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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hurley’s, Yountville CA

We drove to Yountville for Easter today, since most of our things are packed up for moving and you can’t really cook like that, can you?  We spent most of the day in town doing lunch, visiting a bakery, walking around the shops, and finishing with dinner at Hurley’s.  Like the lunch restaurant, we had our first impression of Hurley’s at the Taste of Yountville, so we were eager to come back today to try dinner.  Throughout the year there are themed menus such as a Father’s Day barbecue and a game week in November; today there was an Easter selection of specials, from which Zach chose his entree.

roasted baby beet salad

roasted baby beet salad

Atop the salad of frisée arugula, beets, spiced pecans, orange segments, and citrus vinaigrette sat a crustini with Burrata cheese.  This salad was light and refreshing, with colors to match the zingy flavors.  The beets were exceptionally fresh, earthy, and sweet.

macaroni and cheese

macaroni and cheese

We’re not surprised to see mac and cheese, just like we did at lunch.  It would seem to be a side dish growing in popularity.  This was very creamy in flavor and texture, with more cream than cheese coming through.  The panko sprinkled all over the top added a nice texture contrast.  It’s a great value, too – this is a big enough side dish for three to four people!

rosemary and maple roasted chicken

rosemary and maple roasted chicken

August’s chicken was flavorful and comforting as it started to rain outside.  Two meaty portions were supported by a potato puree.  It was a good texture to soak up the sweet and savory glaze.  Caramelized pearl onions, roasted garlic, and English peas rounded out the meal.

easter ham special

easter ham special

Zach’s Caggiano ham was tender, smoky, and had a mild clove flavor.  In all honesty, he wanted the wild Texas boar or the buffalo short ribs, but he chose this because A) it’s Easter, and B) this ham was locally sourced.  It came with scalloped potatoes, fried shoestring onions, a pineapple honey glaze and grilled Maui pineapple spears, which were exceptionally sweet as well as tart.  Nearly hidden from view in the picture are crisp green beans and mushrooms sauteed in garlic and butter.

We already have the second week of November in our calendar for Game Week – antelope, pheasant, and boar are just a few items to be featured.  If today is any indication of the quality of ingredients used at Hurley’s, you can guarantee we’ll be back to see what they do with those kinds of meats.

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Bouchon Bistro, Yountville CA

Our possessions are mostly packed because we’re moving this week.  This kept us from traveling to see family that lives a ways away, and we had nothing with which to cook at home for ourselves for an Easter meal.  Zach did research to find any place open that had something different to offer, and Bouchon Bistro in Yountville promised a meal well worth the drive.

1/2 dozen huîtres (oysters)

1/2 dozen huîtres (oysters)

Bouchon Bistro is known for having some of the freshest seafood.  We shared three Chefs Creek and three Cortes Island oysters; both were salty, briny, and sweet, and the Chefs Creek were smaller in size but slightly sweeter.  They were served with a traditional cocktail sauce and a sweet vinegar mignonette.

soupe à l'oignon

soupe à l’oignon

This onion soup was very sweet as it traditionally should be – not overly salted like the typical American style.  Zach believes they use a housemade stock instead of a beef base or bullion cubes.  The onions were tender and abundant, but don’t get scared!  They were deliciously caramelized.  Despite having a good amount of strong Swiss cheese, it wasn’t greasy.  The thyme was a nice addition.

macaroni au gratin

macaroni au gratin

It would seem that mac and cheese is a very popular side dish nowadays.  We’re seeing it in a number of restaurants.  Here, the blend of white and yellow cheeses over perfectly cooked pasta was rich and playful with so many flavors.  There was definitely Gruyere, but even Zach the supertaster couldn’t get past that because the cheeses were so well balanced and blended.  And August always likes a cute ramekin.

croque madame

croque madame

A grilled ham and cheese sandwich on brioche bread with a fried egg, Mornay sauce, and a mound of well salted fries was Zach’s entree.  The bread was buttery and crispy, the ham smoky, the cheese plentiful, and the sauce very rich and creamy.  The fries almost had Zach fooled – crispy and tender, he thought they were cut in house, but we learned they are in fact frozen.  One of August’s pet peeves is french fry texture and temperature and so many restaurants mess up one or the other, therefore she has essentially given up on them.  However, she sneaked a few of these towards the end of the meal and confessed they were even good cold.

truite amandine

truite amandine

August’s plate was as tasty as it was pretty.  Trout is currently on the sustainable seafood list, and this pan-roasted fish from Idaho was super tender and buttery.  The green beans, or rather haricots verts, are a French variety that is a bit longer and thinner than the American ones we’re used to seeing.  They were verdantly sweet and given great texture by the toasted almonds.  The beurre noissete brown butter sauce added to the rich simplicity of the meal.

Hostess Erica was warm and friendly when we arrived, and Chris, our server, was wonderfully attentive and knowledgeable.  We met manager Krzysztof Pawlik, who runs a great front of the house.  Chef Michael Sandoval took time to step out of his busy kitchen and greet us, and it was a very appreciated gesture and a pleasure to meet him.  We thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, and we’re looking forward to dining here again (as well as at the parent restaurant French Laundry [wink]).

Prima, Walnut Creek CA

It’s prom season for high school students, and August’s classes are asking her for ideas.  Prima is a place both of us had heard of for years, and to be honest most of what August heard was about the vast wine selection.  Tonight we learned that good wine is made great when paired with excellent food, but you don’t even need wine to fully enjoy these plates.

grilled asparagus and frico di montasio

grilled asparagus and frico di montasio

From the antipasti menu we picked the asparagus.  Owner/Chef Peter Chastain personally explained the frico to us: Montasio cheese, which is much like asiago, is simply fried, crispy, savory, and artsy.  Zach especially liked the fennel seeds mixed into the cheese, because paired really well with the slightly sweet Montasio.  He also appreciated the shallots in the vinaigrette, adding a mild, spicy earthiness.  The asparagus from Victoria Island was fresh and grilled just right, and the sprinkling of fennel pollen was a nice addition.  A bite of the farm egg with half an asparagus spear, a section of blood orange, and a chunk of frico was simple but so refreshing and fulfilling.  Presentation, clearly, is fanciful and fun.

roasted seasonal mushrooms and medjool dates

roasted seasonal mushrooms and medjool dates

August may have found a new favorite salad.  If all restaurants served something like this, it would replace Caesar as her go-to leafy green mix.  This insalate had roasted hedgehog, cremini, oyster, and chiodini mushrooms, medjool dates, lacinato kale, pine nuts, and lemon vinaigrette.  She took a bite and said, “Zach, make this please?” and he said, “Okay, we’ll get Farm Fresh to You and start using more ingredients like this.”

gnocchi al forno

gnocchi al forno

Gnocchi, as you know, dear reader, is our favorite pasta; August also likes miniatures, so she thought the tiny cast-iron casserole dish was adorable.  The hand-made gnocchi was tender and light, and layered with ricotta, pesto, broccoli rabe, and melted leeks.  The pesto was mild and, due the nature of being baked, a little crispy to contrast the soft gnocchi.  There are many pestos that can be overpowering, either for the garlic or the basil, but this was very well balanced.

niman ranch bistecca alla fiorentina for two

niman ranch bistecca alla fiorentina for two

Alright, so the bone might make some prom goers snicker.  But the meat quality and taste with leave anyone at a loss for words.  This mass of porterhouse sliced off the bone was served on a bed of arugula with lemon and parmigiano cheese shavings, and green garlic mashed potatoes on the side. This is beyond perfect for a date night, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, prom dinner, or any other holiday of that ilk because it is ideal for sharing – well hey, it’s labeled on the menu as a dish “for two.”  Part of our conversations with Chef Peter was about sourcing of ingredients close to home and the quality found among smaller producers like Niman Ranch.  The meat was buttery, almost like it melted and required very little chewing, for it was that tender.  It was seasoned and cooked extremely well, bringing out the flavor of the beef.  The side of mashed potatoes was creamy, light in texture, and had a well-rounded garlic flavor but was not at all overpowering.

When we walked in we were surprised by hostess Sarah – she was one of Zach’s classmates from high school!  She, just like server Chris, were strong cogs in a well-oiled machine of collaborative staff.  Attentive, conversational, and knowledgeable (just like Chef Peter), every team member seemed to love working here.  How could they not, when they’re justifiably confident in the food they prepare and serve?