What better way to spend a final day in wine country than to go to do something fun and unique as well as taste some more great wine!  As a thoughtful and unique birthday gift, my sister pulled some strings and got myself and Jill invited to Clos du Val Winery’s annual Grape Stomp!

We arrived at the winery and mingled with the twenty five or so other peeps in attendance.  We were greeted with a sparkling made in Australia in conjunction with Clos du Val.  We were split up into teams or four and were given t-shirts, headbands and markers to decorate our “uniforms” for the stomp!

Each team of four was given twenty four empty wine bottles, a kiddie pool, and various basters, cups, bowls, tubes and other devices used to move liquid from one place to another.

Once the whistle sounded, two members from each team went to a gigantic bin full of special grapes made just for stomping.  Team mates gathered as many grapes as they could in their kiddie pools before the stomping began.

Two members stomped while the others started to gather juice filling up as many wine bottles as possible.  Lemme tell ya.  This was not easy.  After time was up, we had filled a credible twenty two bottles out of the twenty four.  Only one team filled the full two cases of wine, so we were quite pleased with out outcome.

After we bottled the “wine” we had to give a presentation to the group explaining why our wine is worth buying, what it’s grape composition is, and of course, it’s retail price.  It was so much fun.

Afterwards, we were fed incredible barbecue and of course, more wine.  The afternoon was the perfect way to end one of the most incredible trips I’m sure I will ever experience.  We drank great wine, ate fantastic food…plus we got engaged.  Most excellent.

Uh, Uh…but wait.  There’s one more meal before I wrap up this week of gastro-adventures.  It’s time for Morimoto…

We arrived at the gorgeous restaurant and were seated at a banquette style booth with a great view of the dining room.  Modern Japanese influenced decor was tastefully used throughout the space.  It was minimal but very artfully appointed as a whole.

We began with their signature appetizer – Toro Sashimi.  The dish is presented on a large bed of ice.  The Toro is spread thin in a customized platter and accompanied by a number of different accoutrements.  Sour cream, fresh wasabi, nori paste, chives and crispy sesame balls.

The quality of Toro was impeccable.  The unique presentation of the dish was stunning and stood out amongst other traditional tartare at a different restaurant.  The meat was served on a chilled glass platter sticking upright out of the ice.  Serving utensils were thin flat mini chisels of sorts – really cool.  The flavors were intense; you could still taste the clean fishy taste of the Toro minutes after each bite.

I love Hamachi Kama – the collarbone of the fish.  Morimoto serves theirs with a red miso Chimichurri sauce.  The kama was presented on a tabletop grill above some slowly burning ember.  The fish was already cooked, but the flame kept it warm and was a nice touch.

The fish was cooked perfectly.  It flaked apart with ease and was as good as any kama I’ve tasted in past.  The sauce complemented the fish well but adding a light vinegar soy touch that cut through the fattier collarbone portion of the fish.

Pork belly often ends up in front of us at restaurants – Morimoto being no exception.  Simple presentation and perfect cooking technique are the focus.  Their kakuni (pork belly) is slow cooked for ten hours.  The meat achieves a texture that can be cut with a fork.  A light and airy rice congee is served as a bed for the pork and the entire plate is drizzled with a savory but subtle soy-scallion jus.  They say they use black pig which has a richer cleaner flavor – especially in the fat.

We planned ahead on ordering the sea urchin carbonara.  Hand made udon noodles tossed in a traditional creamy carbonara with house smoked bacon, crispy shallots, a couple lobes of uni and some crispy shallots.  It was absolutely one of the highlights of the evening.

Granted, there could have been maybe another lobe or two of uni, we loved the flavor and the pasta was perfectly al dente and had soaked up a tremendous amount of oceanic flavors.  An excellent selection.

We longed for more uni, so we ordered two pieces of the sea urchin done simple nigiri style atop rice.  Basically, these two one bites served as our dessert and the last bites of food during our trip out West.  Morimoto was the ideal way to cap off our trip.  Excellent ambiance, friendly and informative service, and delicious and creative food.  Thank you Northern Cali.  You treated us well and we will return soon…but maybe for a more extended stay.

I’m hungry.  Let’s go back home to Chicago!


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