A 2 Day Napa Itinerary (French Invasion)
Visitors to Napa! I absolutely love when visitors come to stay with us. I clear my schedule, exchange my gym clothes for a cute outfit, and take them to my favorite restaurants, wine tasting, and boutiques. In short, I get to be a tourist in my own town. Of course, you have to know your customer. In this case, my "French" Maman and Papa came to visit for the first time since I stayed with them on a summer abroad when I was 16 years old, many moons ago (I won't say HOW many moons). In my mind, they were still 40 something! Oops. When they arrived, quite a bit older than I remembered (but still spritely), I realized that I had overplanned the itinerary. I did a quick re-assessment and tailored the visit accordingly, ditching the Del Dotto (aka Del Blotto) Winery tour for a slower paced experience.
Quel mauvais temps!
Non stop rain dampened my plans to show off our gorgeous blue sky, sunny Napa, but since Maman and Papa are from Bretagne, a notoriously wet part of France, it didn't phase them a bit. We donned our rain gear, braved the downpour and set out. First stop: Ritual Coffee and a little tour of Oxbow. I picked up a pack of Oprah's favorite muffins at Model Bakery to serve for breakfast the next morning. They truly are a treat if you toast them to a golden brown, then spread with melted butter and jam (dulce de leche is amazing too). Lunch "Up Valley": I love to take the drive from Napa to St Helena with my visitors, taking the Silverado Trail north and returning south on Highway 29. The drive is stunning, especially at sunset.
Sadly, the low clouds meant we couldn't see the spectacular mountains that line the trail, but at least I was able to point out the cool architecture of the wineries.
My car practically drives itself to Farmstead, my favorite restaurant for visitors.
I made a reservation several weeks prior because this place always fills up. (Napanista Note: If Open Table shows full, call anyways... sometimes they have availability that doesn't show in the system. Another option: show up about 15 min prior to opening and snag a seat at the bar, where the full menu is served. Works great for 2-3 people or 4 people if you can get the corner seats).
Farmstead is the quintessential Napa style restaurant that tourists are looking for when they come to wine country, and the food is so good that locals flock here as well. Its surprising there aren't more restaurants like it dotting the valley, but there really aren't! The menu gives a nod to the restaurant's name, (is "farmy" a word?). You could call it "homestead comfort food" but with a NorCal freshness. Vegetables and meats come from their own Longmeadow Ranch, and they even have their own label wines, that are excellent and great value. The patio outside is lovely, but I actually prefer the vibe inside, for people and food watching. They have a buzzing happy hour scene on the front patio, with live music on the weekends. Menu items not to be missed: the cheddar biscuits, deviled eggs, bar b q ribs, and my personal favorite; grilled trout with almonds and mushrooms in a butter sauce. For dessert I ALWAYS order the chocolate pudding pie. Its out of this world. Sorry, the photos are a little dark...like I said, it was a grey day!
Un petit peu du "Shopping"
My plan was to take my French visitors strolling down Main St., St Helena for some shopping, and then a Happy Hour cocktail at Goose & Gander's garden, but the weather didn't allow for it. I managed to nab a parking spot and we left Papa to take a catnap in the car, while I brought Maman to Pearl Wonderful Clothing. My friend, Christine Salzer, took over ownership of this elegant boutique about two years ago and she has gradually added her own Euro style to it. You'll find high-end, well known American designers mixed in with some European designers. I can't afford to stuff a shopping bag full (à la Old Navy style) but every piece I have bought there, is special and made to last. Christine somehow knows how to find that one unique piece that is just right for you, and trust them when she orders you to try something on. Some things just don't look good on a hanger, but look amazing when they are on!
It used to be that I was jealous of St Helena for its shopping and saddened to see tourists, desperate to shop, wandering the closed up downtown streets of Napa, like zombies in search of human flesh. So much has changed though! Now Napa can actually compete! Both Miyamo and Boho LifeStyle on First St. always have really cute stuff at affordable prices, including some unique gift items by local Napa artists. On 2nd Street, Roost and Muguette Renee are wonderful boutiques.
And currently, there is a fabulous pop up at the Riverfront, just down from Basalt, by Shoppe Twelve with great styles that won't empty the wallet. I hope it becomes a permanent fixture there.
The most recent addition to the shopping scene is a gorgeous new boutique with a bit of an LA vibe. I haven't had a ton of time to spend a lot of time there, but I think State & First (just outside of the Archer Hotel entrance) will be extremely popular with tourists and locals alike, even though its Beverly Hills prices will anger some locals.
Un petit peu du "Winetasting"
Luckily the sun came out on their second day, which allowed for some spectacular visits to some wineries. Our first stop (after a foundation of Crepes and Galettes cooked by Maman) was Whetstone Wine Cellars. It was a chilly day so I was grateful that we were able to get the cozy sitting area in front of the beautiful wood-burning fireplace.
The team at Whetstone, owned by Jamey and Michelle Whetstone, is doing something a little crazy for Napa...they do NOT offer a Cabernet Sauvignon! Shocker, right? Their focus is on the pinot varietal, single vineyard designations, whole cluster, neutral French oak etc. If you want to geek out on all things Pinot, this is the place to go. Did our French visitors like it? "Too much alcohol!" they said...well they said that it even before they had actually tasted it! I hadn't realized there is such a prejudice by the French towards our Napa style of wines.
Our next stop was Alpha Omega. I had hoped to get a seat on the sunny terrace (as members, that's one of the great perks-even when it's very busy, which it usually is), but the terrace was closed. Even though the rain had ended, it was wet and breezy. They ushered us into the barrel storage warehouse, which wasn't nearly as nice, but the wines made up for it. We did sneak outside for a few minutes to enjoy the view. For some reason, my French guests liked the AO wines, even though they surely had the same alcohol content as the others they had tried. Go figure? Ah, les français!
Finallement, "le diner"
Though we were a little lethargic after wine tasting all day, I had reservations at a sure bet, especially for international guests. We are fortunate that Cole's Chophouse always delivers the best service, solid food, excellent wine list and cocktails in a lovely restored stone building that dates back to 1886 (it supposedly was the town armory at some point). Cole's won't win awards for innovation or creativity, but sometimes you just crave a kick-ass steak, with those crispy hashbrowns and side of spinach or asparagus. Your typical American Steak House experience. Just writing these words, my mouth is watering.