>> Thursday, July 10, 2014
This is the seventh and final post in the Quick Weekend Getaway to Napa / Sonoma Series. Other posts in this series include: Benzinger Family Winery, Jack London State Park, Mayo Family Winery, Crisp Bake Shop, Napa Wine Train, and The Red Grape.
It had gone by way too fast.
As soon as it began, it felt like our weekend getaway to Napa/Sonoma was coming to an end. It had been a nice break - right in the middle of chilly April - to get away to somewhere a little warmer and enjoy gorgeous scenery, great wines, and tons of amazing food.
We stayed at the Westin Verasa right in the heart of the city of Napa. It was a great location. We were within walking distance of the Oxbow Public Market, downtown Napa, and the Napa Wine Train. The hotel itself was lovely, with well appointed, generously sized rooms and nice luxurious finishes.
The best part was at the first floor of the hotel, where Chef Ken Frank's award winning Michelin starred restaurant, La Toque, was located.
On our last night in Napa, after lots of driving around (in a convertible, no less!) and visiting all sorts of places, we were ready to sit down, enjoy a nice relaxing meal, and go to bed. Spending our final night at La Toque worked out perfectly. We able to just relax and enjoy a really nice dinner (and wine!) after a long day. Better yet, we didn't have to worry about driving home afterwards. We could turn in earlier, which was invaluable because we had an early flight out from San Franscisco the following morning.
Upon arrival, we were immediately handed two menus. A paper food menu and a digital wine list.
With respect to food, there are many different ways you can order.
You can get a three-course + dessert option for $74 (additional $48 for wine pairing), a four-course + dessert option for $90 (additional $62 for wine pairing), or choose from either the Chef's Table Tasting menu ($180 + $95 for wine pairing) or the more unusual Vegetable Tasting Menu ($85 + $75 for wine pairing). Sometimes, depending on the season, they have other special menus, like the Black Truffle Tasting for $200 (yummmmmm).
Though I was tempted to try the Vegetable Tasting menu, Bryan and I both ended up opting for the Chef's Table Tasting Menu, partly because a few of the courses just looked too good to pass up!
Their drink menu comes in the form of an iPad because there is just so much content. La Toque has been named one of the "Best Restaurants in America" by The Wine Spectator, and they boast a pretty impressive wine list (though prices aren't cheap!).
We had already brought our own wine, a 2011 Alpha Omega Chardonnay and a 2009 Benziger Tribute, from our winery visits earlier in the day. The general manager expressed a bit of regret that we had brought our own wine, since he really felt that their wine pairing program is one of their strongest features.
Our wines worked fine with our meal, but there will always be a part of me that wonders what it would have been like to try their pairing.
Maybe next time!
Anyway, onto the tasting meal . . .
We began with an amuse of Sunchoke Soup with browned butter and hazelnuts. The soup was very velvety, thick, and exceptionally smooth with lots of deep, mushroomy umami. It paired beautifully with our Chardonnay.
The next coures was Rosti Potato topped with creme fraiche and Israeli Russian Osetra caviar. The mini potato cake was fried with just the right amount of crisp. It served as the perfect bed for the creamy creme fraiche and the salty, flavorful caviar.
The next course was a Dutch White Asparagus steamed with Maltaise sauce. Maltaise Sauce is a variation of Hollandaise Sauce which incorporates blood orange juice and zest. This one was mild and creamy - subtle without too much salt. The white asparagus was beautifully crisp and fresh. I found this dish to be nice but it did not blow me away.
The next course, Abalone was phenomenal. I loved how the edges of the abalone were pan seared just enough until they were crispy. The fresh snap peas provided a nice crunch while the ham broth (made from Missouri ham) was incredibly deep, rich, and flavorful, with lots of umami. The entire dish was perfect - a beautiful pairing of textures and flavors.
"The abalone was probably one of my favorite dishes" Bryan remarked at the end of the night.
The next course was a Soy Braised Skrei, a sustainable variety of cod from Norway that only appears a few months of the year (usually January to April). Only the leanest and highest quality fish can be labeled Skrei, which is considered a special delicacy in Norway. We thought this tender fish was delicious, especially paired with the soy marinated Battera kombu (pickled kelp) and the crunchy, fresh mung bean sprouts.
The next course, Guinea Hen Fowl Ballotine, was excellent. The ballotine of meat was very tender and well-seasoned. We loved the gorgeous flavors from earthy morel mushrooms and the creamy, balanced sauce.
The tasting came with three tiny (but very rich) slices of A4 Kagoshima Prefecture Wagyu beef, which was excellent. The beef was served with charred ramp, a Tokyo turnip, and fancy onion ring. A4 grade beef is the second highest grade of Wagyu (A5 is the highest). To learn more about Japan's much more rigorous and precise meat grading system, check out my post from Le Cirque, where I got to taste A5 Wagyu beef.
I had asked to replace the beef course with something else (don't ask - I explain below), and they gave me the Mushroom Pot Pie. We were both surprised at how rich and full of umami a vegetarian dish could be. It really tasted like beef stew. I was pretty stuffed at this point, but Bryan loved it and finished it for me (after eating his beef!).
We had a lovely cheese plate which consisted of two cheeses. One was from Cowgirl Creamery (which is local), while the other was an Eppoise from France (one of my favorites!). Both cheeses were fantastic and went really well with the accompaniments. Bryan especially liked the nut/date bread that came with this course.
Our palate cleanser dessert was a lovely lemongrass kaffir lime sherbet. It was very refreshing, with just the right amount of creaminess.
Finally, dessert was a Creamy Chocolate Gianduja Nut Bar. Gianduja is a chocolate hazelnut paste spread that originated from the Piedmont region of Italy.
Though I personally found the dessert to be just a tad too sweet and rich for me, I did think it had a lovely, toasty nutty flavor. There seemed to be all different types of nuts in the bar, including peanuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts (and yes, that's real gold on top!).
We had a fantastic time at La Toque. The service was excellent, the sommelier was really knowledgeable, and we were really impressed with Chef Ken Frank's dishes. Overall the food was very good, with a few courses that really stood out. In retrospect, I regret trying to change the tasting menu by switching out the last course. I was trying to make my meal lighter and healthier, which backfired because a whole bowl of mushroom stew is much more filling than two slices of delectable Wagyu beef.
Lesson learned: don't mess with the chef's perfectly designed menu if you don't have any dietary restrictions.
It was a pretty quiet night, perhaps due to the fact that it was off-season and a Sunday evening. I'm sure it gets busy at times, but because it's a much larger restaurant, it's likely that you'll have better luck scoring a reservation here last minute than many of the other Michelin starred restaurants in Napa Valley.
All in all, the experience was great and the Michelin Star is definitely well deserved.
Disclaimer: This trip was set up for me by the Sonoma Valley Visitor's Bureau. Bryan and I did not pay for the dinner. We also got a discount on our rates at the Westin Verasa. We did pay for the wine and gratuity. All opinions are my own.
1314 McKinstry St
Napa, CA 94559