Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Auberge du Soleil

For Emil's birthday, we took at trip up to wine country, to enjoy a day of wine tasting.  But of course, the area is not only known for its wine, it is known for the food.  And while I appreciated the wine tasting, the thing I was most excited for was lunch.  Does this surprise you?

The Napa region has a slew of amazing restaurants, and shockingly, I haven't been to most of them.  Yes, really.  This was my first trip up to wine country in several years, since I really became a food lover.  I'm a bit tardy in publishing this review, as you may recall that I went up to Napa for MY birthday, where we dined at ... The French Laundry.  But this trip was actually about a month or so earlier.

Emil picked out our winery tour plan, and I was tasked with figuring the dining venue.  No problem!
There were many restaurants that I wanted to visit, but first, I was able to easily narrow our choices down to only those open at lunch.  Next, I decided to arbitrarily narrow our choices down to only those with Michelin stars (although I really had my eye on Archetype, a new addition).  Finally, I decided to only consider restaurants serving with a la carte menus, rather than full on tastings, as we didn't want the dining portion of our day to occupy too much time.  From there, it was pretty easy to settle on a place, since we had a 2pm wine tasting appointment in St. Helena, and there was one Michelin rated restaurant nearby: the restaurant at Auberge du Soleil resort.

The resort grounds were beautiful, but we didn't take much time to explore, besides having a drink on one of the patios overlooking the property before our meal, since we were pressed for time.

The service was fine, friendly and polite, although it didn't quite feel Michelin star level, possibly because they intentionally tone it down at lunch time?  The meal also did not include an amuse bouche, a palette cleanser, or mignardises, which made it feel far more casual than I was expecting.

Many items on menu sounded fantastic, so I was thrilled that Emil agreed to split 2 appetizers and 2 mains with me, so I wouldn't have to pick just one from each category.  And everyone else was happy to split desserts.

Overall, the meal was a mixed bag: the appetizers were mediocre, the mains quite good, and the desserts really disappointing.  Everything was nicely plated, the dishes well conceived, but nothing was all that memorable.  I don't really see a reason to return, as there are so many other great places to check out in the area instead.
The View.
We were seated out on the patio, like most (all?) of the other diners.  The patio is a more casual environment than inside the formal restaurant, where I imagine most people sit for dinner.

The view overlooking the property is stunning.

The patio is outfitted with very sturdy furniture, with umbrellas to protect from the sun, which I'm sure is intense at certain times of the year.  Although it was sunny, it wasn't that warm when we were there, but I can only imagine how amazing this setting is when it is warmer out.  Instead, we had the heat lamps on to keep warm.
Place setting.
The tables were set with cheery yellow tablecloths, with matching yellow cloth napkins.  We were offered house filtered still water, or bottled sparkling.  I opted for the still, as I love it when restaurants provide their own filtered water.

The centerpieces were fresh flowers and the setting was completed by a charger, which was removed after we ordered.  The cheery color scheme of the place settings matched the sunny day quite nicely.
Bread Service.
As I mentioned, no amuse bouche was offered, so the meal began with bread service.  The server came by and put a slice each of two different breads onto our individual plates; one whole wheat, the other rosemary meyer lemon.  They were both served warm, and had a nice crust on them, but were sourdough based, and since I don't like sourdough, this ruined the bread for me.  The wheat was slightly hearty tasting, but otherwise unremarkable.  I couldn't taste any rosemary, nor meyer lemon, in the other, although I was told that was the flavor.

Our table was provided with two little butter dishes to share, a local butter, topped with course ground salt.  The butter was really quite good, very rich, very fresh tasting.  I wanted to like the bread, just so I'd be able to eat more butter, without looking like a crazy person just licking butter off my knife (oh, you know you've done this too!)
Appetizer: Cow's Milk Burrata, Bing Cherries, Oats, Cress, Banyuls Vinaigrette. $17.
I love burrata, so I was excited to see burrata on the appetizer menu.  Emil is a cheese guy, so he obviously was happy to make this one of our selections.

It was served fairly plain, no crackers nor crostini to go with it.  This was fine with me, as I'm totally happy just feast on burrata.

Unfortunately, the burrata wasn't quite ripe.  I was a bit heartbroken, but it just really wasn't nearly as creamy as it should have been.  They seem to regularly feature burrata on the menu, with changing accompaniments, so I was shocked at the poor offering, as they should have known better.

The burrata was paired with a few sliced cherries on the side that were pleasantly tart, a drizzle of Banyuls for additional tartness, and was topped with a tiny bit of oat crumble for a pleasant crunch.  Garnished with micro cress.

It was a well thought out dish, nicely composed, but the cheese was just not ready, making this my second to least favorite dish of the meal.

Normally $17, or offered as part of the $32 2-course menu of the day.  It was a generous amount of burrata, but was not worth the price, as it just wasn't good.  I'd consider getting a burrata dish there again in the future, but perhaps would find a way to ask if the burrata was really ready to be consumed?
Appetizer: Kona Kampachi Crudo: Sesame Crème Fraîche, Cucumber, Radish, Dashi. $22.
The second appetizer we selected was the Kona Kampachi Crudo.

I'm not normally a fan of kampachi, but this was Emil's pick, and I was splitting with him, so I figured I'd give it a try.  Others in the group also ordered it and really enjoyed it, but it wasn't my thing.

The serving was 3 slices of fish, and I guess it was fresh tasting enough, but it tasted sorta fishy to me.  The garnishes were beautiful though, very thinly sliced radish and tiny cubes of cucumber.  I would have never realized there was cucumber in here, if I hadn't read the description.

The sesame crème fraîche was on the bottom, but was strangely watery, and not creamy.  It did have a fantastic sesame flavor however.

For $22, the dish seemed a bit pricey, particularly given that it was lunch, and there were only 3 slices of fish.  My least favorite dish, because I don't like kampachi, and I wouldn't get it again.
Main Dish: Wild King Salmon: English Peas, Roasted Spring Onion, Rosemary, Crispy Onion, Bagna Càuda.
The first main dish we picked was the king salmon, since it was just coming into season (protip: if you are even in the Bay Area when local king salmon is in season, by all means, get it.  And make sure they don't over cook it.  Best enjoyed mid-rare at most.)

Anyway, the salmon was cooked exactly as I like it, perfectly mid-rare, but with fantastically crispy skin.  Wonderful execution.

English peas showed up in two forms, whole peas and a coulis, both of which were light and flavorful.  The dish also included roasted carrots and creamy potato puree, not listed in the description, and I never found the roasted spring onion that was listed.  I loved the crispy onions on top, although the crispy salmon skin provided adequate crunch on its own.

We were told that it was finished with vanilla oil, but I didn't not detect this.

Overall good, although, not memorable after the fact.

This course was part of the $32 2 course lunch (along with the burrata), so it was an incredible deal since most of the seafood entrees normally cost at least $30.
Main Dish: Day Boat Scallops: English Peas, Roasted Spring Onion, Rosemary, Grapefruit, Crispy Onion. $34.
I didn't realize until I was typing this up just how similar the descriptions of the two dishes we picked were.  I just picked the scallops and the salmon as they are main proteins I was most interested in.  The descriptions of our dishes were were identical save one ingredient: the salmon was supposed to come with bagna càuda and the scallops with grapefruit.  Whoops.

The scallops were obviously the star of the dish.  Slightly sweet, seared, although I always appreciate a harder sear.

The peas were again fresh and light, very spring-y.  As was the spring onion puree, very fresh tasting and light, yet loaded with flavor (and yes, it actually showed up in this dish).  Speaking of flavor, the rosemary was also quite strong, not in an overpowering way, but it came though quite clearly.

The grapefruit segments made no sense to me.  Sure, some acid is necessary, and the grapefruit was fresh and light like the vegetable accompaniments, but, these flavors really didn't combine in a way that worked.

I loved the crunch from the crispy onions on top, but there were only a few of them.

Overall, a decent dish, no major execution errors, a nice exploration of spring, but not particularly remarkable.  The $34 price seemed a bit high for lunch.
Assorted sweeteners for the coffee.
After our meals, we opted to order coffee with our desserts, as we were headed to more wine tasting afterwards, and could use a break from drinking alcohol.

I was impressed with the array of sweeteners brought out with the coffee: regular white sugar (in granules or cubes), brown sugar cubes, and then at least 4 different types of artificial sweetener in packets.  Interestingly, although all these sweeteners were brought out, no cream or milk was offered.
Decaf Coffee.
I ordered a decaf coffee, while my dining companions ordered espresso or tea.  The espresso drinks arrived, as did the tea, but alas, my coffee was nowhere in sight.  No server said anything to me about where mine might be.  I wasn't sure if it was just slower, or, forgotten.  Since the tea person also received his drink, it wasn't just that they only brought out the espresso drinks.

After waiting quite a while, I finally got a server's attention and asked about it, and a while later it showed up.  I'm still not sure if it was forgotten or not.  Anyway, it was good, as you can tell from the photo, nice dark coffee.  Very little decaf funk, a good product, well brewed.

The coffee came with a small chocolate biscotti on the side.  It was dry, hard, and pretty boring, but, biscotti always is boring to me.  It didn't have much chocolate flavor.  But, I only had coffee to go with the main attraction, always a highlight of the meal for me: dessert!
Dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse: Cocoa Génoise, Caramel, Nougat, Milk Sorbet.  $15.
The chocolate peanut butter mousse is the one I had my eye on.  You may realize that I don't often pick chocolate desserts.  This isn't because I don't like chocolate.  I love chocolate.  But I don't usually consume chocolate in the evenings, which is when I most often go out to restaurants, so I rarely get to indulge in chocolate desserts.  And chocolate with peanut butter?  Yes!

Sadly, it wasn't very good.  Also, what kind of "chocolate peanut butter mousse" was this?  I'm all for interpretations and interesting spins on things, but, I expected to see creamy mousse somewhere.

The main element was the bar shape, with a crunchy base, which seemed to be the only component that had peanuts.  The layer above that was a cocoa génoise, basically, dry boring sponge cake.  Above that was a layer of promised chocolate mousse, and it was all topped off with chocolate ganache.  Of the layers, only the top two tasted good, but neither was as rich as I would have liked.  I was particularly disappointed since it was called a chocolate peanut butter mousse, and there was very little peanut component.

I'm also not sure where the caramel from the description was, perhaps the drizzle on the plate was a dark caramel?  The milk sorbet was a ridiculously tiny scoop, seemingly from a melon baller, but it tasted like icy ice cream, with no real flavor, and no creaminess, so I didn't mind that there wasn't more of it.  I like that they were presumably trying to have something light to cut the richness of the chocolate dessert, but since the chocolate wasn't actually a very deep flavor, it wasn't necessary.  The chunk in the front was a piece of nougat, crunchy, but again, not very flavorful.  It might have had peanut butter too?

This dessert was such a disappointment: not enough peanut, not rich enough, not really a mousse.  It was also fairly small, particularly for the $15 price tag, which is higher than most nice restaurant desserts.  I would not get again, and, in fact, would not bother getting any desserts here again.
Dessert: Warm Chocolate Tart: Peppermint Ganache, Garden Mint Ice Cream. $15.
The second dessert my group picked was a warm chocolate tart.  I'm not generally a tart fan, but, since I picked the first item, I let others pick this one.  Plus, peppermint ganache and mint ice cream sounded good.

I didn't try the tart itself, as it didn't even look good, and after the last dessert, I was a bit brokenhearted.   The mint ice cream was nicely minty, although again, it came as fairly small serving (although about twice as large as the one that came with the previous dessert), and again, it was icy rather than creamy.  The peppermint ganache did have a strong mint flavor that I enjoyed.

And again, a fairly small dessert for the price.  I actually liked the size of the desserts, not overwhelming, and the right size to end a meal, but the prices for desserts were far too high for what they were.
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