A day in California wine country: Dry Creek and Napa Valley ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

12 March 2012

A day in California wine country: Dry Creek and Napa Valley

So last Monday I went on a day trip to wine country with a carful of knitters. Cookie, Veronica, Anne and I met up at early o'clock, had the first of many cups of coffee for the day (note to self: don't drink that much coffee anymore), and took off up 280. The amount of traffic on the drive was astonishing--because there wasn't any. How could this possibly be the case at 9 on Monday morning in the Bay Area? AND YET.

We got into Healdsburg early and spent a few minutes tooling around some of the little stores around the town square. After a stop at the cheese shop--during which everyone focused far more on chocolate than cheese--we met up with Anne's friend Rosemary and trooped off to eat at Zin. We were lucky enough to have lunch with Susan, the catering director, and to hear about the local ingredients Zin sources from Eastside Farm. Some particularly great examples were our complimentary appetizers--which coincidentally were the only food pictures I managed to take all day.

First we had deviled eggs with home-cured bacon. The eggs were so fresh they didn't want to peel--an excellent sign. The bacon, however, was the star of this plate. I ended up eating a reasonable chunk of bedding lettuce with bacon bits because it was far too good to leave.

Our other appetizers were two cones of tempura green beans with a mango dipping sauce. These were amazing--I kept eating them throughout the entire meal, long after everyone else had turned to their entrées. Since I had ordered a plate of (excellent) mac and cheese, I really enjoyed the contrast with the vegetables.

We haven't made tempura at home in quite some time, but this experience might change my mind. Maybe some tempura asparagus with the new season crop?

After a quick stop at the Downtown Bakery, we went up the road to explore Dry Creek Valley and wander our way back down to Napa Valley.

I had never actually gone wine tasting in California before, odd as that seems, even though I've lived here for a good eight years of my adult life. The only wine tasting I've ever done was in Michigan, and while that was wonderful--I especially like the Round Barn Winery, if you happen to be wine and brandy tasting in southeastern Michigan anytime soon--it's a whole different story in the heart of wine country, where you can visit a new place practically every quarter of a mile if you are so inclined.

Also, everything looks like this:

We visited the Quivira, Ridge, and Miner wineries, from which I escaped with two pinots, a zinfandel, a mourvèdre, a vigonier, and a sauvignon blanc. All six are now in our wine rack waiting patiently for Occasions.

After a final stop at the Stag's Leap tasting room--which they very nicely let us into five minutes before close--we finally arrived in Yountville for dinner. Since we were early for our reservation, we stopped by Bouchon Bakery and drooled over the macarons.

I had never had a macaron before, so I got a selection: raspberry, caramel, hazelnut, and pistachio. The contrasting colors made for a really pretty box.

Of course, when I tried my first macaron later that night, I discovered that they are not my favorite pastry ever--they mostly just tasted like crisp, faintly flavored sugar. Maybe I'd better stick to savory next time. (I wonder if you could even make savory macarons. I'm thinking not, since the sugar must have a key role in their structure. Oh well--we've established that I am not a pastry person.)

For dinner, we went to Redd.

I was still in need of vegetables, so I ordered the special salad with roasted asparagus, wild mushrooms, arugula, frisée, roasted marble potatoes, and sauce gribiche. New season asparagus! Hooray!

For my entrée, I ordered the bass, which I will hereby crib from the menu: "Wild striped bass, salsify barigoule, herb butter, salsify chips." This turned out to be a simple, beautifully cooked piece of fish in a pool of brothy butter with a pile of not just salsify but a variety of other spring vegetables. After a day of tasting wine, all the seasonal vegetables were perhaps the best idea ever.

Finally, filled with every good thing and laden with fancy packages of edibles, we trundled home.

In conclusion, yay! Food and wine with friends! A good time was had by all.

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