Archive for the ‘Napa Valley’ Tag

Wine Tales   Leave a comment


When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Napa. I dreaded the inevitable drives with my parents through the valley to the small, mostly-family-run wineries. Curvy and narrow roads and not being old enough to even sip wine further contributed to my discomfort.

The roads remain narrow, but seem to wind less; my grandparents aren’t alive, and now there are more wineries than I could have ever imagined. Several years ago, my husband and I discovered HALL Wines, so I looked forward to reading A Perfect Score by Craig and Kathryn Hall.

The co-proprietors of HALL and WALT Wines are relative newcomers to the industry; they didn’t launch their first wines until 1995. Although, Kathryn grew up on her parents’ vineyard in Mendocino County (California); Craig, on the other hand, admits to once having little knowledge of wines.


This is several stories woven into one: How the couple met, came to purchase property in the Napa and Sonoma valleys and ultimately how one of their wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, earned 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker, Jr., in 2013.

The Halls had their share of setbacks, but their apparent optimistic dispositions and a lot of good luck served them well. The book addresses life in Napa Valley, the camaraderie among vintners, the concerns of neighbors regarding the Halls’ construction plans, the philanthropy of winemakers, the caliber of the Hall staff and more.

This is a quick, fun read and made me want to open a bottle of HALL wine.

A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery
Three Bookmarks
Center Street, 2016
207 pages


cook lives up to its name   Leave a comment

cook sign

cook st. helena features a relatively small menu but big flavors. This undersized, and noisy, restaurant in downtown St. Helena, in the heart of the Napa Valley, has barely more than two dozen offerings. In fact, its wine list is longer than the menu. This means the restaurant does a few things very well, rather than many mediocre.cookinterior


In the soup and salad category there’s a Caesar or Chopped along with the soup of the day. However, heirloom tomatoes with evoo, grey salt and basil in the Sides listing caught my eye. That’s what I chose as my starter. There’s nothing that tastes like summer, even when fall is in the air, like a garden fresh tomato. The olive oil, grey salt and fresh basil were the equivalent of extra gifts on a special occasion.



Four types of house made pastas are available every night, and the entrees include chicken, pork, trout and a daily risotto. On my visit, the latter was served with a seared scallop, mussels and Temele cheese drizzled with a light fennel sauce. I asked the server three times to repeat the name of the cheese. I’d never heard of it, and it sounded intriguing; also I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a goat cheese. I wasn’t disappointed. The risotto was creamy thanks to the buttery soft cheese. My husband’s slow roasted pork was slightly spicy, but tender.



We were comfortably sated, and none of the desserts sounded tempting enough to push us over the edge.

cook st. helena
Four Plates
1310 Main St.
St. Helena, Calif.

Ad Hoc — Improvisation at its Best   Leave a comment

Ad Hoc began as a temporary restaurant. More than seven years later it remains a dining hot spot in an area rich with popular dinner options. It was created by Thomas Keller, the man behind Bouchon and the French Laundry. Besides the Keller lineage and exceptional food, Ad Hoc has little in common with those restaurants.adhocsalad The menu changes daily, meals are served family style and the eatery is only open five nights a week. Although accommodations are made for dietary needs, the four-course prix fixe menu means few decisions are necessary. A few add-ons are available.adocentree The meal started with Iceberg Wedge Salad saved from ordinariness by the inclusion of lardon. The entrée was far more memorable: Grilled Hanger Steak with brown mushroom sauce, haricot verte, eggplant and butternut squash over Carolina Gold Rice. The latter is worth distinguishing: an aromatic long grain from South Carolina. The vegetables are from the tfl garden – The French Laundry garden. The meat. Ah, the meat was so flavorful just thinking of it would keep me from ever considering vegetarianism. adhocsteak adhoccheese A cheese plate with Cowgirl’s Creamery buttery Mt. Tam, toasted nuts and Marshall Farm honey was a nice segue from entrée to dessert. I’m typically not a fan of bread pudding, but this Caramel Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream and fresh blueberry sauce made me want to move to Yountville so I could come back for more. Since there’s no way to know what the menu is from one night to another, I’d just have to keep returning until it reappeared. Darn! adhocdessert Ad Hoc
Five Plates
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, Calif.

The Other CIA   Leave a comment


It’s often a barely discernible mistep on a fine dining experience that puts everything else off-kilter. When at a table set with a bread plate, a butter knife and a bottle of olive oil, I expect bread. Even if I don’t always eat it (which I usually do), the cues tell me it’s coming. Its absence is distracting. Such was the case at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley. Since our server was nowhere in sight after our salads arrived we couldn’t even request it.

The mix of greens with red and yellow tomatoes were delicately coated in a pesto dressing. Roasted corn and pearl mozzarella, suggestive of miniature marshmallows, took the salad to another level. Nonetheless, the pesto dressing would have been perfect to soak up with a hard-crusted piece of bread.

CIA cod

Once the entrees arrived, I forgot the missing bread, at least temporarily. Pan-seared Ling Cod, delicate in flavor and texture, was served on a bed of creamed spinach. Creamed spinach gets a bad rep; I’ll defend it any chance I get. The addition of Shitake mushrooms made something good even better.

CIA sampler

A choice of four desserts, not counting a selection of artisan cheeses, made it difficult to reach a decision, so the sampler settled the issue. Two were particularly intriguing: Piped Cheesecake and Sliced Chocolate. The former was a deconstructed version. The latter was dark chocolate with spheres of crème brulee. Don’t ask.

Still, I did miss that bread.

Wine Spectator Greystone
Four Plates (Barely)
25555 Main St.
St. Helena, Calif.