We started our first full day in the Valley bright and early and drove an hour or so up to Healdsburg area to hit up Peter Michael Winery. A high end property producing mostly estate wines – that is, they both grow the grapes and vinify and bottle the wine – consisting of both Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals. Nice part of being in the industry is that you often get hooked up with private tours. Plus, Peter Michael doesn’t even welcome guests unless they have an appointment.
The drive up to the winery took us up very steep climbs. By the time we reached the unmarked front gate, we were probably some 2000 feet up. Morgan was to be our host for the day. She was extremely welcoming and met us at the front gate. Even though we were about twenty minutes early, she was ready to get the day started. We hopped into an SUV and prepared for another twenty minute ride even further up the mountain to the actual vineyards – YES!
I’ll mention now that while tasting all this incredible wine is awesome, I’ve had many of them before. It’s being able to meet the people and literally touch these vineyards I’ve only tasted and read about that really gets me excited.
We drove up the mountain to their Les Pavots vineyard. The bottling named after this vineyard is their high end Bordeaux blend – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are included – don’t think there’s Malbec. The land was gorgeous. We tasted the Cabernet grapes. They were sweet, plump and were extremely delicious – right off the vine.
We checked out some of the high elevation Chardonnay vineyards that are difficult to both farm and maintain given the delicate qualities of the Chardonnay grape. Peter Michael is a hands on operation, everything being hand farmed and picked. They, like most of the high end wine producers, plant on land that is difficult to farm because you want slopes and rocky soil so the grape vines will struggle somewhat.
This “forced struggle” forces the vines to reach deep into the ground for nutrients and intensifies the concentration of the juice within the grape and results in a higher quality wine. Once we made it back down the mountain to the main winery, we walked past a group of workers who had just brought a load of grapes down and were working intensely at the sorting table, taking out all the less desirable grapes. Such a unique opportunity to witness this first hand.
We were treated to a wonderful tasting through five of their wines. Two Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, and both of their Bordeaux reds. All wines were stunning and showing really well even in their youth. Morgan was excellent and the property was just gorgeous. Honestly, we couldn’t see how the trip could get any better, or how any winery could top Peter Michael. Let’s just say we were…uh…wrong.
We worked our way down the mountain and back towards Napa for lunch at the famous Mustard’s Grill right on Route 29. An institution in the valley, Mustard’s Grill is packed every meal period from start to finish. Reservations are practically a requirement, as I made mine a couple months in advance…for lunch.
We were seated immediately. The place was packed and bustling. We checked out the menu and the special board hanging above the kitchen. Mustard’s is known for the Mongolian Pork Chop. You basically HAVE to get it if it’s your first time visiting.
We started with Crispy Calamari with a curried slaw and fresno chilies. We DO love calamari and we were just feeling it at the moment. It was solid. The slaw contrasted the rich fried squid nicely with its zesty vinegar kick.
The chilies were a little spicy and I really appreciate spice paired with fried seafood. The dish was filling and a perfect setup for our entrees. After all, we still had a whole afternoon and evening ahead of us.
Lamb Burger time. Another burger?…yes. But a Lamb Burger. It just sounded so good. And after the previous evenings burger experience, we were ready for ANOTHER fantastic patty – just different protein! Topped with a beautiful sharp and almost sweet Manchego cheese, some grilled onion and a basil aioli, this was a winner in every way.
The freshly ground lamb, sourced from a farm just a few miles away, was ground perfectly into nicely sized patties and cooked to a perfect medium rare. Some would say to cook lamb more than beef, but in the case of this high quality product, we were confident in our usual temperature of choice.
The Mongolian Pork Chop arrived and immediately the smell overwhelmed our senses and took over the entire table. It was savory, spicy, sweet, so many layers of aromatics coming from the dish. The chop wasn’t your thickest cut, but it worked for this application. It was all about the seasoning.
Granted, the pork was of excellent quality, tender on the inside and a nice sear outside, but the Chinese driven five spice style seasoning was so unique. The dish was served with a Chinese style spicy mustard sauce. The sauce was creamy, spicy and brought a sweet and savory element to the dish along with extra moisture – as if it needed it. We loved the Pork Chop and would absolutely recommend ordering it to any first timer at Mustard’s.
We were stuffed and needed to just chill out for a bit. I didn’t have anything set up tasting or tour wise at Robert Mondavi winery, but we wanted to check out the grounds for a bit, so we headed on over. Gorgeous property, cool place for first timers to get an idea of the area and how well kept some of these bigger properties really are.
We drove across the road to Opus One and went up to their lookout over the World famous estate vineyard. Gorgeous land spanning over some of the greatest property in all of Napa. We killed some more time just walking some of the vineyards of Opus and then hit the road.
Even though this is only two paragraphs after our first lunch, it was at least a couple hours real time…so let’s talk about lunch #2 – Bouchon.
We had our game plan for this visit. We weren’t in for the crazy over the top experience many have at Thomas Keller’s iconic French Bistro. We had our hearts set on two specific items they specialize in. Jill was craving a killer French Onion Soup and I their Croque Madame sandwich.
Bread service was freshly baked bread in house. A braided baguette and two super crispy crostini were served with some nice whipped butter. The bread was warm and crispy. So delicious and simple.
Even the bread service out here is ridonk. Attention to detail of all aspects of the dining experience is necessary. Even though we were eating light, our server was attentive and friendly. Our al fresco spot on their front patio was perfect as the sun was just beginning to set.
Jill’s soup was bomb-tastic. The broth was rich and flavorful, but not nearly as dark or sherry driven as others we’ve had. This was more elegant and lighter, still flavorful, just more about finesse than smacking you in the face with onion flavor.
The cheese was melted perfectly covering the entire top of the dish. Crouton underneath – check. It wasn’t that soggy and still had a bit of crunch when you unearthed the home made crusty bread.
My Croque Madame was most likely the best I’ve sampled – it’s a close call between the one at Bouchon and Balsan in Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria. The sandwich consists of home made brioche toast with ham and a sharp Swiss cheese and finally topped with a rich and decadent Mornay sauce and a perfect sunny side up egg. Mornay is a cream based Bechamel sauce incorporated with some grated cheese.
The sandwich was nice and balanced. Often the Mornay sauce can be too rich and drown out the meaty ham and delicate bread. There’s a nice dose of acidity in the sauce to cut through all the richness. Definitely a a fork and knife dish, I was a happy boy and absolutely full for at least a few hours after devouring the open face delight.
For dessert we swung through Bouchon Bakery right next door. We shared their version of a Nutter Butter. A delicious peanut butter cookie filled with a creamy peanut butter cream – how could it NOT be ridiculous. Well, it was. So good. We were stuffed.
We killed a little time by wandering down the street towards the French Laundry – arguably one of the top restaurants in the country and world for that matter. It’s an old farm house so you can pretty much wander the grounds if you’re careful – so we did. Peeked in the kitchen and used their washroom which was separate from the main restaurant. Really cool.
Right across the street we came across the French Laundry’s garden. No signs, no fences. Just right out in the open for anyone to wander through. It was incredible. There had to be a couple hundred different vegetables, fruits and herbs growing on the property. Everything from six different kinds of potatoes to exotic Persian Melons to full corn stalks. Again, absolutely stunning.
We went home and vegged out for a while before becoming hungry again. We were tired and felt like keeping it low key for dinner. Hmmm…what was on our list of places we HAD to go to while out West but couldn’t make a reso at…In n’ F*kin’ out Burger baby! Yes!
Hungry Hungry Hinden’s first fast food restaurant. I’m glad it’s In N’ Out. For those who haven’t had the opportunity go to far enough West and try an In N’ Out Burger, here’s the deal. It’s basically fast food priced burgers that are ground fresh on premise daily, made with care and love by a young proud and dedicated staff, assembled with care and precision, and served with a genuine smile.
Toppings are strictly traditional besides their signature special sauce. Lettuce, tomato and onion are all that top their juicy juicy patties. You can opt for a single or double, after this busy day of eating, two singles were plenty for our still semi full bellies.
The fries are cut fresh on premise as well and are fried perfectly time after time. Hot from the frier and cut thin like the best drive thru you’ll come across anywhere. This wasn’t either of our first times at In N’ Out and if we could help it, it wouldn’t even be the last on this trip.
Beat. Busy day tomorrow starting with an early breakfast. Time for bed.
I’m Hungry. Let’s eat!