If you’re the type of couple that lives for great food and wine – and has the means to spend serious cash on it – I’m not sure there’s anything more romantically decadent than a Napa Valley weekend.
At least that’s how I felt on our May trip to California wine country. In 48 hours, we ingested several tasting menus washed down with numerous glasses of local wine, stayed on sheets with a deliciously high thread count and slathered ourselves in very Left Coast spa treatments.
The weekend didn’t start out quite so glorious, though. Our flight into Oakland from Seattle was delayed, causing us to miss our reservation at Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s newest Yountville restaurant. And getting a rental car at 10 p.m. proved to be an exercise in patience, even though we had a reservation through Hotwire. (TIP: If you are heading to Napa Valley, though, Oakland International Airport is closer to wine country than San Francisco International – and Southwest offers numerous flights).
Our transit complaints fell away once we reached Hotel Yountville. Recently renovated, the hotel reopened last December with a new wing of guestrooms and suites, impeccably landscaped grounds, a 4,000 foot spa, and a hotel-only restaurant that serves duck confit with donuts in the morning. While the hotel’s bar doesn’t have a liquor license yet, we saw a wedding party with bottles of local sparkling wine hanging out near the chic outdoor fireplace.
May weather in Napa is about as perfect as it gets. You have sunny days that are warm enough for a sundress, yet the nights have a pleasant cool edge. As we had declared decadence our weekend theme, we turned on the gas fireplace for a romantic atmosphere.
I wish we had more time to hang out at the hotel, play in the pool and maybe use the complimentary bikes for a few hours. But we had Yountville to explore – and I knew exactly where I wanted to have breakfast.
Yountville is often called the town that Thomas Keller built. The founder of the French Laundry, where a reservation must be made two months in advance, Keller has drawn other top chefs such as Richard Reddington and Philippe Jeanty into his orbit. It’s said that there are more Michelin stars in Yountville than in any other square mile.
After missing Ad Hoc, I know I wanted to at least try a bit of Keller goodness. So I contented myself with pastry and coffee at Bouchon Bakery, which Keller originally opened to bake bread for his restaurants.
Obviously with talent such as Keller behind it, Bouchon Bakery is not your ordinary bakery. When we arrived around 9:30, the line for pastry was out the door. We waited, impatient, as the smells made our stomachs growl. Although the croissants looked amazing, I chose a savory monkey bread filled with cheesy deliciousness…..
….and a raspberry macaron to split with Don. Keller’s macarons are no small cookies, FYI. They are the size of your palm and taste just like they came from a Parisian patisserie.
In many ways, Yountville reminded me of the Hamptons, with the same small town charm mixed with big-time money. Foie gras dog biscuits, anyone?
We spent most of the morning wandering through Yountville’s galleries and tasting rooms on Washington Avenue, alternating art with wine, and finding places that combined both. Tasting rooms have become big in wine country towns, giving tourists a chance to imbibe without having to drive. Yountville itself has nearly a dozen, including Page Wine Cellars, where the Frank Zappa paintings above are displayed. (I’ll write more about what vineyard owners think about the trend in a subsequent post).
With a few glasses of wine in our bellies, we found it was time to eat again. With so many celebrity chefs in town, we wondered how we could make a decision. The patio at Hurley’s seemed like a natural draw on such a gorgeous day so we followed the crowd there.
A look at the menu and we saw why Hurley’s is favorite with the locals. There’s no corkage fee, the wine list is packed with Yountville and Napa favorites and every day, there’s a $20 two-course lunch. On Friday evenings during the summer, there’s a BBQ that draws local vineyard owners who want to pair their own vintage with the meat off the grill.
On the day we were there, the special included a spring risotto with scallops and fava beans. I couldn’t resist.
Don tried a dish recommended by Bob Hurley himself: braised wild Texas boar, with polenta and crispy onion rings. We both thought that it tasted more tender and less gamey than other boar dishes we had in the past, including when we were in Volterra, Tuscany (where boar is a regional specialty).
Besides gourmet food and wine, Yountville has made a name for itself in Napa as far as art is concerned. More than 30 outdoor sculptures comprise the Yountville Art Walk.
The Town of Yountville has a Art Walk brochure, available on its website. I enjoyed the whimsical Rock Mushroom garden just off Washington Avenue.
We had winery appointments in the afternoon so we had to leave Yountville without trying one of its celebrated spas (we saved that for Calistoga). But I did take a peek at the Hotel Bardessono, a LEED-platinum luxury hotel that looks like a glamorous modernist retreat. Don travels down to San Francisco often for work, so if we decide to splurge on another Napa Valley weekend (and yes, I’m hinting already), I’m already angling for a night’s stay. Because even if your budget doesn’t allow you to live so luxe all the time, it’s still romantic and fun to do it once in a while.
Parts of our stay were sponsored by Yountville businesses, but the opinions are that of the author.