Friday, August 28, 2009

Seconds, please!

My husband and I visited Napa for the first time last year. You frequently hear about “wine country”. You read the labels on your wine bottles and see if your wine is from Sonoma, Napa, or elsewhere. You really have no idea what it looks or feels like until you visited. Our first trip Northern California wine country found us staying in Sonoma and driving around to several vineyards in Napa County. The weather was perfect – the temperature was around 80°F and the clear blue sky was framed the bright sun. As we cruised along the St. Helena Highway in our rented convertible, the top was down and the breeze was blowing our hair. We were slightly buzzed from the wine and the sound of a catchy Jason Mraz tune filled the air. We looked at each other smiling and said, “This is the life! Does it get any better than this?" We decided we must return to make an informed decision on that question.

So we headed back to the area just under a year later for a second trip to Napa. Rented convertible? Check. 80°F and sunny? Check. Wine tastings a plenty? Check plus! For this visit we had scheduled to take a wine tasting class (officially titled “ A Guided Tasting”) at Robert Mondavi. The Mondavi grounds are absolutely beautiful. The Guided Tasting class is at 10:00 am (they start your day off right!) and can hold up to 15 people per class. Much to our delightful surprise, we had a private class! Our instructor/sommelier, Doug, had a wealth of knowledge. We worked our way through several wines, learning the proper technique to taste. The intimate size of our “class” allowed us to ask questions and engage in conversation about the wine, and also learn about the Mondavi estate. For anyone traveling to wine country, this class is a MUST DO! You’ll be surprised with how much you’ll learn, and the winery and vineyards are stunning. We walked away with a bottle of Unoaked Chardonnay that we purchased (and now can't find anywhere around here to buy more of!), and a desire to call our new friend Doug for a consult every time we’d buy a bottle of wine the in future!

We then spent the rest of the day going from vineyard to vineyard, but I’ll fast-forward to dinner. After a day full of wine tasting your appetite does not desire much. However, when in Napa, there are too many quality restaurants to settle for anything less than a gourmet dinner. Napa Valley includes some marquis restaurants in the Foodie world, like French Laundry and Bouchon.

As we didn’t want to take out a second mortgage to pay for dinner, we found a reasonably priced restaurant with rave reviews in downtown Napa. Celadon is located by the Napa River. They have a large outdoor patio, as well as indoor dining. At the time of our visit, the patio was covered and heated, and we were seated next to their charming outdoor fireplace. Our server greeted us with a surprising toss of confetti (how celebratory!), and we put in our order for yes, more wine!

We started with the macadamia nut crusted goat cheese with port poached figs, apples and crostini, and a cup of the mushroom bisque.

We decided that it was the best mushroom bisque we have ever had. We finished the whole thing and ordered another. Yes, we had not yet received our entrees, weren’t even that hungry, and ordered a SECOND mushroom bisque. It was that good. (And I am still in disbelief that we ordered two.)

I had the grilled polenta napoleon with garden vegetables, fresh mozzarella and balsamic glaze. The taste of these chargrilled vegetables were able to stand up to the exquisite presentation of the dish.

My husband had the grilled c.a.b. filet mignon, braised yukon golds, sautéed mustard greens, cabernet sauce, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

I suppose one must concede that you're going to be overly full in Napa. (Even without the second order of mushroom bisque.) Don’t skimp on wine (that’s why you’re there, right?). Don’t skimp on the food either. It is a Foodie heaven. During our session at Mondavi, we asked Greg what time of year he reccommeded for a return visit to Napa. He said the best time for a Napa excursion is for the "crush" which occurs around October when the grapes are harvested. Greg said that you can drive around Napa and the smell of grapes fills the air. I foresee us needing to take a third trip to Napa to confirm his word. We'll likely be needing a convertible for that trip too!

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