Having a nice meal at areas famed for their wines are always one of my favourite things to do while travelling. I might not enjoy wines that much but I admit I have a picky taste for food. After sampling some of the best food in Canada while visiting the Okanagan, I made it a point to reserve some space for a highlight dinner or 2 at the Sonoma and Napa Valley area. Unlike the Okanagan, the Napa Valley is much more renowned for their fine wines.
One of the spectacular wineries in Napa Valley has got to be Robert Mondavi located near the town of St. Helena. Though the winery does not have an on-site restaurant, they have a very nice wine tasting room with comfortable armchairs and really great red wines. I usually prefer whites, but their Pinot Noir Reserve was very smooth to drink, and instantly became one of the best red wines I have drunk (not that I have drank much red wines in my life).
A great way to spend the afternoon visiting wineries is by stopping at the Dean & Deluca in St. Helena to stock up on salads, soups and sandwiches to create your own picnic basket. In fact we ended up buying some cheese and snacks to go along with the wines we purchased for the hotel stay at Carmel Highlands.
On the first night in Sonoma, I made reservations on Open Table for dinner at the El Dorado Kitchen, which is located in the El Dorado Hotel right in the centre of town at Sonoma Square. The restaurant was approximately 45 minutes drive from the Hyatt Vineyard Creek and it was easy enough to find on the GPS.
The restaurant is located in the lobby level and approaching it from the main entrance, it felt quiet but it was actually quite packed and I would suggest reservations for dinner at this place.
Once we mentioned our reservation with the host, we were led to a table inside the El Dorado Kitchen. It was quite noisy inside but the atmosphere was filled with a nice vibe since it was packed with enthusiastic diners!
As we were seated, our server passed the menu and gave us some time to peruse the options for the night. Daily specials were also provided and it included a additional seafood entree, a salad appetizer and something else which I can’t quite recall. But neither of them caught my attention. In the end we ordered a carpaccio and a side of truffle fries as a side dish. We were then served with warm bread and butter before the meal which was nice as I was getting quite hungry.
The carpaccio was a tad ordinary but it had generous shavings of cheese and the portion was also good enough to share for 2 persons, especially since my dining partner is not a big fan of beef. Somehow this dish missed what I was looking for in a carpaccio dish and lacked in flavour. The truffle fries was good like all truffle fries should be so no surprises there.
For the main course, I had the lobster risotto while my dining partner had the sole. The risotto had celery root, golden chanterelles, spinach, parmesan and truffle oil. While it was rich and creamy with the rice being nicely cooked, the risotto was a bit too rich and I couldn’t taste the truffle oil since the rest of the flavour was just too strong. Not the best rendition but it was an acceptable dish.
The sole I think was the best dish of the night as it was very well seared with a crispy exterior but yet still juicy and fresh. I think my partner enjoyed the dish and the accompaniments like the cauliflower, grapes, almonds, greens and caper-raisin emulsion. With the main courses being alright but not stellar, I decided to skip on the dessert as we were also getting quite tired. Overall, the restaurant serves a decent food in Sonoma but nothing spectacular to make it worth returning to.
Before heading to San Francisco, we stopped by the Farmhouse Inn for dinner. This restaurant is located along River Road, off highway 101 and it is in a relatively secluded area that even I had trouble finding with the help of the GPS, since the location is not exactly well marked. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Inn’, as it is quite a misnomer for a very nice quaint luxury establishment to explore the vineyards.
The restaurant is actually located in the separate building closer to the main road and there are ample parking beside the restaurant since driving is probably the only way to get here. Once again, I made the reservation through Open Table and inside the restaurant, we were led into the quieter section that has a door leading to the outdoor patio.
The size of the restaurant felt more compact but it was more snug rather than cramped. Diners choose from a set menu of 3 or 4 courses, of which one is a sweet option. There is a list of dishes to choose from in each of the courses which is changed seasonally. The set meal prices were not cheap but I think quite reasonable at $79 for the 3 course and $94 for the 4 course meal.
Once we made the selection, the server came with some bread and butter and a portion of amuse bouche for each of us. The amuse bouche was an early spring pea and carrot puree dusted with prosciutto and it was quite delicious. I always think of amuse bouches as something to whet the appetite and good ones usually leaves diners wanting for more! There was quite some time between the amuse bouche and the appetizer so I took the time to walk around the grounds of the Inn to explore the facilities that the place has to offer.
To start the meal, I ordered the grilled octopus which came with salted black bean, jalapeños, pear, ginger, chives, and miso balsamic vinaigrette. The octopus was perfectly seasoned and grilled to the right texture.
Meanwhile my partner had the basil ginger crab flan, which was essentially a platter comprised of 3 items, the flan, a tempura of crab leg, and a salad of daikon radish, carrot, cabbage, and tamarind. The presentation of both appetizers looks good and the only bad thing was that the portion was a bit too small as they were all too tasty!
For the main course, I had the restaurant’s acclaimed rabbit dish which consisted of applewood smoked bacon wrapped rabbit loin, roasted rack of rabbit, and a confit of rabbit leg, served with whole grain mustard cream sauce and Yukon potatoes. It is one of the most interesting rabbit dishes served since most rabbit dishes I have seen usually comprises of the leg and it is rare to see the rack being served since it was so small. The loin was perhaps the weakest link in this dish but it was still nicely cooked though I just found it a tad too salty. The confit of leg was again very tender and had the perfect flavour with the mustard cream. The rack was the highlight of the dish as it was juicy though the meat was just too little.
The other main course we ordered was the Snake River pork rib chop that was served with prosciutto, snap pea, spring onion, green garlic, olive, fava leave tapenade, and Floriani polenta. This dish was another spectacular dish in its own right. The pork chop was well marinated and tender for a thick cut. One of the better pork chop dishes I have tasted.
After such an amazing main course, I was really looking forward to the dessert and it did not fail. I had the chocolate soufflé which was served with coffee Kahlua crème anglaise and I think this is by far the best tasting soufflé I had. The chocolate flavour was just nice and not too overbearing and what made me love the dish was the addition of the coffee-scented cream that was the best thing ever!
Even my partner’s rose scented fresh strawberries lafaza was another beautiful dish that was served with vanilla bean ice cream, Mara de Bois strawberry sorbet all presented in a vanilla wafer lattice. I did not have much of her dish since I really liked my soufflé a lot but I had a taste and it made me think if there is even a dish I did not like here.
My dinner at Farmhouse Inn is perhaps one of the dining highlights of Sonoma and Napa Valley such that I heavily recommend visitors in this area to make it a point to have dinner here. I would certainly return to visit if I happen to be in the Bay Area once again.