This is part 4 of the Napa Valley Adventures series. Other posts in this series: Ad Hoc, Bottega Ristorante, and Joseph Phelps Winery
There aren’t that many places in Napa County where you can sit on the grounds of a winery and dine at a first rate restaurant.
Why is that?
Napa County actually has a law that prohibits restaurants inside of wineries. Although many wineries do offer small bites of food during their wine tastings, full fledged restaurants are not allowed. Etoile, a one-star Michelin restaurant nestled right in the middle of Domain Chandon Winery, was lucky enough to be grandfathered in when this law took effect.
As a result, a meal at Etoile is unique in a lot of ways.
You can visit the winery in the morning, and then walk straight into the restaurant for lunch. The dishes are tightly integrated with the wines at Domain Chandon, and the views of the vineyard from the restaurant are gorgeous.
Domaine Chandon is a super convenient winery to visit if you’re staying in Yountville (home of The French Laundry, Ad Hoc, Redd, and Bouchon), because it’s right on the other side of St. Helena Highway from the town center of Yountville.
I love, love, love walking, and I came up with the brilliant idea of walking to the winery from our hotel. At first Bryan wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but after seeing how close it was on a map, he agreed to try it. It took about 15 minutes and worked out great. The walk was crisp, refreshing, and beautiful. The path isn’t necessarily designed for pedestrians (you do walk up this looooong “driveway” to the winery), but it’s totally safe and doable. There is a definitely a clear pedestrian and bike route for crossing to the other side of St. Helena Highway.
Domain Chandon was the first French owned winery in Napa Valley to produce sparkling wines. Moet and Chandon (yes, the famous champagne company) came to Napa Valley in 1973 to start Domain Chandon.
Although Domain Chandon is most known for its sparkling wines, the winery also makes pinot noir, pinot meunier, and even cabernet sauvignon! Most of these other wines are made on a smaller scale, and many of them are not available outside of the winery and the wine club.
They also have several types of sparkling wines, including the top of the line étoile Tête de Cuvée, which has spent seven years aging on the lees (yeast).
Bryan and I took a fun little basic tour at 11AM ($12) right before our 12PM lunch reservation at Etoile. We walked through various barrel rooms and learn interesting facts about Chandon. We tried a barrel tasting of a pinot meunier, which tasted young, a bit harsh, and definitely not quite ready.
After the tour ended at 11:30AM, we spent about 30 minutes tasting a few Chandon wines (you can purchase individual “splashes”,”pours”, or you can opt for a flight instead). We even tried a bottled version of the same pinot meunier, which tasted much better! Our favorite was (not surprisingly), the étoile Tête de Cuvée, which was complex, creamy, and had much more character than the other ones we tried. Of course, it also retails for $100 ($80 for club members).
The dining room at Etoile is gorgeous, with large windows facing out into the winery. I especially loved coming at lunch because the entire dining room was bright, basking in the sunlight from the outside.
I began with the Romaine Heart Soup ($16), a velvety, gorgeously green soup poured over fried tempura oyster, braised bacon, onion jam, and roasted purple artichokes.
The soup was fantastic – it was intensely flavorful (of romaine!) yet light and healthy at the same time. I loved how the strong umami from the oyster, bacon, onion jam, and roasted artichokes complemented the grassy notes from the romaine heart soup.
Bryan started with the Dungeness Crab ($20), which was also very, very good. The tender crab meat came with salt roasted radish, young fennel, sorrel, and pickled Meyer lemon. I loved the variety of seasonal vegetables represented on the plate. Ah, imagine living in Napa Valley where you could get this produce every day.
Wine pairing: Chandon Brut Classic
For my main entree, I tried the Seared Dayboat Scallops ($33), which were excellent. They were perfectly seared and served with sweetbread, melted endive, treviso, and a deep, rich lobster veal sauce.
Wine pairing: Newton, “Unfiltered,” Chardonnay, Napa County, 2007
Finally, Bryan (who loves homemade fettucini and sea urchin) not surprisingly chose to get the Sea Urchin Fetuccini, ($30) which came with an incredibly artful display of heirloom radishes, Meyer lemon, miners lettuce, and fennel all along the side of the dish.
Wine pairing: Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, 2009
Isn’t that an impressive display of vegetables? They are so pretty.
Caramelized Pear Mille-Feuille ($11) made with brandied butterscotch , almond toffee, and a candied peach was fantastic and highly recommended by the server.
Wine Pairing: La Spinette Moscato d’Asti Italy 2010
We had a great time at Etoile. We went off-season during lunch on a random Monday, so it was not very crowded at all. I assume that during the summer months, especially on weekends, it may be much harder to get a reservation.
The food was all very well designed and executed – no real misses. It wasn’t the most creative or inventive menu I’ve ever seen, but everything was cooked with great skill.
In some ways, I felt like I was eating really, really high-end spa food. Everything was so fresh and delicious yet felt really healthy at the same time. I like feeling that way when I eat at a restaurant. I wish more restaurants made me feel good and satisfied in a healthy sort of way when I leave (as opposed to feeling gross from being overly stuffed or unbalanced somehow!).
The ambiance is formal and a bit quiet, though the service is very warm and friendly. The wine list is so big that it’s actually housed in an iPad. If you buy wine at the wine shop outside and you want to drink it in the restaurant, you still have to pay a corkage fee.
Overall, if you plan on visiting Domain Chandon anyway, this is a convenient and great option for lunch. If you actually do decide to join their wine club, you get a discount at the restaurant the day you dine there. We initially signed up for the wine club (tempted by the 50% off all purchase that day) but then canceled when we found out the discount did not apply to the étoile Tête de Cuvée, our favorite (you only get 20% off for that one).
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