Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining


napa 12

First up, the pre-Napa festivities alluded to in the last post.  I’ve written before about the beautiful tradition of overnight travel shared with my sisters when there’s a birthday ending in “5” or “0.”  We ventured to Santa Barbara (with a diversion to the outlets, of course) for a wonderful evening.  The birthday dinner at Tre Lune in Montecito was perfection.  Great food (pizza and tiramisu below), service, and a classic celebrity sighting of the one and only Carol Burnett. Even I balked at disrupting this entertainment icon as the timing just wasn’t right.  The following day was a surprise outing to Solvang (butter cookies, anyone?) and the mandatory stop for orchids on the way back.

Dinner with the hubby and kids was spectacular. Funke is a newish hotspot in Beverly Hills but that is not the reason to go.  The reason — as it should be — is for amazing food.  We were well cared for by pretty much everyone there as they know our family business, The Cellar Beverly Hills.  Two outstanding dishes below:  their foccacia and the shaved apple salad.  Two days later, we  were off to Napa.

A trip to Northern CA’s splendid wine country is one of the easist travel decisions to make. Pick a good time (or align with a big birthday, anniversary, etc), book a flight and hotel and go. For us in Southern CA, it is practically a no-brainer.

Having the ease of flying JSX makes it even better.  While people might think of the airline as an extravagance, at times the fares are less than even Southwest. Advance booking is key. Then it is all about swift check-in and walk to the nearby plane.  Then there’s the absence of long security lines, which even having TSA Pre-Check doesn’t always mitigate.  If you’re at all claustrophobic, JSX probably isn’t for you.

Hotels have gotten insanely expensive in the entire region, which is a significant drawback. For this trip I chose the “reasonably priced” Hotel Yountville.

The hotel is well located, walkable to many of the wonderful restaurants in town, and easy to hop on Highway 29 leading one to anywhere in the area.

Eating well in Napa is practically an oxymoron. In fact, this is one region where it takes little effort to find really great food — in particular bread in all forms — from local ingredients. Restaurants just seem to take it up a notch to pair with the vast number of wineries producing really great wine.

In no particular order, the trip highlights:


Odette (including Adaptation and PlumpJack labels)

The estate is located on the Silverado Trail with an absolutely stunning tasting room.  The trip’s timing of early January is a very quiet time in Napa. How quiet? We were the first and only people to visit the winery that day, almost at their closing time.  We’re “members” with Odette, meaning we get regular shipments so there was no reason to purchase wine.

Ashes & Diamond

If you’ve been to the area, you’ve probably driven by numerous times on Highway 29 — the winery shares a driveway with Bistro Don Giovanni. The proprietor’s story is common with many other winery owners — a complete career change after tiring of the original path.  The tasting room is below.

Mark Herold (tasting room downtown Napa)

Mark is a very astute winemaker with a focus on Cabernets.  He also writes some of the most detailed descriptions about his wines.  The winery is one of many with tasting rooms in the downtown area. They frequently steer visitors to one another so they may find what suits their particular fancy. It’s a smart and collaborative way of operating.  We did purchase a few bottles. By the way, taking wine home on JSX is a breeze — we had a 4-bottle carrier which they simply checked with our suitcase.

Alpha Omega (tasting room downtown Napa)

Timing is everything.  Owner Robin Baggett happened to drop by and shared his and the winery’s history as an early producer in Paso Robles. It was a pleasure meeting him, an unassuming and gracious gentleman considering his background and success.  Oh, and the wines were pretty good too.


Slanted Door

Learning of this newly opened Napa location went straight to the top of the list. It is an architectural gem (except when looking for the signage at night).  Diners in warmer weather will experience the courtyard completely enveloped by the restaurant.  While the menu is somewhat limited until they work out all the kinks, we savored every bite.  Tables are very close together so one gets to know their neighboring diners. There is beautiful bar seating as well. Below, clockwise from upper left: the courtyard, entrance, green papaya salad, crisy spring rolls, the bar.

Mustards Grill

Still the same excellent quality at 30+ years old.  Hat’s off to the owner and staff.  They just nail it every time. The food below:  Hunan chicken & cashew salad (delicious!), Passionfruit margarita for a bit of day drinking, and the outdoor garden growing lettuces.  The cheesecake was divine as well.

Chez Panisse

Countless previous trips up north have been routed to include a meal at this legendary institution, now in it’s 53rd year.  Think “farm-to-table” is something new?  Alice Waters essentially created this way of eating in 1971 and must have a good laugh these days at all the wannabe’s new to the trend.

So off we went for an hour’s drive to Berkeley from Napa for dinner in the upstairs cafe (which features an a la carte menu vs. the prix fixe at the downstairs restaurant).  The hubby said if we lived nearby, we would be there twice a month.  If only …

Food below (counter-clockwise beginning with the salad), garden lettuces, those radishes and goat cheese medallions; sausage pizza; lamb; and the absolute best fruit tart one can enjoy (regardless of whatever seasonal fruit is used).

Bouchon Bistro

Reserved for my 70th birthday dinner.  For those curious, Chef Thomas Keller’s iconic French Laundry closes every year early January for maintenance (see second grid below).  We have had the pleasure of going a number of times and might not have opted to go there regardless.  Many of us in Southern CA long for the days when Bouchon was in Beverly Hills.  Alas, Napa it is for classic steak frites, escargot and that baguette.

The baguettes are available at Bouchon Bakery which opens early in the morning.  One can simply follow the aroma along Washington Street in Yountville and it will lead you straight there. An early morning walk (bundled up for the 30’s temps) led me there where they kindly bestowed a baguette straight-from-the-oven.  I may have invoked something about the birthday while peering through the screen into the oven area. Regardless, chalk up a quintessential win-win as it was delicious but also kept me warm for the walk back.

Finally, here’s a feel-good story to end with.  On that morning walk, while fumbling with gloves taking photos, I managed to lose the credit card from my coat pocket. Back at the hotel, I grabbed the hubby to retrace my steps as we drove along the route.  Nothing.

Minutes after returning, my cell shows Citibank is calling. Why? Someone found my card and called to report it lost. True. I only wish I could find that person to say thank you for restoring a bit of faith in humanity. You’re a good person.

Below, the view from the plane en route home. What a blessing. I promise no more mentions of my birthday. Until next year, that is …


  • very cute post. is there anything else to do in Napa these days other than eat and drink? although that alone makes for a great break from daily life!

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