Thursday, September 6, 2012

I may never stop talking about last Sunday

Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I just had so many exciting things to talk about.

No exaggeration – this past Sunday was one of the best days of my life! Alex and I spent the day in Napa before heading to a John Hiatt concert, and the whole day was epic. Here’s the rundown:

We left Berkeley around 11, and didn’t arrive in Calistoga (the very northern part of the Napa region) until almost 1:30. Unfortunately, this is pretty typical – its only a 50 miles drive or so, but traffic tends to suck. Thankfully we swung through Starbucks on the way (side note: fall drinks and treats are back! I got a salted caramel mocha and it was to die for. This also means that its pumpkin cream cheese muffin time! I’ll let you know how that goes as soon as I get my hands on one). It was a gorgeous day and we had good tunes in the car, so the drive was pleasant.

Finally we arrived at a tasting room in Calistoga. I had spent some time on Google and Yelp looking for some inexpensive wine tastings for two reasons – 1, I was trying to save some money (duh) and 2, this isn’t really Alex’s thing – he was mostly doing it to humor me – so I didn’t want him to spend a ton either. It turns out that there are a TON on inexpensive tastings available throughout Napa, you just have to do your research. So anyway, we went to this place (and now I’ve totally forgotten the name, but I did buy a bottle there). While we were there, we got a coupon for two complimentary tastings at Markham ( – where it turns out they also had a free gallery full of photos from Rolling Stone’s original photographer – think Jerry Garcia, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, all in their prime, paired with the original Rolling Stones covers. Alex was ecstatic – this is definitely more his scene, and I was pleased because while the day was rather me-oriented, I wanted him to enjoy it too. So we drank some more free wine and checked out some very cool art. Then we had a delicious packed lunch in the parking lot (cheese, summer sausage, crackers). That concluded our wine tasting for the day – and ringing in at $6 each, it was not bad at all.

Next we headed over to the CIA Greystone, which is practically across the street from Markham. The woman at the first tasting room had recommended that we stop by. Honestly, I hadn’t realized that it was open to the public, and that there was an awesome campus store. The building is beautiful, like a castle, and there are also some neat displays inside – the antique corkscrew collection, for example. I wanted to drop everything and enroll and never leave…but I managed to contain myself (I have been looking for a part-time culinary program to enroll in, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but they are so dang expensive and I guess just not a very practical option right now). I did buy a cute bamboo salt box with the CIA logo on it and a postcard for my grandparents. I saw the cutest pink chef’s coat, too (hint, hint, mom and dad).

Next stop was Dean and DeLuca. I’d been surprised to see the shop last time I was in Napa; I’d always thought Dean and DeLuca was more of an East Coast thing. Regardless, I’d never actually been in one (just heard Julie talk about in Julie and Julia, and of course, Felicity worked there…). Paradise. I walked away with a very cool burlap tote bag, and Alex got some licorice, so everyone was happy. We drooled over the meats and cheese cases, and the homemade marshmallows, but managed to resist. But  I wanted one of everything in the store (of course, I felt the same way back at the CIA shop…I’m incorrigible, I know).

On to downtown Yountville. I finally laid eyes on the French Laundry, live and in person, and I haven’t been able to forget about it since. Someday, Allison. Someday. But, I did get to go to Bouchon Bakery, which was completely and totally worth the wait in line. Alex and I each got a chocolate éclair, dotted with gold leaf on top. I also got a coconut macaroon, and Alex got a chocolate one. Then we crossed the street to the V Marketplace and checked out NapaStyle. It was very cool, but I actually enjoyed Tyler Florence’s shop in Mill Valley more – the farm aesthetic is probably what got me. We concluded our time in Yountville by sitting on the grass, basking in the sun and eating éclairs. And what an éclair it was.

Then it was time for dinner – so exciting! I made reservations at Mustard’s Grill (which turned out to be wise, as there would have been quite a wait otherwise – and there’s my tip for the day! Make reservations whenever possible, because, well, why wouldn’t you?). Here’s the back story on why a chose Mustard’s from the dozens of dinner destinations in in the area: I follow Mario Batali on Twitter. Back around the time that I was moving out here, someone asked him what places he’d recommend for dinner in Napa besides the French Laundry (for those that don’t know, he does an “Ask Mario” feed that can be very informative and helpful). He recommended two places, and Mustard’s was one of them. It had excellent reviews yet wasn’t crazy expensive, so it seemed like the ideal choice – and it was. The restaurant has a “deluxe truck stop” motif going. Don’t get me wrong, it is still an upscale place to eat, but with cool vintage touches. Alex the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and a side of three cheese mac and cheese, both of which were very yummy. The mac and cheese had some kind of strong, tangy cheese in it that was delicious. I, meanwhile, had the smoked duck, which was served with garlic mashed potatoes. The potatoes were good (I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with mashed potatoes), but the duck was excellent. It was obviously cooked  by someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to duck – it was delightfully smoky, the skin was crispy, and it wasn’t at all fatty. Yum. Alex and I shared a brown butter cake with vanilla panna cotta and plums for dessert.

From there, we headed to downtown Napa for the concert. We got there a little early, so we shoot some pool at a billiards place right next door to the theater. Alex beat me three times, but I won once, so no complaints. Plus they were playing John Hiatt music in the place, which was awesome and got me psyched for the concert. The concert itself was at the Uptown Theater, a very cool old renovated theater – the kind of place where there’s not really a bad seat in the house. I’ve been a fan of John Hiatt for many, many years (I think this was the fifth time I’ve seen him in concert) and he never disappoints. He played a lot of fan favorites, oldies but goodies, and gave us a preview of his upcoming album. He opened the encore with “Have a Little Faith in Me” and I was done. A good time was had by all.

So basically, the day consisted of beautiful weather and scenery, wine (and wine is good, but free wine is even better), excellent food and shopping, and my favorite musician doing my favorite songs. I mean, does life get any better?

Oh, and then on Monday (yay for three day weekends!), Alex and I played mini golf and I won! It was fantastic. And then we went to Sonic and had hot dogs, tots, and slushies. Is my life awesome these days or what?

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