Heads Carolina, Tails California

Muir Woods
We awoke to the last day. It was obvious we were on the way out – a suitcase of dirty clothes and two boxes of wine were packed, and we both had that feeling in the pits of our stomachs – that feeling that reality is fast-approaching. The final day of a vacation is never fun – you have to pack, finish up “business” like checking out, turning in the car, checking into your flight, blah blah, and then you have to get home and unpack all of your loot and start real life all over again. The silver lining in this final day of vacation was that we did have a decent amount of time to get some more action in. So we got ready, packed, and went down to eat the last meal from the B&B.

B&B french toast

They must have known that french toast was my favorite because that’s what I got for the last meal. But this wasn’t your regular ol’ french toast with a little piece (or fatty piece) of plain bread topped with maple syrup. This was homemade bread with roasted apples, a pecan crunch in the middle, homemade caramel syrup, topped off with confectioners’ sugar. French Toast Sundae, to be exact. No cherry on top though – that may have been a bit overdone. Jim told us that he makes sure his guests don’t eat the same thing any day they are here, even if they are return guests. Which means – no more french toast sundae unless I make it myself. It was indeed mighty tasty. We ate it up and then loaded all that stuff in the tiny car (poor planning in that area…should have gone with the ford focus instead!) and came in to check out. Jim gave us some recommendations for the rest of the day – rec’s that didn’t include wineries, thank goodness! They take pictures of you on the mac cam before you leave – maybe so they can hunt us down if they find out we stole a doily from the room, but probably so they can remember you for next time and to add a special touch to their already unique style. We will be back, Jim & Jamie. We will.

Muir Woods entrance

And we’re off. Headed southwest this time and up to Muir Woods which is outside of San Francisco. A great recommendation because it also led us to the Golden Gate Bridge which we hadn’t driven on during the trip in. Another trip of winding roads with cliffs right off the gravel – enough to make Chris close his eyes a couple of times! I’m totally opposite in that regard and I was over-excited every time I saw a large drop or was up at the top of the mountain. We almost didn’t go to Muir Woods once we drove up there – it’s a popular place and there was no parking within a mile of the entrance. And we didn’t have all kinds of time to lollygag. On the second time into the main lot we got lucky and scored a spot. Good thing – this place is awesome. Those trees are HUGE! We spent 30 minutes or so walking around and clicking our camera and then were back on the road to San Fran.

chris at muir woodsmuir woods treesme in tree at Muir Woods

On the way down we stopped at a fruit/nut stand that was positioned conveniently at a lookout stop so we snapped a few more pics and grabbed some blood oranges and seeds. The seeds made for a nice snack for the rest of the drive. We tried to turn off on a lookout right near the bridge but kept missing it. Chris managed some pics out of the car; we both were able to see most everything on the way into SF. That bridge is large and in charge.

nut stand

Since we didn’t get to the lookout, we used the rest of our time to drive through downtown SF for a bit. I’d been to SF over 10 years ago, and Chris had been even longer ago than that, so we really were going for the first time. It is a gorgeous city. I love all the hills and ups and downs. I probably would not love that if I were driving a 5 speed. I had this vision of rolling down backwards – which would only be cool if there were no cars behind. We even found Lombard St and drove down that. What fun! They weren’t lyin’ when they said that street was crooked. I felt bad for all the people living on that street – they must have people walking around their “yards” all the time. But then again, they also knew what they were getting into when they decided to live on “The crookedest street in the world”. Those dummies.

Lombard St

Finally it came time to face the facts – it was over. Time to check in and get on that stupid plane. At least this time we had a direct flight. We’d made the mistake and checked the weather – it had snowed 5 inches in Chicago while we were gone. Madness. I do love that city, but I absolutely hate March with a burning passion. I wish we could skip March – I’d be much happier. You see, in Chicago, March is the month where the winter really should be gone but isn’t. And I say it should be gone, because it’s gone and practically Spring in the South where I grew up. So that’s what I’m used to, ok? I remember my first birthday in Chicago – I was wearing my down coat while trying to enjoy a Cubs game. And that was the end of April, mind you. Crazy Chicago. I do love it though.

lots of wine

Which brings me to the close. For you country music fans, you may recall this blog title as being the title of a Jo Dee Messina song. When I like country music, I do like her. This song was her very first single, and I love it. It brings me back to a question I asked in an earlier post as I was beginning to fall in love with Napa. And now that vacation is definitely over and now that I’ve been home for almost a week, it seems a good time to think about this again. Was it just vacation la la land? I don’t think so. Even when in Spain, Mexico, Fiji, NC, wherever – I am always happy to come home to Chicago. Always. Even in the dead of winter. We are at home here, and we’ve made our own lives here – our own careers, new friends, favorite restaurants and bars, and for Chris, his favorite comic book store and vinyl shop. But this time it was different. That last day in Napa and SF, I continued to be awestruck by the sights before me. And I didn’t want to go home. And when I got home, I wasn’t excited. Even after looking at the skyline on a day when the sun was shining, I kept searching for the patch of green and the rolling hills that I’d seen the week before. Maybe it was Napa. Maybe it was just the urge to leave the city for the countryside. A countryside – that maybe doesn’t have to be the California countryside.

The problem is this – while I know that I am destined to live outside of the city one day, I don’t want to leave it altogether. I want to live in a place with a city, a large city, somewhere closeby. And I think that’s what appealed to me in northern CA – the countryside and greenery of Napa with the lovely beautiful city of SF an hour away. And the weather didn’t hurt.

So while we’ve always planned to move back to the South, do we have to? If we took our friends and family out of the equation I know what my answer would be. But today, today I say:

“Heads Carolina, tails California.
Somewhere greener, somewhere warmer.
Up in the mountains, down by the ocean.
Where? It don’t matter, as long as we’re goin’
Somewhere together. I’ve got a quarter.
Heads Carolina, tails California.”

Sommelier on the Rise in the Golden State

wine tasting class glasses

We awoke to the last full day of our trip. In addition to listening to Chris singing in the shower, I was also guessing what might be for breakfast downstairs. I have never been a skilled guesser. Oh well.

One of my favorite things about staying at a B&B is meeting all the other guests. In general, there tends to be a fairly good mix of clientele. You get your older couple, your fellow younger couple, the group of friends, the mother/daughter, the family, and that’s the large bulk. We actually had all of the above this morning. It’s really fun to hear everyone chat about their adventures, as they are all really different. But enough about that. Let’s get to eatin’. Breakfast this morning was really unique and you’re in luck because I brought the camera this time. I can only imagine what people say when I take pictures of food, but I honestly don’t care too much, or at least not enough to not do it! So this morning, we had fresh herbed and breaded pasta with asparagus and bacon served underneath a poached egg and lemon zest. I can’t say I’ve ever eaten pasta for breakfast, but this won’t be the last time now that I have. Very yummy – the pasta and egg filled us up for most of the day.

B&B breakfast

Prior to getting to Napa, we decided we’d stick to doing one or two actual winery tours. And as usual, some of them need to be arranged ahead of time so we couldn’t wait until the last minute which is typically how a vacation should be. A B&B recommendation for tours was the Mondavi winery, which most people who know the slightest about wine have heard the name Mondavi. They have a HUGE winery and are really into wine education, hence the plethora of tours to choose from. We booked a tour called “essence” which included a basic winery tour followed by a tasting/sniffing lesson. Sounded like loads of fun and something a little different than the other generic tours. Contrary to our usual Saturday, we were drinking wine by 11 AM. It’s vacation – remember? So don’t judge :).

The tour was really neat and our guide, most of the time, was on point. We saw an educational vineyard and got to look closely at the vines. It would be interesting to come back during the latter part of the summer when the vines are jam-packed with grapes and greenery – this time the vines were barren and if you ask me, they looked a little bit freaky. But cool, nonetheless. We also visited the cellars. I wondered if theirs was just prettier for show and thought about what some of the smaller wineries might look like instead of the high-class ones. Any insight into this is much appreciated – do they all look this nice and pristine? They already spilled the beans that they dyed the barrels so you couldn’t see how much spills. Ha!

Mondavi winerygrapevine

Once we finished the tour, the really cool part started. We went into a smaller room (there were only 4 of us on this tour, by the way) where you saw a beautiful table stocked with wine glasses, each with something to smell in it. All different colors and tons of different items. Our sniffing proceeded in three steps, and we started the tasting with the white wines and worked our way to the reds. Going to the table, I was thinking I was going to be really good at this. I was able to at least recognize the glass contents by sight or at least by smell, which gave me an unwarranted sense of confidence. I thought for sure I’d be able to use my sniffer and taste buds to figure out all of the scents and aromas of these wines. Wrong answer!! The tour lady, you could tell she’d been doing this for a long time. It was a little creepy – how quickly she stuck her little nose in the glass and popped her head up triumphantly, belting out things like “orange blossom” and “tarragon” and even “boxwood”. What the hell is boxwood anyway?! With how strong it smelled in the glass I thought for sure I’d notice that one! In addition to the sheer difficulty of smelling that stuff in the wine, let alone tasting it, I kept having to stifle the urge to grab one of those graham crackers that kept reminding me of a cheesecake crust. Sure looked better than those stale-tasting wafers they give you to “cleanse your palate”. Apparently my palate was uncleansable, if that’s a word.

One time Chris and I did smell what we were “supposed” to smell. After the wines had been sitting out, getting air for a few minutes, we went back and smelled. One of them smelled just like cream soda. And another, I really truly smelled boxwood! Yippeeee!!! Finally… sigh of relief.

wine barrelstasting glass - vanillascorecard

We were also given little souvenir laminated tasting groups that listed various qualities/aromas/tastes by category. You’d think it would help to have a cheat sheet AND be able to get up and sniff as needed. Nope! I must say though, and I am not bragging, but I did do a little better than Chris. He looked like a lost puppy. At least I was good at pretending. His sheet was just BLANK. Too funny.

All in all though, the tour was really fun. We learned a lot about wine, and the process of harvesting grapes and turning out the finished product. I must say, I really did have high hopes of coming out of that lesson being the next sommelier. Maybe just because the name is cool, but no one has to know that. It’s quite unfortunate that professional wine tasting is not in my future. I just know, if I could get past the lack of smelling and lack of tasting those things, that I’d be great. 🙂

Summers Vineyard

We realized as we left Mondavi that we’d achieved an impossible milestone – we left without purchasing 1 bottle of wine! What, you say?! I know! I would have loved the reserve cab, especially since we got 20% off, but we just didn’t want to pay $100 buckaroos for a bottle of wine today. We had plenty as it was. So we left emptyhanded. Well not really – we had our laminated score sheets. North it was – no matter what – today.

That traffic was no match for our determination to get to Summers Estate. The B&B had recommended this one in their Napa blog. They produce a wine called Charbono, and we got to hear the story about it. Apparently there are only about 80 acres of Charbono, and half are here. Only 16 wineries in the world make this wine. We had to check it out, and good thing! You can’t like it too much though because they won’t let you buy more than 4 bottles, as they only produce about 2000 cases/year. We bought two, which was also a first for the trip. They also had a great petit syrah port – and port is usually too similar to drinking maple syrup to us. Just too thick. But this one, this one is something else. The service is great too – very small and family-run. Right up our alley. You can see Old Faithful in the backyard too, and in one of the pictures I’ve posted if you look really closely. WBT 3(24).

Mosaic vineyard

Our next winery was a decent trip up north into Alexander Valley. I had found another wine with Malbec up that way, and they also had Meritage which I tend to like. We had a few others on our list as well, but since we’d been to so many we planned to go to this one and one more on the way back down. This one was called Mosaic, which also spoke to my nerdy genetic side. This place was definitely more crowded than it looked, and while we liked their wines, we weren’t as excited about them like the others. We did buy 3 wines though. An oddity of this place was the kiddie bday party they were having. This little one had a HUGE blow up thing that you jump in. Like the stuff at the theme parks or something. What a brat!! ha ha. WBT 3(27).

We did get a great recommendation for lunch, and this was late lunch cause it was already after 2. We drove a little further north to Diavola which is in Geyserville. GREAT pizza with sausage on it, and fantastic root beer.

Diavola for lunchDiavola sausage pizza

After lunch it was pretty late and we ended up running outta time to go to the other wineries. Plus we’d bought enough – so we called it a day and headed back.

And now, for the big event, the last supper. You may wonder how we mustered up the appetite to go eat seeing as how we’d just eaten lunch a few hours ago. Well really 5 hours, so it’s possible. We did it because I’d been looking forward to this dinner for weeks – checking their website repeatedly to see when their menu changed. Napa is well known for their top notch restaurants and award-winning chefs. Believe me, I did some reading to find the places I wanted to go to. Although we tried to get in at the French Laundry, they book out 2 months in advance, and are booked within 15 minutes of the same day. We made our reservations and booked our trip in late January, so we’d missed the mark by a matter of days. My next choice was a little less cash out of the wallet, and I’d guess the quality and creativity of the food might be similar. So La Toque it was.

La Toque entryway

By the way, do you know what a toque is? I’ll tell you. I’m informative, remember? Its the hats the chefs wear. We have to wear them in culinary school. They look a little goofy, but you get used to it. They have a big ol’ toque hanging in their walkway. I want one just like it to hang in my house. In case people don’t know that I like to cook, they’d see the toque hanging and then they’d figure it out. I like it. La Toque has a prix fixe menu, but you get to choose your number of courses – two, three, or four. And you get to choose if you want to add the wine pairings. We both went for the kill and got the four course, but truth be told we weren’t game for the pairings as we’d planned initially. I had one glass of wine and barely finished it. A beer might have been better, looking back – but not as classy unless I got one of those fancy imports in the goblets. We made sure to choose different courses from one another so we could taste each other’s. Sorry for the picture quality – I was not bold enough to take all of these pictures with my flash on. I may have been politely escorted out.

First Course:
Chris: Green & white asparagus with sauce gribiche and a phyllo mimolette chip.
Chris 1st courseme 1st course

Me: Creekstone Angus beef tenderloin carpacchio with smoky aioli. The meat was sliced thinner than you’d think a meat slicer could do. And so tender. Chris even liked it and he didn’t think he’d like carpacchio.

Second Course:
Chris: Alaskan halibut with manila clams & “fines herbes”
Chris 2nd courseme 2nd course

Me: warm Maine lobster and sweet potato salad. The clams were good, but this lobster salad was amazing.

Third Course:

Chris: ricotta edamame ravioli in a parmesan wild mushroom broth
Chris 3rd courseme 3rd course

Me: slow roasted bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with English peas, cheddared pearl tapioca, and pommery mustard sauce. I think this is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. The pork was so soft and moist and the textures of this dish were outstanding. I’ve only had tapioca in things like bubble tea and those fruit smoothies at the Chinese take-out. It was absolutely amazing how well the tapioca worked in this dish and how biting into one felt like a burst of that cheddar flavor. I thought the last course was going to be my favorite, but this was won, hands down. I’m gonna go buy some tapioca and play. I mean, just look at. Oh my oh my.

Fourth Course:
Chris: prime Angus ribeye served rare, leek and black trumpet potato terrine & Rutherford wine sauce. Ribeye can’t get much better than this.
Chris 4th courseme 4th course

Me: boneless lamb loin with cumin scented carrot puree and chickpea fries. Yeah that’s right – chickpea fries. They smush them up, shape them, and bread them, and then they fry them. Then they plate them like tic tac toe. Again, on ordering this was the one I was most looking forward to. I think I could eat lamb every day. Plus I love pureed veggies and anything with the word fry in it. I ate every little bit (except the one bite I allowed Chris to have).

Last but not least, we had to try a dessert. You would think that, of 4 courses, one would have been dessert eh? Well that’s the awesome part – there was a fifth course lurking behind the curtain. I cannot for the life of me remember what they called this (and they don’t post dessert menus on their site), but it was something like a “dark chocolate cookie with mango cardamom sorbet”. It had a dark chocolate almost paste or butter like textured filling in the cookies. Again – good good good. Did I ever eat anything I didn’t like? Well yea – I didn’t like that terrine in Chris’ last dish. But I’ve seen enough of those in culinary school where my hopes weren’t too high for that anyway.

La Toque dessert

We probably spent three hours at La Toque. They definitely don’t rush you outta there. They shouldn’t for the money you’re paying. It is without a doubt the best meal I’ve eaten that I can remember at this moment. Places like La Toque & French Laundry definitely aren’t restaurants I’d be able to go to every week (let alone every year), but if you do get the chance to head out to Napa, try to go to one of these, even if it means you eat at McDonalds one night. It’s worth it for the food and the experience. Promise. Although, if you aren’t a “foodie”, or if you aren’t married to one…. I just can’t answer that!

See ya tomorrow for the last day! It will be much shorter I promise. And then back to normal.

Reverse Californication

wine at Sterling
Day 2 begins in the Valley of Napa. This is a vacation worth waking up early for – especially knowing that a tasty breakfast is on the horizon. I wish I had pictures of the first breakfast but just imagine a poached egg atop an herbed potato with more diced herbed potatoes scattered about. Topped with a lemon-thyme-pepper cream reduction. Let’s not forget the first course – they always have a “buffet station” with fresh fruit, homemade granola, and cereal along with some additional homemade treat such as a scone or muffin. Makes me feel a little healthier to grab some fruit, except when I dump creme anglaise on top!

We had a number of wineries planned for today, so we really had to get crackin’. The innkeepers had warned us against a winery called V Sattui. They don’t distribute their wine, so it’s a popular place for tourists to hit up and apparently it can get extrememly busy to the point where you are standing in line to get to the tasting bar. We decided at the last minute to go there first thing, since one of Chris’ coworkers recommended this one. To our surprise, the place was dead! And the wine host was so awesome. We knew right away he’d be delightful after he turned around and was wearing a sweater vest with a grateful dead patch. He was a hoot! The next couple at the bar was an older couple from North Carolina – how ironic, right?! We talked for a few about the sad basketball team of NC State and then they started talking about how much they liked Merlot and then the conversation was over. Their wine was great. WBT: 2 (6).

V Sattui winery

Next up was Sterling. We’d heard they had a tram that took you up to their tasting room. Fancy! There was a $20pp price attached, but during my trip looking-up, I found a $5 off coupon as long as you go in the morning. No brainer! The tram was really cool – it reminded me of the one we took in Barcelona last year. They had a neat tasting balcony complete with sunshine and warm weather. The wine host was more of a waiter and brought us our 5 tastings as we finished each one. He was the cutest frenchman (aside from Chef Pierre from school!) and was such a jolly guy. They had an unbeatable special for their entire flight. Sold to the lady with the big shades. WBT 5 (11). So back down the tram we go and on to more wine!

Chris at Sterlingme at Sterling

We’d planned to head up to Alexander Valley for the remainder of the day, but traffic was thick as could be on 29 and we’d sat in traffic for some unknown reason for about 10 minutes with our stomachs growling like mad. With no thanks to the horrible turning radius on the Eclipse, we finally managed a 3-point turn for lunch. We passed a burger/diner joint we’d heard about called Taylor’s Refresher. Good call. We tore down like starving mad tigers, or something. Grabbed an espresso milkshake for dessert; figured since we’d passed on the fries we could “make up” for the “lost” calories with a milkshake. Hit the spot.

Taylor's Refresher

Since for some reason we weren’t meant to head up north, we headed around Napa and then west instead. Chris’ coworker had recommended Miner. The wine host was really nice, but this just wasn’t our cup of tea. Seemed like everyone was there to do business or something. Weird. We did buy a bottle – which apparently is an unsaid rule we had throughout the trip, and the host gave us a free tasting, which we found out later was probably because we used AMEX. WBT 1 (12).

Rutherford Hill was next on the list since it was fairly close. This one was well-hidden, but that wasn’t stopping us! After many a winding road, we found it. The wine host their was too freakin’ funny. I think the first thing he did, after throwing a free tasting pass at us, was scratch his balls. Ha! Totally nonchanlant about the whole thing too, as if he’d done it his whole life. Wait… Anyway. We really loved their wines. One of them, Angel’s Peak, was what was given to a winner on Top Chef. We ended up liking Devil’s Peak better as well as a Petit Verdot and a Cabernet. Turns out he didn’t charge us for either tasting, and he threw in a little cloth bag and wine glass. Wetzels:1; Rutherford:0. WBT 3(15).

Rutherford Hill winery

West we go. I’d read about Matanzas Creek and their lavendar fields in a Food & Wine magazine, so we ventured on a gorgeous road trip through some tight twists and turns over to Bennett Valley. Now this guy was into the wine – he could talk for hours, but he was really helpful. We didn’t venture out to the lavendar fields but got a good look and unfortunatley forgot to take pictures here. But check out their website – you’ll be talked into visiting this one from the pictures alone. This place threw us for a loop though, because we tasted Merlot that we liked! Lesson learned – stay open minded about wine varieties. Point taken :). WBT 3(18).

For our final tasting of the day, we headed to Sonoma to a winery I’d found as a result of insisting on finding Malbec in California, Ty Caton. I’d emailed what I thought was a generic address for the winery, and was contacted by the winemaker himself who gave me a free tasting pass. Turns out they had a great Malbec AND we discovered a new variety that we both absolutely loved, Sangiovese. Go try this – it is so good. I won’t pretend I’m so into wine that I can describe all the “tasting notes” or whatever (which I’ll prove on Saturday) so I can’t really tell you what it tastes like. But if you buy a bottle you can figure it out on your own. Chris found his own special bottle to drink when he finishes grad school too. Too bad we won’t be opening that any time soon!! tee hee hee! WBT 3(21).

wine purchases

With almost 2 cases of wine in 1.5 days of tasting, day 2 winery-ing has come to an end. But the best is ahead – dinner! We’d made reservations at Celadon, which is known for their “global comfort food”. And again, we had to go for apps, entree, and dessert. I had the coconut fried prawns (yes, fried=fatty; shut it, i’m on vacation!) with mango, cucumber and greens with citrus vinaigrette and chris had the pear and endive salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and mustard vinaigrette. Mine was prettier 🙂 and look at the size of those prawns! Yipers!

my prawn appetizer at CeladonChris' salad appetizer from Celadon

For dinner we both opted for the nights’ specials – of which they had three to choose from! Chris had fresh fettucine with rock shrimp which also had a hunk of mahi mahi on top. I had the scallops with banana curry. Sounds good eh? What’s not to like about banana and curry in one sauce?!

Chris' fettucine and shrimp at Celdaonmy banana curry at Celadon

We did learn a lesson from the first night – while stuffing your face is pretty darn fun and fulfilling (no pun intended) at the time, it kinda hurts later, and it’s harder to walk home when you are carrying some extra poundage. So we shared this time. Turns out that dessert was plenty big to share! We again opted for the special, which was called “Chocolate Gooey Cake”. How could anyone in their right mind resist that? Wanna make it a little tastier and tempting? Try adding CREME FRAICHE icecream. What a lovely, creamy taste that had. I could have eaten another bowl and I WILL find a way to make this at home.

cake with creme fraiche ice cream at Celadon

You may be wondering (and even if you’re not I’ll tell you anyway because I’m an informative person) – what’s with the title of the blog? I love the Chili Peppers, as you know from a former post. I have always wondered what the term “Californication” meant, so one day I looked it up. Turns out it has something to do with the movement of Californians into other parts of the country. That’s not what I thought it meant…. And so, with two days of Napa in the pocket of my suddenly tighter jeans, I have already begun picturing myself here on a permanent basis. It’s a place that seemed to fit with me, and I never thought I’d say that about a TOWN that isn’t jam-packed with skyscrapers and public transit. Will the feeling pass by the end? Am I in vacation la-la land? We’ll see. But at this point I close my eyes in great anticipation of waking up on Saturday and once again finding myself in Napa.

Meet Me in California

Artesa winery

I’m currently typing from my office while eating a puny ol’ turkey sub (with no cheese) for lunch. I look out my window, which should make me super happy since it’s a view of Chicago’s Michigan Ave, filled with shopping, good eats, and really cool skyscrapers. Lots of action. I used to look out that window and smile to see the city and all of its delights. Starting this week, I haven’t. It’s cold, constructed, loud. I find myself imagining (sometimes I catch myself daydreaming) that I’m in another place. I want to see fields of green grass, rolling hills as far as the eye can see, and vineyards galore. People are ok too, because they’re nice and not rushing to or from work. And they definitely are not honking their horns at stalling cars. In fact, many times they are a bit intoxicated 🙂 . Coats? Umbrellas? Those are not allowed. You ask me, “Where is such a place where all these lovely things exist?”. Ask no more – that place is Napa Valley. I know because I’ve been there. And it’s real – its really real.

As you read from my previous entry, hubby and I took a mini-vacation to Napa Valley last week. We were on a quest to find good wine and great food. We were on a quest to relax, to eat, drink and be merry – before another week of work and another quarter of classes. We got a whole lot more than we bargained for. And we definitely got plenty of good wine and great food.

Artesa vineyard

So, my pals, sit back and relax. Take it from the Plain White T’s and meet me in California. Imagine yourself in Napa Valley, and I’ll tell you of our adventures. I think this is gonna be a long one, so consider this the first quarter. Grab something to drink – a nice glass of wine, perhaps. I have plenty to share!

Up bright and early to catch the 7AM flight. We had no problems at the airport, and slept all the way to Denver. Little did we know (in our packing, we only checked Napa weather and didn’t think about the connecting port – what did we care?!), it’s snowing in Denver. We were lucky – the last flight to leave before the airport CLOSED! That would have absolutely, positively, sucked the life out of our vacation. So we made it into San Francisco. After what felt like hours of waiting for the rental car, we were on the road in a tiny little Eclipse (my old car – how nostalgic!). The downside was that there was no mp3 port, and Chris had spent a ton of time picking tunes for the drives. That being said, we struggled to find a radio station that wasn’t blasted with Pink or Coldplay. With the extra two hours (thank you Pacific time zone) it was around 2, so we had time to get started with the wineries – nice!! Once we made it into Napa we chose two in relatively close proximity to one another and to the Bed&Breakfast.

Our first winery was Artesa, one of Napa’s “newer” wineries. What a lovely place with the coolest sculptures and architecture! They have an amazing sculpture garden, and the winery is tucked away down a long, country road. The wine wasn’t bad either. Something about that oaky, buttery chardonnay, and we usually aren’t big on whites. Plus they had tempranillo, a really good Spanish wine. We hung out for a while and sipped a flight of wine on the balcony. Wine bottle purchase tally (will further be dubbed WBT with the cumulative total in parenthesis): 2 (2).


Next stop, Hess. My culinary school friend and fellow blogger, Caroline, recommended this one. Great location. Unfortunately an enormous tour bus had just loaded up, which meant the wine hosts were pooped! Plus it was a half hour to closing time. Needless to say they weren’t very enthusiastic, but we didn’t really care. They poured wine, which is all we asked for! Their Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvee blend was excellent, and was a “92 pointer” on the 100 point scale! It must be the 9% Malbec :). WBT: 2 (4).

Alright – two wineries down. Many to go. But it was time to check in at the B&B. I LOVE B&B’s, so I definitely did some searching to find the right one for us. I came across The Inn on First, which I thought was adorable. While most B&B’s are a little “old-fashioned”, this one was more contemporary and updated than most I’ve looked into or even stayed in. Plus, one of the innkeepers was a culinary school graduate, so I felt certain that breakfast would be tasty to the last morsel. They even emailed us a long list of recommendations for food and wineries, and they offer to make reservations for you. They were a huge help before we even got there! SO, after our winery visits, we went to check in. Just as cute as the pictures! We were checked in and shown around. They had complimentary soda (lavendar and rhubarb – yummers!) as well as decanted port, a computer and free Wi-Fi service. Our room was charming and simple with everything we needed. Chris was especially excited about the homemade chocolate truffles. I think he would have eaten them both if I didn’t see them. Aaaahhh…. vacation had officially begun.

Inn on First

Time for dinner. We’d booked three nights of dinners about a month in advance. These places fill up quick, so you sorta have to! The first night was a restaurant a short 10 minute walk away called Bleaux Magnolia which is a combination of Louisiana and Nouvelle Creole. This was one of few restaurants with no corkage fee, so we brought the rose Syrah from Hess. We started out with apps, of course. Once Chris heard the word oyster, he was sold. I seem to navigate towards things with high calories on vacation, so I went for crab cakes. They were served with mango aioli, and a pear, jicama and macadamia cole slaw. Both were good choices.

Chris' gumbo at Bleaux Magnolia

Dinner was a tough one. We were both torn between the same two dishes (seafood gumbo and the special, pork shank with sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach), and fortunately we were slightly leaning towards one or the other. While the gumbo was tasty, mine was the winner. Chris was jealous eating his gumbo while I was trying to chew and drool over mine at the same time. The pork shanks were treading over a sauce with a slight Asian taste. I couldn’t resist the temptation to know exactly what it was – a simple concoction of soy sauce and garlic with the juices of the pork. Excellent!

my pork shank at Bleaux Magnolia

Something about vacation makes me want to fill my belly to the very brim. Stuff my face completely. In other words, no matter how full we both were, dessert was a must. We’d heard from the B&B peeps that the root beer float with sassafrass elixir and vanilla ice cream was one of their signature desserts, so Chris opted for this. I again went for the fat overload and opted for the Lemon & Huckleberry bread pudding. We ate every last drop.

Chris' root beer float at Bleaux Magnolia

And so our first night in Napa comes to an end. No better way to end the day than with a few sips of port, which we grabbed on our way up to our room. Tomorrow brings many more wineries and eats, so stay tuned for more!

my bread pudding at Bleaux Magnolia