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Yountville: Wine Country Weekend

March 14, 2011

While I was in college in the early 1990s, I made frequent visits to Napa Valley–not to drink wine but to eat.  Whenever our class schedules would permit, my partner-in-crime (aka best friend) and I would take to the scenic wine country road and spend the afternoon catching up about our school and work loads, always over good food at Mustards Grill, Tra Vigne or at any of the other trendy restaurants. This was well before I became familiar with the merits of locally-sourced produce, a practice that the aforementioned restaurants had long followed.  I never thought beyond the fact that the food simply tasted good.

At that time, Yountville’s star was not yet as bright as those of fellow Napa Valley cities, Napa and St. Helena.  It would be a couple of years before Tomas Keller would flip the light switch through The French Laundry and Bouchon.  And despite several visits in the intervening years, it was my short stay in Yountville this weekend that allowed me to see the town and enjoy it from a different perspective: through my food blogger eyes.

The beauty of the town goes far beyond what the eyes can see.  Sure there are countless quaint storefront displays, hotel courtyards that entice with the look and feel of a Mediterranean villa and of course, the endless parade of blooming flowers.  Out of all the senses, Taste seems to have the most to enjoy around Yountville; it’s no wonder food-minded folk flock here.  The draw is not only for the high-end restaurants but I discovered that a humble taco truck can have a place alongside its Michelin-decorated cousins.

The taco truck to the right was parked across the street from Hotel Luca, our home for the weekend while a group of us celebrated a friend’s milestone birthday.  Though our friends had enjoyed a day of wine tasting and fun dining before our arrival on Saturday, all talk was about the best, freshest-tasting tacos you can get for only $1.50, meat and herbs piled high on top of two fresh corn tortillas.  So despite a late sit-down lunch and dinner to come, I made a taco date with my friend Logan.  Dressed for dinner, we met at the hotel’s courtyard at 6 pm and promptly walked across the street.  The pork belly tacos and the lengua tacos are worthy of all I heard about them.  I was told by a local later that Tacos Garcia is a bit of a hidden gem in Yountville, but some searching on Google reveals that it may not be so hidden anymore.  I borrowed this image from the Sacramento Bee who published an article on this mobile eatery sometime ago.  I was too excited about eating the tacos to even think about taking a picture–bad food blogger, I know. I missed showing you the stretch limousine parked next to it whose passenger must have had the same thing in mind: Pork!

The highlight of Saturday evening was the celebration of our friend’s birthday at Bottega, another bright star in Yountville’s gastronomic lineup.  Owned by Food Network personality, Michael Chiarello (also former owner of aforementioned Tra Vigne) Bottega is full of Napa Valley charm with its wood beams and brick walls and an appealing California-Italian inspired menu. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I spotted Mr. Chiarello hosting a cooking demo (I think) at his Napa Style store (furnishings, wine, food, books) across the breezeway.  I snapped a distant shot from the Bottega entrance and that was that.  Moments later I learned that the the birthday celebrant and her husband had booked a private party and that it would be held inside the Napa Style store, Bottega menu.

Our friends and the Bottega staff planned a very nice party but the food shared the limelight with the birthday girl.  I’m a picky Italian food eater and I will admit that most times I’m disappointed by what I get at Italian restaurants.  I judge a restaurant by its carbonara or bolognese sauce and if it doesn’t pass, my disappointment is big.

I’m happy to say that Bottega passes with flying colors.  Their trenne pasta with bolognese ragu was spot on.  They even use porcini mushrooms like I do.  The gnocchi was perfect; no other word to describe it and I’m not normally a gnocchi fan.  Their calamari with nero aoili? How clever to use squid ink (love it) in the condiment! By the time I got to the generously portioned short rib, I was almost full (the tacos were partly to blame, I suppose); I, of course, made room for the gold-dusted, white-chocolate walled birthday cake.  And guess what turned out to be a great surprise?

Just protecting my friend's privacy! She was a fan, too.

During dinner, Mr. Chiarello paid a visit.  Earlier, I asked the party organizer if it would be possible to get my Bottega book signed to which she nicely said that she would see what she could do.  I had my back to the door so imagine my surprise when THE chef himself came up directly behind me! Ever charming, ever gracious, Mr. Chiarello chatted and laughed with us.  I’m not normally prone to being star struck (well, except for meeting Pluto and Goofy at Disneyland as a child) but you can see from my big smile that I had fun meeting someone who cooks for me on television everyday.  These candid shots are not the best but I appreciate one of my friends quickly grabbing my phone to take them.  I should have clearer photos from a better camera later in the week.

There’s something for everyone at Yountville but most of all, there’s a lot of wonderful food.  If you haven’t tried Bottega, I highly recommend you do so soon.  I can’t wait until my next visit.

Note:  My apologies for the poor-quality, camera phone images. Will remember to take my real camera next time!


34 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2011 6:14 AM

    Have never been to this town and enjoyed the visit with you!

  2. March 14, 2011 7:00 AM

    Jean – what a GREAT weekend! I absolutely adore Yountville and Bottega is absolutely wonderful. I love the polenta under glass – not sure if you had it. That is SO cool that you were surprised by the owner himself. I met him there about a year ago and he is a such a gracious person. This is a great post!!! Have a great week ahead!! 🙂

    • March 17, 2011 5:59 PM

      Lisa, I didn’t have the polenta but I surely want to go back to Bottega to have a taste of the rest of the menu. Hmm, maybe the cookbook has the recipe. 🙂

  3. March 14, 2011 8:27 AM

    This place looks wonderful. I’ve visited Yountville a few times, but have only eaten at one place (Bistro Jeanty). We are taking a trip to Big Sur in June and plan on heading up there to go to The French Laundry. Quite excited to spend some more time there.

    • March 17, 2011 6:02 PM

      Brian, you can’t really go wrong in Yountville, right? I’ve not tried Bistro Jeanty but my friends have and they liked it. Big Sur will be so much fun, I’m sure. It never gets old visiting that part of California. 🙂

  4. March 14, 2011 8:53 AM

    Hey there Jean, what a fantastic weekned you had and a celebrity chef snap pics:). I wish we’ve done this when we were in SF a year ago, but you inspired me to do it next time we are that way!! Gorgeous weekend!

    • March 17, 2011 6:03 PM

      Hi Shulie,
      Yes, do try to visit Yountville on your next visit. It had been a while since mine and it was great fun getting to know the town again. 🙂

  5. March 14, 2011 9:02 AM

    I LOVE Napa and Yountville and it’s pretty much become a tradition to go every time I’m in the Bay Area now, especially to swing by Bouchon Bakery. I’ve spotted that Taco truck and it’s one of my goals to try the tacos next time I’m there, along with eating at The French Laundry at some point in my life. Now I really want to try Bottega, it sounds wonderful!

    • March 17, 2011 6:05 PM

      Hi Lisa,
      The taco truck was such an awesome find. The pork belly tacos were soooo good! I haven’t been to the French Laundry either but I highly recommend Bottega. 🙂

  6. March 14, 2011 9:45 AM

    Jean: What a fantastic weekend! I would be starstruck too, to meet Chef Chiarello. 😉

    You’ve made me long to be back in Yountville too. A couple of years ago Hubby and I made our first visit to Napa. I didn’t know what to expect staying in Yountville (the Yountville Inn) but couldn’t have picked a better place. Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc were down the street and I loved its smaller more intimate feel. {sigh} I need to plan a trip soon.

    Thank you for sharing and the inspiration for me to get off my butt and make another visit soon!

    • March 17, 2011 6:06 PM

      Cristina, Yountville is definitely worth a return visit. I like the small town feel, too. Besides, how can you go wrong with all that great food, right? 🙂

  7. March 14, 2011 10:03 AM

    LOVE Yountville – we were there last summer and ate at Bouchon because we could not get into Bottega. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you!

  8. March 14, 2011 10:07 AM

    What a great, great weekend and surprise from the main man!

  9. March 14, 2011 10:46 AM

    Oh Jean, what a lovely visit! I was lucky enough to get to visit Yountville when I was in town, but I mostly wandered gazing in at the restaurants I would’ve liked to have eaten at (I had lunch at Bouchon, though, so not so bad!)

    How wonderful to get to meet one of your culinary idols, too – I totally know that feeling, it’s how I felt when Grant Achatz was standing next to me at Alinea! I was practically hyperventilating! 😉

    Jax x

  10. March 14, 2011 10:47 AM

    We heart Chiarello.
    Your weekend sounds magical.
    Thanks for reminding me to pull out a cookbook I purchased there 5 years ago, Escape to Yountville – now I’m excited to revisit it and perhaps try a new wine country recipe!

  11. March 14, 2011 1:47 PM

    yountville is quite awesome! looks like you had a blast. also nice to eat a restaurant where the celebrity chef is actually there!!

  12. March 14, 2011 1:47 PM

    thanks for the congrats on the baby wow what a fun trip and great party also how cool that you got to meet the chef 🙂

    looking forward to seeing your new blog how cool


  13. March 14, 2011 2:34 PM

    Never hurts to ask, great photos. This post made me hungry (and also made me want to plan a trip). Great blog.

  14. March 14, 2011 2:41 PM

    wow, what a great birthday!! and such a great idea to have your party at a locale like Yountville. Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful year. cheers.

  15. March 14, 2011 5:52 PM

    Looks like a pretty fab weekend! I would be pretty star struck by Michael too. 😀

  16. March 14, 2011 6:48 PM

    What a wonderful weekend, Jean! If we had enough money, I’d go buy a bed and breakfast right now in Yountville. Love that town! And I’m jealous… you got to meet Michael Chiarello and have your book signed. What a fantastic treat!!

  17. March 14, 2011 6:49 PM

    What a wonderful weekend and celebration. I’ve only spend a quick few hours in Yontville to dine at the infamous French Laundry, but would love to return for further exploration. Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. March 14, 2011 6:50 PM

    What a fun weekend! Napa with friends and loved ones, good food, the lovely relaxed atmosphere – this is why I love living in California, our part of California, so much. And I totally get what you mean by appreciating it from food blogger’s eyes. I look back to previous visits, and while memorable, there is absolutely a new appreciation when I visit.

    And how fun, your encounter with M. Chiarello! Glad to hear he was warm and personable! Sounds like he’s just as cool as meeting Pluto and Goofy 😉

  19. March 14, 2011 7:07 PM

    What a fun trip, I would love to visit the area sometime. It sounds like you had an amazing time, and how cool that you got to meet Michael Chiarello! I’m sure the whole experience is one you will never forget.

  20. March 14, 2011 7:58 PM

    Bottega is great for many reasons, but my favorite reason is the truffle fries…with maybe a beer…fireside. Chiarello is super friendly — every time I’ve been there, I’ve seen him hanging with the masses, making his way through the dining room. What a lovely weekend for you — Yountville is beyond my favorite weekend getaway; I love it for so many many reasons (I suppose that Barney’s outlet nearby doesn’t hurt, either!).

  21. March 15, 2011 4:17 AM

    Even if I now live in a foodie city, how I miss California, and being able to hop in a car and drive to gastronomic paradise. What a fantastic weekend!

  22. March 15, 2011 5:27 AM

    What an awesome opportunity! I would certainly be starstruck myself! And those tacos sounded amazing. Love little food trucks — usually the best food. :p

  23. March 15, 2011 9:53 AM

    What a fabulous weekend and way to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday! So glad that Bottega “passed with flying colors” and Chef Chiarello made it a truly memorable evening! It’s been years since my husband and I traveled to Napa for wine tasting. We actually had lunch at Tra Vigne the last time. I think we’re due for another visit and this time we’ll focus a bit more on food tasting 🙂

  24. March 15, 2011 5:55 PM

    Hi Jean, Looks like a fun celebration in a wonderful place. Yountville has some special memories for me because my grandmother lived there and I spent a lot of time in that beautiful spot. Of course there were not so many restaurants or tourists ‘back in the day’ and for sure there is a lot more to see and do now. But, I have some good memories and friends who live in the area, I always love to visit;-) Thanks for sharing some fun photos of an exciting moment with Chef Chiarello;-)

  25. March 16, 2011 9:12 PM

    Seems like you had a wonderful weekend. How great you had the chance to meet the chef. I would be star struck too.

    Congrats on your first blog anniversary. it was a pleasure to read your stories. looking forward to lots more.

  26. March 16, 2011 9:45 PM

    Jean, bad or good pictures I think you were really able to transmit how fun and amazing this weekend is. Now I so badly want to take a weekend off and go to eat and relax! I have to admit I have never been to Yountville, so now I know what my next destination will be

  27. March 17, 2011 2:34 PM

    What a wonderful weekend, I have never been but sounds lovely…I did live in St. Helena for a summer-plus and it was amazing 🙂

  28. March 17, 2011 5:54 PM

    I am quite enamored of the Bottega cookbook. This sounds like a great trip and a wonderful dinner. GREG


  1. Wine Country Menu

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