Next door is a cluster of smaller buildings housing a Taylor's Automatic Refresher (the most crowded venue when I was there), an outpost of St. Helena's Model Bakery (which also sells sandwiches) and a superb charcuterie and butcher shop called the Fatted Calf where you can drool over the house-made sausages, pâtés and terrines, goose and duck rillettes, jambon persillé and on the weekends, porchetta and more (and order sandwiches thereof). I couldn't resist stopping by before I left town to pick up a beautiful piece of heritage pork belly to cure as pancetta when I got home.
The classic wine country resort Meadowood has a new chef too. He's Christopher Kostow, who got raves at Chez TJ in Mountain View. In the bar one night, a couple of well-heeled foodies from Arizona were reminding the chef about the last time he cooked for them as if he would remember every detail. Instead of going straight in to dinner, I had an aperitif on the veranda overlooking the croquet lawn and putting green, and the mountains beyond. Meadowood exudes a sense of seclusion and privilege and after Bottega's grandiose space, I was struck by the restaurant's intimate, low-key elegance. You can go for the nine-course tasting menu or opt for the four-course summer menu (with two choices in each course). A cheese course makes it five, so ordering is easy and allows Kostow to show what he can do.
His cooking is beautifully crafted and precise, refined as opposed to rustic or gutsy. Poached pullet egg with glazed morels, peas and Parmesan was wonderful with a Chardonnay. Pristine turbot was topped with a sliver of Serrano ham and presented with miniature crispy pig's trotter and velvety porcini in a little corn milk. Poached and roasted squab, served very rare, with wild rice, foie gras and the sweet lusciousness of apricot was perfect for a Pinot Noir. And who wouldn't love pain perdu (French toast) with cherries and a bitter almond ice cream? I could do with a bit less theater in the service, such as the sommelier pouring wine from a decanter shaped like a giant snake. Or dishes shaped like helmets. But what are you going to do?
There's nothing new about Ad Hoc, I know, but I still hadn't eaten there and so I jumped at the chance to sign up for a Monday night fried chicken menu. Thomas Keller's super-casual restaurant serves a different prix-fixe menu each night. The sign outside the old Yountville diner reads "For Temporary Relief From Hunger." Aha. When the six of us arrived, every seat at the bar was taken. And more people waited outside, and inside, in hopes of a table. Here, it's essential to reserve ahead, especially for fried chicken night. First course: a platter of slender poached leeks with three kinds of wild mushrooms -- morels, fresh porcini and abalone mushrooms -- and handfuls of fresh garden peas with breakfast radishes shaved over the top. Spectacular. Then came an oval two-handled tray of the shaggy, deep gold buttermilk-fried chicken piled high. There must have been at least half a chicken per person or more. The sidekicks were Yukon gold potatoes cooked sous vide and whipped with butter, and a platter of yellow and green pole beans cooked with tomatoes. Then came cheese with homemade crackers followed by pretty little ice cream sundaes in traditional sundae glasses. Oh, yes, and coffee. A deal at $49 per person and, hands down, my favorite meal of the trip.
After the French Laundry, Ubuntu, the vegetarian restaurant in downtown Napa, may be the toughest reservation in the valley. Set in an old stone building that's huge and loft-like, it features a crowded bar with handcrafted cocktails, a long communal table and on the night we were there, live music. In short, instead of the usual pokey cafe, it's a trendy restaurant that just happens to be vegetarian. Chef Jeremy Fox's menu is all small plates -- and I mean small. For some items the four of us had to order two dishes in order to get more than a bite or two. Dishes quickly became a blur, so many were garnished so similarly with feathery little leaves and edible flowers. When a bowl of "yellow eye" bean stew came out, we fell on it like ravenous wolves. Now this was real. This had some taste. But the rest of what we ordered seemed so, well, ethereal, like food that fairies in the woods would nibble on. The vegetables I had at Ad Hoc or Bardessono had more flavor than anything I ate here.
The most recent addition to the lineup of restaurants at PlumpJack's Carneros Inn is the Farm, the more ambitious offering from the owners of local favorite Boon Fly Café. Go early, play some bocce in the court in front, or even better, have a draft beer or a glass of wine under the huge free-standing veranda outfitted with a glassed-in fire pit and revel in the wine country lifestyle with other runaways from the city. If the wind hasn't picked up, try to get one of the outdoor tables with their comfy sofas, romantic lanterns and candlelight. The dining room is built on a very large scale too. If Vegas did "farm," this would be it. The menu is straightforward California cuisine, not thrilling, but well-executed -- a salad of Little Gem lettuce with pickled spring onions, flatbread topped with satiny leeks, pancetta and fontina cheese, wild mushroom risotto (unfortunately embellished with truffle oil). Sonoma chicken with olive oil-crushed potatoes is simple and good. Niman Ranch pork chop comes with an appealing creamy polenta and baby artichokes and peas. And if you enjoyed what you ate, you can pick up the PlumpJack cookbook over in the market and store, which also looks to be a good place to pick up a picnic lunch if you're in the area.