Although we have recently been to Central Coast, upstate New York (Finger Lakes), Canadian (Southern Ontario) and Virginia wine regions, it had been a couple months since we had been to some of our favorite North Bay stops.
And, since we already had to be in Marin Country (San Rafael) on Sunday for Big Jim’s half-day barbeque and smoker cooking class, we thought we may as well bundle it with a couple days in Napa.
Spring Mountain and Stags Leap Cabs
Our two day trip consisted primarily of tastings at a few of our favorite wineries in each our two of our favorite Cab appellations. We discovered at least one exceptional wine, at least to our taste, from each of the seven wineries in these regions that we had a chance to try:
Our Spring Mountain stops consisted of:
- Keenan, with its 2007 Merlot and Cab and culminating in its Spring Mountain Reserve Cab;
- Pride Mountain, especially for its 2008 Vintner Select and especially Reserve Cabs; and
- Schweiger, with its 2006 Cab.
Stags Leap is our favorite Cab region. Given this, we added one additional stop to our planned visit to three wineries. They were:
- Stag’s Leap, and its 2008 Napa Valley Merlot and Cab, and especially its wonderful (although a bit rich for our wallet), 2007 Estate Grown “The Leap”;
- Cliff Lede, were tended to prefer its 2008 Stag’s Leap District Cab to two of its premier vineyard-specific offerings;
- Pine Ridge, where we particularly enjoyed its 2007 Stages Leap District Cab and especially its 2005 Andrus Reserve and 2007 Fortis blend;
- Chimney Rock, which is rapidly becoming our favorite source of Cab. We, as always, enjoyed its Elevage Bordeaux blend, plus a number of cabs, including the 2007 and especially its 2008 Ganymeade single vineyard.
One and a half days in Napa translated into two lunches and two dinners. We took this opportunity to experiment with four restaurants to which we had not previously been:
We had lunch at:
- Freemont Diner, in Carneros, was an accidental stop. Although we initially planned to eat at a long-time favorite (Boonfly Café), we ran short on time and had to resort to pick-up at a spot we had passed many times, but to which we had never given a second thought. Although the place was packed with regulars waiting for one of the few precious tables, our lunches (a bowl of chili and a fried oyster Po’boy) were disappointing.
- Addendum, Thomas Keller’s take-out restaurant located behind his casual, Ad Hoc dinner restaurant. We loved the atmosphere and the chance to eat on picnic tables, under the trees, in a quiet backyard in downtown Yountville. We also enjoyed both of the two main dishes (Ad Hoc’s famous buttermilk fried chicken and the barbequed pulled-pork sandwich) and both of the two side dishes (potato salad and braised chard with pork belly). We shall return.
Our dinner experiences were at:
- Kitchen Door, in Oxbow Market. Speaking of “we shall return”, we hit another winner for dinner. Kitchen Door, a very casual, counter-based order restaurant by chefs from St, Helena’s old Martini House, hit home runs two of the dishes we ordered, and a solid double with a third. The mushroom soup was delicious and sinfully rich; the wild mushroom flatbread pizza delicious. We enjoyed, but were somewhat less enthralled by another flatbread with lamb, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and yogurt sauce (think a flatbread gyros). Although Kitchen Door has only a small wine list, this lack is more than made up for with its No Corkage policy, which allowed us to enjoy one of our newly purchased Merlots with dinner. Speaking of Oxbow Market, we were happy to see Napa’s local “food mall” packed with dining patrons on the Saturday night we were there.
- Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine was less—much less—of a treat. The steamed littleneck clams were with chorizo were quite good (although a bit sparse for the price) and the fried brussel sprout leaves good. We ALMOST tasted another promising dish—the skate wing. But, after seeing the paltry size of one of the $27 evening skate wing special, we did something we have never ever considered doing (much less actually done). We sent the dish back for being to small for the price.
Big Jim’s Smoking and BBQ Cooking Class
What about our BBQ and smoker class? Jim guided us took us through preparation and tastings of smoked and barbecued brisket, pork ribs, tri-tip, salmon, beans, mushrooms and, in preparation for Thanksgiving, turkey in a fast-paced session in which he guides us through recipes, liberally interspersed with tips on grills, smokers, utensils, recipes and techniques.
Although the class was certainly interesting and lively, the fast coverage of so many dishes, combined with rapid transitions among recipes and numerous (albeit often interesting) digressions made it a bit tough to follow much less remember, exactly what to do with each dish. Hopefully, however, the combination of Jim’s cookbook and Joyce’s copious notes will allow us to recreate some of these dishes.
Speaking of the dishes, what did we think of them? Although we really enjoyed some of the more than a dozen meats Jim prepared (particularly the ribs, beans and barbequed salmon and turkey), we have, overall, had better barbeque. This being said, however, he took on a herculean task of continually monitoring the cooking of so many dishes while teaching and demonstrating so many recipes and techniques, answering dozens of questions and continually shepherding more than two dozen students back and forth between the indoor classroom and the outdoor cooking stations.
Overall, the class and the food were well worth the Groupon-discounted price of $75 per person.