, roasted baby beets, toasted farrow and braised chard. In spite of all we’d eaten up to the point of the pork loin, we wanted to lick the pan it was served in and we still had two courses to go.
Our third course, a wine washed raw cow’s milk cheese, was as rich as you might imagine made all the more so by the accompanying paladin toast and black trumpet mushrooms. We couldn’t eat it all. When the tiramisu arrived at the table, we nearly fell out of our seats. Desert was presented in a big soup bowl that was filled to the rim with mascarpone and house made ladyfingers. We were ready to cry uncle, but we dove in anyway. While tasty, it wasn’t amazing. The cookies were tough to cut through with a spoon. It’s a small complaint, and after all we’d eaten, it would have taken nothing less than perfect to get us to finish desert. We simply couldn’t this time.
A Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau washed the meal down, aided by an end-of-meal espresso. Our hats off to the staff at Ad Hoc. Our server couldn’t have been more charming.