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