Stoic & Genuine

The Denver restaurant scene has always been impressively good.  Most of my favorite dining experiences have been in Denver, and it’s hard to fight the urge to go to the same favorites whenever we visit.  Still, Denver seems to have been stepping up its culinary game ever since we left, and there are a number of delicious-looking new places cropping up.  As such, we have been making ourselves branch out more often.  While it is almost painful to skip over classic favorites such as EDGE, Il Posto, Root Down, and Shanahan’s, we have for the most part been rewarded in these endeavors.

We keep wanting to check out Beatrice and Woodsley, but this popular joint was fully booked on Thursday when we got around to looking at reservations for Saturday night.  Perusing the various offerings on Open Table, I chose Stoic and Genuine, a seafood restaurant that opened in the newly renovated Union Station.  I was attracted by their offering of caviar and an extensive oyster list, but further examining the menu I discovered I would gladly sample virtually everything on it (which, being someone who doesn’t eat any red meat or pork, is saying something).

Saturday night was the night of a Rockie’s game, so we opted to take the light rail into Denver instead of slogging through traffic and circling aimlessly for parking.  It was a pleasant experience and made for excellent people watching.  Our train deposited us at Union Station, and it was a pleasant stroll through the warm Denver night to arrive at Stoic and Genuine.

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On the light rail to Stoic and Genuine.

So how do I say this nicely…Union Station used to be a little bit of a…dump.  The last time I was there was maybe 3-4 years ago, when other than some construction there wasn’t much happening.  Needless to say I was utterly shocked when we rounded a corner and the facade of Union Station came into view.  The place is now utterly gorgeous!  The main building soars majestically overhead, with several restaurants complete with outdoor dining areas dotting the walkway.  A pretty and fun series of jumping fountains graces the sidewalk, and kids were chasing each other around the jets of water laughing merrily.  People bustled about or simply lounged, taking in the surroundings.  Apparently, Union Station was now a happening place to be.  Well done, Denver!

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The new Union Station at night.

Stoic and Genuine was one of those restaurants with a patio seating area looking out at the bustling walks and jumping fountains.  We entered to find the kitchen area and raw bar ahead with a relatively intimate dining area to the left and a nautical-themed driftwood bar to the right.  Dark wood tables lined a wall with a blue couch and pleasant, soft, blue-tinged lighting.  The decor accents included old timey diving attire, metal chandeliers, and rusted mirrors that looked as though they could have been pulled out of the sea.  It was casual and yet elegant.

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Stoic and Genuine interior.

We were seated promptly and selected a Patz and Hall Chardonnay from their wine list.  I wanted to start with the caviar, which we ordered first and then continued to peruse the delectable menu.  I should at this point present my one criticism of Stoic and Genuine:  the service was unimpressive.  The caviar took forever to plate (what, did they have to go harvest it fresh from the sea?); I had to ask for a wine chiller for our bottle of Chardonnay (I mean, isn’t that Wine Service 101?); they couldn’t seem to get straight which oysters they had and which they were out of (I had to change my order 3 different times because they kept making mistakes); and empty plates were left to sit in front of us for far too long (we had to finally flag someone down to please clear them).  So that aspect was annoying.  The food though…

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Black River Oscietra caviar served with lemon crème frâiche.

The caviar, while it did take literally 30 minutes to serve, was beautifully prepared.  Unfortunately by the time it arrived we were borderline desperate with hunger, and the delicate morsels didn’t last very long.  A more polished me would have savored them with less haste.  I can comment, at least, that they were tasty.  I loved the twist on the crème frâiche – I think lemon just makes everything better – and admittedly I was scraping it off the plate with the mother-of-pearl spoon.  And I don’t apologize 🙂

We next sampled the Spanish Octopus appetizer.  I love octopus – raw, grilled, fancied up, it’s hard not to like.  This particular dish was grilled and flavored with molé, cilantro, and lime, and while not my favorite octopus dish ever, it was definitely in the top 5.  We moved on to salads next; I had the Panzanella, bursting with flavor from the heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and smoked Ricotta, while Brian selected the S&G House.  Both were artfully plated and delicious.

For his main course, Brian chose the Alaskan Halibut with English peas and black truffle crème fraiche.  They did a fantastic job with this dish.  The fish was golden and flakey, and paired beautifully with the black truffle and peas.

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Alaskan Halibut. Brian was actually jealous of me – note his two oysters on the side.

Brian’s dish was attractively plated and I was almost jealous.  Almost.  Until our server brought me my main course: a dozen oysters that I didn’t have to share with anyone!   While I will admit, I have seen more attractive presentations, these were some of the best oysters I have ever tasted.  They were fresh and sweet, and the champagne mignonette was perfectly balanced.

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Sometimes, you just gotta have a dozen oysters.

Brian, envious of my oysters (which I staunchly refused to share), ultimately ordered a few of his own.  We finished the meal by sharing an angel food cake dessert with fresh berries and basil meringues.  It was light and delicious, and the basil meringues were surprising and delightful.

I loved the ambiance of the restaurant space, and I thought the food was excellent.  All in all, it was a pleasant dining experience.  I would definitely recommend checking out Stoic & Genuine, with a few tips:

  1. Don’t arrive starving.  Maybe their service will improve, but in case it doesn’t, be prepared to be patient.  A glass of wine (or a bottle) definitely helps with this.
  2. The portions are very small (which is how we were able to sample so many things comfortably).  As such, most of the dishes at Stoic and Genuine are not very share-worthy.
  3. Get the oysters.  If you do nothing else…get the oysters!
  4. It is a popular restaurant, and reservations are a good idea.  However, there appeared to be space at the bar, so even without reservations a couple would probably not have a problem.

 

Post-Call/Pre-Call Saturday Fabulousness

Call is a necessary evil in the world of medicine.  Patients don’t stop delivering, problems don’t disappear, and consults don’t stop coming in just because it’s after 6pm or a weekend. In a hospital, someone has to be around to take care of patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Enter the concept of “call,” which is basically covering any duties beyond the Monday through Friday 7am-6pm normal work day.  In my world of OB/GYN “call” is a bit of a misnomer – we aren’t hanging out at home “on call”, waiting to be called in.  We are at the hospital when we take call, readily on hand in case a patient needs an emergent cesarean section or a trip to the OR for a ruptured ectopic.  You may not always see us doctors, but someone is always there, haunting the halls, making sure everyone on the service is doing okay.

Usually we try to space out 24 hour calls, taking turns at the responsibility of living in the hospital, in order to ensure the maintenance of sanity.  There is only so much sleep deprivation and stress a human body can handle.  While some of our senior colleagues bemoan the advent of work hour restrictions and the more humane treatment of residents, I have to say these are good developments in medical training.  As someone who has been awake for 36 hours straight, I can confirm there is a certain point of fatigue at which I become unsafe to practice medicine.  Incorporating a degree of balance into medical training keeps patients safe and residents happy, decreasing errors and burnout alike.

Sometimes, however, you just gotta deal with a lot of call.

This is how I found myself on Saturday, post-call from a 24 hour shift on Friday, and pre-call before another 24 hour shift on Sunday.  In these situations, I find it is important to make something fabulous happen to avoid spiraling into the depths of despair.  If life becomes a dreary slog of work – sleep – work, it’s easy to feel unhealthy, unbalanced, and depressed.

Step 1 of my Saturday fabulousness was, indeed, sleep – you can’t feel fabulous when you are tired!  I showered off the hospital, closed my black-out curtains, and kicked my husband out of the apartment for 5 hours of glorious, undisturbed rest.  (Don’t worry – he went off to do “man tasks” and did not resent the temporary eviction).

Step 2 was to work out.  Whenever I wake up from a nap post-call I feel pretty awful, my brain fuzzy and my body stiff.  Some sort of physical activity to get my blood pumping and endorphins flowing always, without fail, makes me feel dramatically better.  My local gym is closed on Saturdays, so I pulled up a 60 minute HIIT workout on Fitness Blender and got my body moving.  By the end, I was sweating, sore, and alert.  It felt wonderful!

Step 3 for battling the depression of call-overload: get pretty.  Shower, put on real-people clothes, put on a touch of make up.  Maybe go crazy and wear heels, even if you’re just in your own house.  I want to feel like a normal person, even if it’s only for a few hours before I need to head back to bed for additional pre-call sleep.  It’s hard not to feel good when you look good!

Step 4 – now that you feel fabulous again, do something fabulous!  We could have gone out, and sometimes we do, but this Saturday it seemed like too much work.  Instead, Brian and I decided to turn our apartment into a fine-dining establishment.  We love to cook, and we really love to cook together.  So we threw on some music, lit all of our numerous candles, and got to it.

As an appetizer, I created a cheeseboard for the two of us to nibble while we were cooking.  Among other things, I was starving, having not eaten since breakfast and also having worked out – I needed food ASAP, and few things make me happier than good wine with good cheese!  I usually try to serve at least 3 different cheeses on my cheeseboards, and I like to have yummy accompaniments, like fruit, nuts, and different crackers.

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Cheeseboard for two!

For this particular cheeseboard, I selected a sheep milk cheese (bottom left – Mitica Cordobes from Whole Foods), a Roth Kase Private Reserve cow milk cheese (top right, also from Whole foods), and a goat Chèvre from Trader Joe’s served with a blackberry-walnut jam (top left).  I added some grapes, blackberries, and pistachios, as well as a wheat cracker and an olive-fig cracker.  We opened a bottle of Merlot from Paso Robles to sip as we enjoyed our cheese and prepared the rest of our dinner.

I made a salad of arugula and spinach with tomatoes, cucumber, pistachios, dried currants, and crumbled goat cheese.  I find the best way to do salads is to dress the greens and plate them first, then add the remainder of your ingredients.  This makes sure your salad looks attractive, and keeps all the additional goodies from collecting at the bottom of your mixing bowl.  For the dressing, I drizzled EVOO and aged balsamic from The Olive Press over the greens and tossed in some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  If you use high quality oil and vinegar, you really don’t need much more for a truly delicious salad dressing!

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Spinach and arugula salad with EVOO and balsamic.

While I was preparing the cheese and the salad, Brian was working on our main entree.  He prepared a soy-ginger glaze that he poured over some beautiful salmon filets, and took them out to grill on a cedar plank.  I tossed some asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and added some finely chopped shallots.  The key to good asparagus is to turn off the heat before the asparagus is fully cooked; it will continue to cook in the hot pan while you are waiting to plate, and you end up with a flavorful, crisp asparagus as opposed to a soggy, mushy mess.  When we were done, we had a restaurant quality meal that we had prepared ourselves.

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Grilled soy-ginger salmon with asparagus.

We added some fresh bread warmed in the oven with more of the delicious Olive Press EVOO and balsamic for dipping, and poured more of our lovely Merlot.  It was from a winery in Breckenridge, Colorado, though the grapes were sourced from Paso Robles.  The wine was very fruit-forward with prominent notes of blackberry and black plum.  It was soft on the palate and pleasant to drink, and it went well with our meal.

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A date at home!

We sat down for our home-prepared meal and enjoyed each other’s company in the warm glow of candle light.  We had a lovely evening, and I felt relaxed, loved, healthy, and happy.  I felt as though balance had been restored to my life, and I felt ready to tackle another 24 hour call with grace and good will.  When you work a lot, you have to make fabulous happen, whatever that looks like for you.  The next time you are feeling downtrodden and overworked, take a moment to do whatever you need to do to feel normal again, and keep your inner spark sparkling!

Building A Beautiful Vegetable Crudite Platter

Confession: I have a slight obsession with cheese boards.  From designing them to serving them to eating them, cheese boards make me very happy…especially when paired with a delicious bottle of wine.  But I’ve been doing a lot of them lately, and decided to try my hand at something new.

Not only are vegetable crudité platters a very healthy option to serve at a party, they can also be edible art.  What better way to wow your guests than a beautifully crafted, colorful spread to be nibbled and munched at, guilt-free?  Added bonus?  Super easy!

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One of my recent creations. Attractive, delicious, and healthy!

A successful crudité platter requires 2 key elements:

  • Fresh veggies
  • Tasty dips

You can always throw on some extra goodies, such as crackers, pita chips, Greek dolma, dried fruit, nuts, even (of course) cheese!  I think a herby chevre is a great option in this case as it can be spread on crackers and topped with veggies.

For the veggies: think “color” and “fresh.”  You probably want at least 1 selection from several color groups.  Then just go to the market and purchase whatever looks the brightest and freshest.  Here are some options:

  • Green: cucumber, celery, sugar snap peas, asparagus, broccoli
  • Red: cherry tomatoes, red pepper
  • Yellow: yellow carrots, yellow pepper
  • Orange: orange carrots, orange pepper
  • Purple: purple carrots, radish (watermelon radishes are especially lovely), red Belgian endive
  • White: cauliflower, endive, fennel, jicama

For the dips: you could whip up some Green Goddess dressing from scratch…or you could make life easy and hit up your local Trader Joe’s.  With an impressive array of colorful hummus options, you can take care of this part in a snap.  I recommend selecting 2-3 different color hummus options for your crudité platter.  Some examples:

  • Trader Joe’s Beet Hummus (purple)
  • Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus (green)
  • Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Hummus (orange)
  • Trader Joe’s Eggplant Hummus (tan)
  • Trader Joe’s Original Hummus (tan)

Now, some tips for assembling your platter:

  • I use a mandolin set at the thickest slice setting for things like cucumbers, fennel, radishes, and carrots. You get a uniform slice and it gets done fast.
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Mandolin slicer. I suggest setting it to the thickest slice for veggie crudités.
  • You can add some extra flavor to veggies like broccoli or asparagus by doing a quick sautee: toss the veggies in olive oil, salt, and pepper and sautee for 1-2 minutes so they are still crisp but slightly cooked.
  • To take your dips from basic to “wow!” you can do some simple garnishes. Top Beet Hummus and Edamame hummus with lemon zest.  Top Tomato Basil hummus with a few Trader Joe’s sundried tomatoes and some shredded basil.  Top Eggplant Hummus or Original Hummus with some fancy olive oil and pine nuts.

Now just place your dips on the board and arrange the veggies around them.  Add in your extras and serve!

 

Napa 2017 – Day 4

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson 

Day 3 had been a big day for us in Napa, so we took it a bit easier on Day 4.  We slept in and spent some time exercising, finally making it out of the hotel around noon.  We headed first to the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, a wonderful mecca of shops and cafes.  You can sample olive oils and balsamic vinegars, explore cheese shops and fresh produce from nearby farms, sip an espresso or indulge in some pretty amazing ice cream.  They have chocolate and brewery offerings, as well as some tasty restaurants.  No trip to Napa is complete without a stroll through Oxbow.

We hit up the Hog Island Oyster Company for some deliciously fresh oysters paired with a bright Sauvignon Blanc.  We then strolled around and sampled oil and vinegar at The Olive Press and purchased a beautiful, light dipping EVOO and some excellent aged balsamic.  I perused the cheese selections and we relaxed over a positively velvety cappuccino at Ritual Coffee Roasters.  We then drove up the beautiful Silverado Trail to St. Helena, where we met Steven and Yevgeniya at Hall Wines.

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The silver bunny greets you as you drive onto the Hall Wines estate.

Hall probably ranks in the top 3 of my favorite Napa Valley wineries for two reasons.  The first is, of course, the wine.  They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, though I have to say their Sauvignon Blanc is really, really good as well.  The second reason is that Hall is just a super cool place to hang out.  The elegantly modern estate is basically an art gallery interspersed with clever witticisms.  Kathryn and Craig Hall, the founders of Hall Wines, select each piece of art themselves, and many of the pieces are reproduced on their wine labels.  There is one piece made entirely of index cards, a light installation in which you can see birds fluttering past, and multiple sculptures and installation pieces scattered across the grounds.

Hall does not require a reservation for tasting, and it’s one of the best tasting experiences to be had in Napa.  You can get your taste, then meander about their grounds as you sip.  You can play corn hole or lawn bowling.  You can walk through their vegetable and flower garden.  You can lounge on the Ocean View Terrace (lifeguard off duty!) or on the deck outside the tasting room, overlooking the vineyards.

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Looking out from the tasting room deck.

 

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The boys taking a stroll.

When you are ready, you stroll back up to the tasting bar and get your next pour, then you can head back out again.  Most of the walls in the tasting room are floor to ceiling windows, and at certain times of the day hanging panels catch the sunlight and project a myriad of colors onto the main tasting room wall.  I realize I’ve said this already, but the whole experience at Hall is just fabulous!  What more could you ask for than excellent wine paired with acclaimed art and lawn games on a beautiful sunny afternoon in wine country?

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Relaxing outside at Hall.

We enjoyed our wines thoroughly, comparing the different Cabernets as we drank in the wonders of the Hall estate.  My only wish is that they could do wines by the glass.  The only way the Hall experience could be even better would be if you could finish your tasting, purchase a glass of your favorite, and continue to enjoy the grounds.  Alas, they legally are barred from offering such a thing, which is probably a good thing; otherwise people like me would most likely hang out here all day and never leave!

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Brian and me, all smiles at Hall Wines.

Wrapping up our afternoon at Hall, we realized we were hungry again – the oysters, while delectable, were not particularly filling, and several hours had passed.  We made our way to Goose and Gander for an early dinner.

Goose and Gander is located in St. Helena a short drive from Hall Wines.  It is a rustic public house with a seasonal menu and a casual vibe.  They have a hip basement bar and a beautiful patio shaded by trees, umbrellas, and vine-woven trellises.  They also have a menu with something for everyone, and making our selections was a tough process as everything looked so good!  Our server was attentive and personable, and he made some good recommendations when it came to our selections.  We started with some delicious cheeses and the lamb tartar – again, I don’t personally eat mammals but everyone else ensured me it was tasty.  I had the grilled Spanish octopus, which was divine, and I found Brian’s duck breast perfectly prepared and delicious.  We paired this with a Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by our waiter, and were very content.

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Patio dining at Goose and Gander.

Our main courses concluded, we headed down the street to PRESS for dessert.  The cozy dining room at PRESS opens onto a patio with vineyard views, and their menu looks yummy.  I vowed we would have a meal here the next time we come to Napa!

From here we returned to the Marriott.  The sun was now setting on our Napa 2017 vacation, and we decided to relax by one of the fire pits in the twilight, recounting our experiences.  The next day we would all get up early for the long drive home to Southern California, but for now we were content to smile and laugh together over one more glass of wine.  It really was a wonderful and memorable trip to Napa, and I can’t wait for our next one!

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Best friends together on our last night in Napa!

 

Napa 2017 – Day 3 – Sonoma Continued

“And wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” — Alexander Pope

Our morning at Jordan complete, we traveled south to our next Sonoma stop, J Vineyards. I was intrigued by J Vineyards due to its history.  It was established in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan.  It started as a project to produce sparkling wine, but has expanded to include other excellent varietals.  We pulled into the parking lot and immediately I knew I had chosen wisely – the tasting estate was gorgeous.  You walk over a bridge with a series of arched vines overhead, flowers blooming and lush vegetation all around, to enter a spacious modern main room with branching salons to either side.

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The walk up to J Vineyards.

There are multiple tasting options at J Vineyards.  You can walk in without a reservation and do a tasting in this main room, or take a tour, or do an elaborate food paring in their Bubble Room.  When planning our trip, I elected to make an appointment for the J Legacy Tasting in the Legacy Reserve Lounge.  For one, I am somewhat obsessed with pairing wine with cheese, and this afforded the opportunity to order what turned out to be a gorgeous cheese board.  More importantly, however, the J Legacy Tasting actually includes 3 different options: a Pinot flight, a bubbles flight, or the Legacy flight with the opportunity to try the J Pinot Gris and J Chardonnay in addition to three J Pinot Noirs.  I figured with four people, it might be nice to allow for some individual options.

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The J Vineyards Legacy Reserve Lounge.

We were led into the Legacy Reserve Lounge, a beautifully appointed room with an entire wall of windows looking out over the lush property.  Like the main room, the windows and the light and the high ceilings made for a modern, airy, and relaxed ambiance that I found completely enchanting.

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Yevgeniya, a vision at J Vineyards.

We settled in and made our selections.  I opted for the Legacy Tasting – I do enjoy my white wines – while my three companions opted for the Pinot Noir flight.  Something I should mention at this point – the glassware in Napa is always immaculate.  Most wineries serve your wine in Riedel stemware – always with true wine glasses and never in those accursed stemless vessels.  J Vineyards was no different, and I admired the graceful stemware our waiter, Izzy, lined up in front of me.  I usually scorn Pinot Gris but I was pleasantly surprised by the J Vineyards version, and I found the Chardonnay lovely.  The Pinot Noirs, though, stole the show.  Given J Vineyards started as a sparkling wine concept, I wasn’t expecting high quality Pinots here (and I am very, very picky when it comes to Pinot Noir).  However, all three of the Pinots in my flight (and the two others in Brian’s Pinot flight, which by spousal privilege I did, of course, sample) were excellent!  Our cheese board was something of a work of art, each of the unique cheeses topped with some sort of pretty garnish.  Izzy was attentive and informative, rounding out the perfection of our visit.  I would definitely recommend stopping at J Vineyards if you find yourself in Sonoma, as the entire experience was fabulous.

Our two Jordan family experiences completed and satisfying, we started heading back towards Napa.  Lest anyone consider us irresponsible, my husband, ever the sophisticated pragmatist, carries with him a breathalyzer.  Not because he has ever been convicted of driving under the influence – quite the contrary, Brian has a sense of duty and honor that cannot be questioned, which is one of the reasons I admire and adore him so greatly.  He simply never wants to get behind the wheel when he would be unsafe to drive, not trusting the self-assessment of anyone who has imbibed.  We confirmed that both he and Steven were still well below the legal limit (we females in the group were borderline, so goes the losing battle of the BMI) and proceeded to our final destination of the day, Bouchaine Vineyards.  It was rather perfectly situated for our day, being located in the Carneros region on the way back to the Marriott.  It’s one of the wineries you can walk into without an appointment, which was nice given that, with the afternoon Sonoma traffic, it was impossible to predict exactly when we would arrive.

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The grounds at Bouchaine.

We turned off the main highway onto a pastoral side road, past sun-soaked vineyards, leading to Bouchaine.  We entered their quaint tasting room, where we received some of the best of the already excellent service to be had in Napa.  Their hours are only until 4:30pm, but though we showed up at 4 o’clock there was no rushing us.  The two personable and cheerful women pouring at the tasting room bar chatted with us as though we were old friends as we moved through their tasting menu.  The Bouchaine rosé was the only rosé wine we purchased on the entire Napa 2017 trip.  Moreover, their Pinot Noirs are wonderful, the Carneros region with its cooler climes well suited to growing this varietal.  I definitely want to go back sometime and relax on their patio, which overlooks the idyllic grounds at Bouchaine.  This was another of Marcia’s recommendations, and per usual it did not disappoint.

It didn’t take long to wind our way through the Carneros countryside back to the Marriott Napa Valley.  Our day was not yet complete – we still had dinner to look forward to!

When we came to Napa last year we were blown away by a food and wine paring experience at Chateau Potelle (also a Marcia recommendation – have you noticed a trend?)  The wine at Potelle was so fabulous, it was the only wine my parents deemed worthy of purchase during that trip.  The food part of the pairing was prepared by the chef from La Toque, a Michelin star restaurant located within the Westin Hotel in Napa.  The food was so lovely I vowed to to have dinner there during our next Napa trip.  As such, it was to La Toque that we headed for dinner this night.

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Dining room at La Toque.

There is one word to describe dining at La Toque, and that is “fabulous”.  The entire experience, from being greeted by the hostess, to our intimate table by the fireplace, to the immaculate service, to the exceptional food, was just amazing.  La Toque is the essence of fine dining, and is very much deserving of its Michelin star.

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Seated and excited for dinner at La Toque!

We elected to do the 5 course tasting menu, which included desert.  We both ordered a glass of Chardonnay while the sommelier decanted our recently procured Jordan 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  To start we were offered an amuse bouche, a lovely little bite to “entertain the mouth.”  We followed this with a roasted baby beet salad, served on a slate board and looking more like a piece of art than something you would eat – though it was delicious, the morsels of roasted beet melding with the tendrils of mascarpone.  From here we moved to a grilled Pacific sablefish floating on a lush mouse studded with gems of sunchoke.  At this point our Jordan Cabernet was poured, just in time for our next course, a Spanish octopus served with olive puree and Romesco.  I love grilled octopus, and this was mouthwateringly delicious.  For our final course, I elected for a tortellini stuffed with mint and Mascarpone served in a broth with English peas.  The little pasta purses burst with flavor, the mint and the peas a smashing combination.  I really must try pairing mint and peas in future culinary endeavors.  Brian had some sort of steak, which he assured me was exquisitely done.  For dessert, Brian elected for some sort of chocolate concoction that, of course, was a work of art.  I wasn’t really in the mood for anything sweet, so I went with their cheese selection which I found a decadent end to my fabulous meal.

La Toque was probably the second-best dining experience of my life, to be surpassed only by the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, another Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley.  Please, friends, make a point to dine at La Toque on your next Napa excursion – you won’t regret it!  They even have an all-vegetarian tasting menu, which I am sure is outstanding.

Sated and merry, we headed home to the Marriott.  It was a wonderful day.

 

Napa 2017 – Day 1

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” — Benjamin Franklin

Well, the start of Day 1 was interesting.  What we intended to be a relaxing drive up North, complete with a collection of Audiobooks and tasty snacks, quickly devolved into a very uncomfortable experience when the air conditioning of our car suddenly ceased to exist.  How easily we take such things for granted!  Air conditioning is a luxury for which I will, from this point forward, be sincerely grateful.  Driving through the Central Valley in the 90 degree sun without air conditioning was fairly miserable, and I will admit I did not handle the situation gracefully.

Somehow Brian managed to tolerate the ensuing 6 hours of my griping and groaning, heroically patient man that he is.   When we arrived at the Napa Valley Marriott I burst free of the sweltering car and made a beeline for the air-conditioned lobby.  Heaven!  My sweating skin drank in the delicious coolness, and I was able to focus again on the joyous fact that we had arrived in Napa!  We checked in and 30 minutes later re-emerged, showered and refreshed, to head into the late Napa afternoon.  It was time for some wine!

napa valley marriott
Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, our home for the week!

We met my friend John and his significant other, Patrick, at the John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge in downtown Napa.  John and I worked together first during a research elective my senior year at Harvard College, then at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute after I graduated, and then at iPierian, a start-up biotech company, in San Francisco.  He started as a mentor and quickly became one of my most valued friends.  Ours is a friendship going back 10 years with multiple stories and escapades.  I hadn’t seen John in three years, and I was glad for the opportunity to enjoy his company again.  We breezed in to the chic lounge, hugs were exchanged and introductions made, and we embarked on the first of many fabulous tasting experiences of the week.

John Anthony Vineyards is owned and operated by the husband and wife partnership of John and Michele Truchard.  Unlike most wineries, located on a single estate, John Anthony Vineyards is made up of several small vineyards scattered throughout the southern part of the valley, including the Carneros and Oak Knoll appellations.  Each vineyard location was chosen for its soil and microclimate, and the harvests are pooled to craft their wines.  I have to say, this strategy is working well for the couple – the wines we tasted in this pleasant lounge were excellent.  The tasting room is situated in a perfect location, walking distance from the plethora of downtown Napa restaurants.  The feel of the lounge is relaxed sophistication, very much my preference for social gathering places.  I loved the simple pleasure of enjoying good wine with good friends in this graceful space, and I will most certainly be back on future Napa expeditions.

john anthony outside
John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge, downtown Napa.

After our tasting we headed to Angele for dinner.  Angele is a little French restaurant located on the river in downtown Napa, right next to the Napa River Inn.  The restaurant is a converted boathouse with a pleasant patio and river views.  They call themselves “French country,” and that is a good description of the atmosphere here.

We started off with oysters and escargots, served not in the usual escargot dish or in the shell, but in a puff pastry with a delectable garlic butter sauce.  Delicious!  We also sampled their fried deviled eggs, something I would normally shy away from, but that I had to admit were tasty.  I had the tuna nicoise salad, the lighter fare exactly what I wanted on this pleasant evening.  Brian had their roasted pork chop (I personally don’t eat mammals, though fish, poultry, and yes, snails are fair game) which he described as expertly done.  We paired it all with a lovely pinot noir of John’s selection.  The staff was personable and attentive, the service excellent.

The evening was a delightful way to kick off our vacation, and we went back to our hotel excited for the week to come.