The Big Eat – Part II

Steps away from amazing food.

We woke up Saturday morning to Vintage Inn’s “Champagne Brunch” spread. After all we’d eaten Friday, we surprised ourselves by diving headlong into the omelet station. The jog we planned for later in the day became imperative if we were going to enjoy the rest of the day’s culinary indulgences. Because after all, we do live, breathe and write about food.

After a four-plus mile run through Yountville and a local vineyard, we still weren’t hungry for a typical lunch. We knew we’d be famished if we didn’t get a little something into our bellies before our Bouchon reservations at 7:45, so we tucked into Philippe Jeanty’s charming Bistro Jeanty for a cocktail and a bar bite to take the edge off.

Bistro Jeanty

Seated at the bar, we sipped our drinks and noshed on a hearty serving of Terrine de Lapin (rabbit pate) accompanied by céleri rémoulade (celery root and apple salad), cornichons and a tasty housemade yellow pepper mustard dressing. The thick slice of terrine was well balanced with the lean, meaty rabbit and pork fat. The pepper mustard was an elegant accompaniment to the rich charcuterie.

Rabbit terrine on the left, ratatouille on the right.

Terrine would have done the job of curbing hunger, but we’re on holiday and the ratatouille on the menu was irresistible. Served in a small casserole and bubbling hot, the ratatouille was beautiful with its thin neat scalloped layers of tomato and zucchini (very similar in presentation to the ratatouille dish in the Pixar film of the same name) concealing a savory, saucy vegetable mélange. We sopped up the juices with slices of crusty baguette, finished our drinks and headed back to our room to rest up for the evening’s main event.

Bouchon Bistro

Bouchon at night with the full moon on the right. Hey, that rhymes.

Day two in Yountville and we’re seated once again at a Thomas Keller restaurant. This is our second meal at Bouchon (the first was a brunch back in 2007) and this time it is to celebrate the nineteenth anniversary of the night we met. Still working off the rabbit, Jason recommended we take it easy and share a salad, an entrée, and a side of French fries dusted with truffles so we could save some room for dessert.

There are times when the lighting in restaurants needs a little help.

We ignored the evening specials and ordered a Salade de Cresson et d’Endives au Roquefort, Pommes et Noix (cress and endive salad with bleu cheese, apple and walnut). We love crisp, bitter leaves of endive and these were nicely dressed with a walnut vinaigrette that added a warm, nutty richness to the salad. Peppery watercress and small cubes of fuji apple gave the dish a bright tang and the bites of bleu cheese added a bit of richness. The rather tall pile of a salad was hearty and filling and once our plates were empty, we knew we’d made the right decision about sharing an entrée.

Using the iPhone flashlight app and Photoshop, this photo came out a little better.

Always suckers for short ribs, we ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon. Still haunted by the memory of the short rib hash we enjoyed back in ’07, Steve couldn’t resist the braised beef dish that so many consider quintessential French bistro fare. Of course, any foodie will tell you that Boeuf Bourguignon is Julia’s signature dish. Served with a generous slice of thick porkbelly (bacon), cipollini onions, root vegetables, butter noodles and red wine sauce, the dish was an ideal antidote to the chill of the evening. The braised beef was tender but not mushy and the red wine jus gave each piece a beautiful lacquer finish. Tender egg noodles sopped up the sauce and the bacon scented the dish with sweet smoke. We loved this dish, but the root vegetables need some work. We found the cubed veggies to be a little off, tasting of cardboard. But because they weren’t well integrated, we were able to push them aside without losing anything else in the dish.

The stand out star of the evening was the basket of truffle dusted French fries. Mind you, almost anything with truffles will shoot your taste buds into orbit, but these fries were crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, just as they should be. The photo we took was too blurred to publish, but just imagine a cone filled with these beauties.

The best photo of the night, but sadly the most disappointing dish.

After finishing our half-carafe of the house red wine ($25 for 500 ml = bargain), we sipped coffee and attempted a slice of Tarte au Citron (lemon tart). The tart slice was beyond generous; double the size one would expect from a fine restaurant of Bouchon’s caliber. Alas, while the tangy lemon sabayon was refreshing, we didn’t love the pine nut tart pastry. We love pine nuts and we eat them regularly, but they are delicate and tend to oxidize quickly. We don’t know if the crust failed because of the nuts, but our server admitted that this desert was a love-it-or-hate-it gamble as some customers found the shell to exhibit odd, off-putting flavors, while others believe it to be wonderful. He graciously removed it from the table, and our tab, and replaced it with a lovely bag of the bakery’s signature Chocolate Bouchons (dense brownies), which we took to go.

Even with the minor meal infractions at Bouchon, we left very pleased with the experience, service and the food, which is exactly why we dine out.

Next up: The French Laundry

Godmé and Gougères

In April, we spent a quiet morning in the Champagne vineyards just outside of Reims before venturing into the village of Verzenay where we were introduced to the Godmé matriarchs and sipped their stunning Godmé Père et Fils wines. After touring the family’s caves, our O’Chateau guide, Trong,  schooled us on the mechanics of Champagne production before returning us to the surface where we were seated at a guest table and served generous pours of the house’s flight of grand cru and premier cru bottlings. We were transfixed by the complexity and finesse of each bottle we tasted so we brought back three bottles for celebrations throughout 2010 and 2011. Never, in all our years of sparkling indulgence had we tasted anything quite so exquisite!

A collage of photos taken at maison Godme.

A collage of photos taken at maison Godmé.

Our 18th anniversary was Friday, but we ended up celebrating it at home on Saturday. We wanted some sort of French themed menu to go with the special bottle of Champagne and ended up at Tartine Bakery, in San Francisco, for their wonderful walnut bread, to be used in a Zuni Cafeinspired roast chicken and bread salad, and a couple gougères, which are the tastiest, and biggest, gougères we’ve eaten. The air-filled puff of savory pâte à choux is peppery and cheesy and … you get the idea. Tartine’s gougères are giant specimens – crisp and golden brown on the outside, airy and tender on the inside. But these round puffs of pastry goodness make great hors d’oeuvres when baked up in smaller, bite-sized portions. We’ve made gougères at home before with great success but we find it much easier to stand in line to get our hands on Tartine’s version. It also gives us a chance to order many other baked goodies that they make so well.

The gougères paired perfectly with the crisp Godmé Père et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rose. As we ate the gougères and drank the wine we talked about how spoiled we are when so many of us aren’t doing as well as we all should be doing. We have great lives and we are thankful everyday for them. That we were able to bring together two of our favorite food/wine producers in our celebratory meal speaks to the kind of year we’ve had.

We finished the Godmé just as we were ready to eat our roast chicken and bread salad. With that we drank a very modest bottle of Freixenet Carta Nevada Cava. We’ve been drinking Freixenet for years because we like its classic cava finish, but the taste of the Freixenet brought us back to reality with its bold flavor and unmemorable finish, and because it’s one of the least expensive good tasting wines on the market. But for those few moments with the Godmé earlier in the evening we felt like we were back in France. It may not be every day we get to sip Godmé Champagne and eat Tartine gougères, but we do know that we’ll have at least two more experiences with the Godmé before it’s gone. As for the gougères, we’re lucky enough to enjoy them so long as Tartine produces them.


Gougères from Tartine

310g (1-1/4 cups) nonfat milk (or water, or half whole milk and half water)
140g (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
140g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
115g (4oz or 3/4 cup grated) Gruyère cheese, grated
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

1 large egg
pinch of salt
grated Gruyère cheese for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Line a sheet pan with parchment.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, butter, and 1-teaspoon salt and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a rolling boil. Dump all the flour in and stir madly with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth mass that pulls away from the sides of the pan, leaving a thin film of dried dough on the bottom, about 3 minutes.

Place the dough in a large mixing bowl and beat for about a minute, then add each of the 5 eggs, one at a time, beating at medium speed until smooth. Stir in the cheese, pepper, and thyme. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe 3-inch rounds about 1 inch high onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart (if making hors d’oeuvres, make 1-inch mounds 1-1/2 inches apart).

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and salt together and brush the tops of the mounds with the egg wash. Lightly sprinkle each with a little grated Gruyère. Bake them for 35 to 45 minutes (25 minutes for the small versions), or until golden brown. Puncture the bottom of each with a knife and cool in the turned-off oven until serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Zuni-inspired Roasted Chicken and Bread Salad

1 small whole roasted chicken, approximately 3 lbs, boned and cut into 2 inch pieces, skin on
8 ounces crusty country bread (not sourdough), cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
4 – 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 – 3 garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup slivered scallions, including a little bit of the green part
2 tablespoons slightly salted water
1 tablespoon dried currents or raisins
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon warm water
2 handfuls mixed lettuce greens
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bread Salad

Preheat oven to 450. Place currents in a small bowl and cover with red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside. Heat 1-tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet and sauté garlic and green onions until fragrant and slightly soft but before they color. Remove to a small prep bowl and set aside. Toss bread cubes in two tablespoons oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake until just slightly toasted, approximately 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from oven and pour in to large mixing bowl. Pour pine nuts and currents with their vinegar and water over the toasted bread cubes. Add sautéed garlic and scallions and toss to coat. Pour the bread cube mixture into a baking dish and tent with foil. Set in oven and bake approximately 15 – 20 minutes or until the bread starts to dry out and darken. Remove from oven and set aside.


In a large salad bowl, add Champagne vinegar, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk to combine and taste, adjusting for balance. Add lettuce, chicken and bread salad and toss until thoroughly coated with the vinaigrette.