Our first day in wine country.  We headed over to Palmaz vineyards.  While we didn’t have a full tour of the winery, we parked the car and walked the grounds for a bit and checked out the beautiful rolling hillside vineyards.

Planted to Cabernet, Palmaz produces high quality low production Cabernet based wines.  They are hard to come by and display an extremely high dedication to making quality wine.

We got down and dirty, as we did at all vineyards we visited, tasting the berries right from the vines.  We were lucky enough to go at the absolute perfect time of year.  Harvest was well underway and crush was occurring at most of the wineries we visited.

We worked up an appetite at Palmaz and decided to get some food in downtown Napa.  We parked the car and walked around until we spotted a joint that looked appetizing.  We hadn’t gone further than two blocks when I recognized a place I was very familiar with.

Bounty Hunter Rare Wines and BBQ (975 1st St. Napa, Ca) is a nationally acclaimed wine shop featuring hard to find and small production wines.  Lucky for us, they also have a full food service operation that’s pumping out awesome barbecue fair with a focus on local ingredients and unique cooking methods.

We began with a solid Caesar salad.  Their version was prepared with full romaine leaves, a light zesty dressing, crumbled croutons – ease of eating – and some grated Parmesan cheese.  We like different takes on the Ceasar and order it more often than one would think for adventurous eaters, but this one was just what we were looking for.  Fresh and crisp.  Not over dressed.  Just right way to start the meal.

We perused the menu and decided we had to order the beer can chicken.  One of their specialties, they use Tecate as their beer of choice, and it works just right.  The chicken with steam emanating from the upright bird, served still on the can.

The meat had been given a nice dry rub before hitting the heat.  The inside was extremely moist and flavorful.  It was fun to pick apart the bird and find all the yummy nooks and crannies which were everywhere.  The rub gave the skin nice spice and it was just slightly crispy.

On the table were three different styles of home made barbecue sauce.  A smoky sauce, one mustard based and lastly a vinegar driven option were the trio that the restaurant felt would satisfy the masses.  All three were great.  Mixing them together – pure genius.

We murdered the dish and couldn’t have been happier with our decision.  We looked around the wine shop a bit before I decided to purchase a bottle of their Jurice Prudence.  A Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Beckstoffer To-Kalon vineyard, one of the best vineyards in all of California.

We headed over to our home for the week.  A cute little villa style cottage, right next to a small river, right outside of downtown Napa.  It was perfect for the two of us for the week.  A cozy space that we immediately took to, feeling right at home.

After much research, I made reservations most nights at restaurants around Napa and Sonoma.  Our first evening was to be spent at Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard’s Farmstead Restaurant (738 Main St. Saint Helena, Ca).

We drove down highway 29 and navigated ourselves to downtown St. Helena for dinner.  Tucked alongside the road, the restaurant featured a rustic farmhouse look while still showing clean and modern touches throughout.

We were greeted by the host and requested a seat outside on their back patio.  We enjoyed a glass of wine at the bar while we waited a few moments for the table.  We checked out the food menu as we enjoyed our wine and checked out the scene around us.

The wine: A Cinsault white from Scholium Project was my selection.  An awesome winery making unique blends and single varietal wines using fantastic purchased fruit and small production methods that is mostly available exclusively through the winery itself.  Really tasty juice.  Lush yellow fruit, zesty white pepper notes and some light floral qualities as well.  A cool glass pour you will not find elsewhere.

We were seated in but moments at a small two top outside right next to the vineyard itself – so cool.  The restaurant used grape vines to separate their outside dining space – a creative touch.  We loved the space.  There weren’t that many tables, so the area in general felt extremely open and had a laid back aura overall.

The meal began with homemade biscuits.  They were warm and fluffy.  Not at all dry, they didn’t need any of the fresh churned butter that arrived with the dish.

Shishito style peppers were our appetizer.  They were lightly charred over an open flame.  Fresh, a little spicy, meaty and really nice overall, the peppers were a lighter and fun way to go.  They’re addicting, easy to share and a local produce item that came recommended.

We ordered the Long Meadow Ranch burger.  The server said it was awesome, and we were in the mood for a great grass fed burger in Cali.  The meat was rich and beefy without being too smoky like some dry aged burgers can be.  Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the fresh grated mild white cheddar worked well and was nice not melting all over the place – a conscious choice to not melt the cheese in this case for sure.

The house made bun held up well to the juicy burger and had a little bit of chew to it.  The toppings were fresh and carefully placed.  The potatoes that came alongside the burger were crunchy and well seasoned.  In general, they were a nice change up from the traditional french fry.

Our second choice was one of the best food decision we made on the whole trip.  The Heritage St. Louis Ribs “from the smoker” were possibly the best ribs Jill and I have ever tasted – not one of…THE best ribs.  They were $28 and you were given probably between 2/3 and 3/4 of a slab of very long St. Louis ribs.

The quality of the meat was astronomical.  You could taste the swine flavor.  They were incredibly moist and there was so much meat on each bone, something not often found in St. Louis style ribs.  They were clearly smoked extremely low and extremely slow for a very long time.  The meat didn’t fall off the bone – as it shouldn’t – often a misnomer in the world of good ribs.  It was tender though and came lose with ease.

The dry rub on the ribs was perfect.  A little spicy, a little sweet and really really up front flavor.  A very thin glaze of a relatively mild flavored barbecue sauce gave an added level of moisture and texture to the dish.  We were in porky heaven.  Folks, lemme tell you.  Whatever you’re thinking right now about there being a better rib wherever…you’re wrong.  Sorry.  Best.  Ribs.  Ever.  For us at least.

The mac and cheese we devoured as our side was rich and cheese.  They used elbow pasta, the ideal cheese-cradling noodle.  The cheese was creamy but not at all runny.  A great portion size, we were 3 for 3 on this dinner.

Dessert was a celebratory chocolate mousse.  Decadent and silky smooth, the mousse was clearly made in a traditional manner using quality ingredients.  It was topped with a heaping dollop of fresh, not too sweet, home made whipped cream.  So simple yet so delicious.

A great first day on a trip with many surprises and incredible tastes to come.  You just wait.

I’m hungry.  Let’s eat!


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