Monday night can be the most challenging to find a good restaurant for dinner. If you’re looking for a restaurant that’s better than good, you’ll be even more hard pressed. Luckily there is The Grand Tavern, a gastropub with New American cuisine and a cozy venue that’s bustling with the sounds of happy patrons every Monday.
Almost wagging their fingers at restaurants closed on Mondays, The Grand Tavern offers Happy Hour all day long for just about everything from the bar. With that incentive, we tried a cocktail named for a hummingbird in Spanish, el colibrí. Delicately tart and mildly effervescent with pisco, lemon juice, hibiscus liqueur, peach bitters, and sparkling torrontés, the light taste belied the strength! It was very tasty, but should be sipped gingerly.
Californians can’t get foie gras so easily anymore, but at least there’s still pâté. This duck liver with bourbon was layered with house-made blackberry jam and served with Acme garlic toasts. The bread was toasted just enough to provide something substantial to bite through, as opposed to shattering when bitten (as crostini sometimes does). Enough about the bread, the contents of the Mason jar were the star. The mild mineral flavor of the pâté was enhanced by a medium herb background and faint bourbon essence. Pâté and good bread is already a nice starter, but the blackberry jam set it far above average with a dark sweetness to balance the liver.
King oyster mushroom in paprika tempura were a delightful vegetarian nibble after the intense pâté. The crispy breading coated thick mushroom slices with excellent texture that was nowhere near mushy. The bites were salty and lightly spiced, not spicy, but all three of the sauces had their own kick. Salsa verde had mild flavors with a medium burn, while jalapeño chutney was more tangy and salty with a strong jalapeño flavor rising above the heat. The spiciest was the creamy habanero aioli; August, who avoids spiciness when possible, thought the aioli was “super tasty, but what a burn!” She really wanted a second mushroom with aioli because the flavor was that good, but the heat kept her back.
The beets in this salad really helped cool down our mouths after the mushrooms’ sauces. It’s important to get more vegetables than just tempura’d ones, anyway. The braised golden beet salad on arugula had called out to us from the sumptuous selection, and ended up coursed perfectly to relieve the heat. Toasted pumpkin seeds, fennel frond, fat blueberries, and faintly tangy citrus dressing complemented the sweet, earthy beets and the zippy arugula.
Where there is lamb, August tries it. In this dish the shoulder was tender, savory, and not gamey, mixed in with al dente rigatoni noodles. Meaty mushroom slices joined the fun, and the sunny-side up egg provided a soft tender element. Tomato, yellow onion, and chili flakes made up the chunky sauce, but it was garlic, one of the most important ingredients in the world (tied with chocolate), that brought everything together.
Zach’s chicken was “very, very juicy” with subtle harissa flavors. The tender chicken rested across corn and mashed potatoes, but not just any corn and mashed potatoes. The corn was sautéed with cherry tomato halves and wild arugula, resulting in a sweet, crisp, and exceptionally fresh side. The mashed potatoes were rich with butter flavor and an intriguing horseradish aftertaste. Jalapeño chutney made an encore appearance here, showing its range in pairing with other ingredients.
Because the restaurant tries its best to work with the seasons, the menu changes somewhat often. Frequent diners will never tire, and first-time guests will have different stories to share about their wonderful meals and beverages. And, of course, one thing we can always rely on is that it’s open on Mondays.
It was a beautiful day to drive to the 20th Annual Taste of Yountville, and everyone else thought so, too. Lots of happy people came out to enjoy some of the best food that the talented local chefs could put out. Yountville has a wide array of extremely high quality food from a variety of restaurants, surprising to find in a town of roughly 3,000 people. Every other booth was a winery or brewery, and many of the food booths had beverages too, but we managed to taste every offer except one (Bottega Ristorante ran out early). An assortment of arts and crafts stands provided for some shopping for August, too.
The first of many slider-style sandwiches was this barbeque pulled pork with cole slaw on a brioche bun from Ludy’s Main Street BBQ & Catering. The meat was tender and full of a nice sweet and smoky flavor. In some pulled pork you can find fat chunks, but this was exceptionally lean. The cole slaw vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the dressing was creamy and mildly sweet. Zach felt the bread they chose for this was paired very well; it was lightly buttery and soft.
Next stop was Hurley’s tent and Chef Bob served us his Irish slider, in line with tomorrow’s special St Patrick’s Day menu at his restaurant; we got a copy of it and everything looks like it will be delicious. For today, he prepared house made corned beef with sauerkraut and horseradish mayo on a French style roll that had a good crunch on the crust but still soft on the inside. The corned beef was very tender but mildly spiced and not overly salty; Zach says he hasn’t had corned beef that much, he won’t lie, but this was the best he’s had. The sauerkraut wasn’t overly sour and still crisp, so the freshness was very evident. The horseradish mayo gave the slider a pleasant kick.
The slider tents were all near each other, so our third taste was another take on mini sandwiches by Lucy Restaurant Bar at Bardessono. The lean kobe beef patty was on a bed of sweet caramelized onions and sprinkled on top with sharp Point Reyes blue cheese. Bardessono boasts an on-site garden to source some ingredients as local as mere steps from Lucy.
Bouchon Bakery itself had a huge line coming out the door, so we were happy to find two little tables they had set up in a cool, shaded courtyard with a fountain. First we tried their TKO shortbread cookie, a take on an Oreo texture and flavor with a caramel filling and creamy ganache dolloped on top. These were tiny delights, deep in chocolate with a mild caramel accent.
Then we got a bag of truffle popcorn with truffle butter, real truffle shavings, and fleur de sel. Popcorn is popcorn, but truffles make just about anything better.
We had a nice chat with Helene of Marshall’s Farm, and were excited to find out there are bee hives on top of the Fairmont San Francisco! We got a jar of that variety, plus a bunch of others from this busy family business.
All of the honeys are from parts of the Bay Area and each type has its own unique properties. Different flowers can affect cooking, some honeys have more holistic qualities, and there are even 22 flavors of honey straws for the kids!
Ciccio came up with these wonderful bites of chicken liver cooked with Marsala wine and onions, spread on a super crunchy crustini and sprinkled with crispy sage. Zach doesn’t really like liver but he says “hey worked some miracles” because the liver was mild and didn’t offend him. The samples were extremely flavorful and rich, and the texture contrast between the creamy liver, the crunchy crustini, and the crispy sage was pleasing.
This was not the typical corn dog. The Vintage Estate made Cajun corn dogs with skinless sausage and savory corn bread batter. The sausage was garlicky and mildly spicy, and the sauce on the side was a nice touch.
This sandwich of roast beef and blue cheese from the Yountville Deli got our attention thanks to the superb horseradish spread. The beef was lean and tender and the blue cheese was mild, but the horseradish stole the show for its tanginess. Fresh basil, lettuce, tomato, and a soft telera roll made it complete. This is a place that we’d like to come back to feature some time in the future.
It’s not fois gras, but at least we got some duck pate! Etoile Restaurant of the Domaine Chandon Winery artfully crafted these nibbles. We easily could have spent many more of our tasting tickets here, but we had a lot more to see.
Lamb made this chili special. August always likes lamb but not chili, and Zach always likes chili but not lamb, so it was perfect that we were both pleased with this. Mustards Grill made this simply but so well constructed, as all the ingredients were very well balanced. They used Don Watson lamb, cannellini beans, and five chilis to create a rich yet mildly spicy chili. Garnished with jalapeño corn bread, creme fraiche, white cheddar, cilantro, and green onions, this was a memorable chili for both of us.
Kollar Chocolates had truffle squares to sample, but the sculptures caught our eye for the picture. We have tried this chocolate before at previous SF Chocolate Salons and we’re going again this year, so today we knew before we put these in our mouths that the chocolates were wonderful.
Zach really, really liked the chilled English pea soup from Brix Restaurant. Creme fraiche made the soup thick yet refreshing and light. The bit of dungeness crab and espellete pepper on top made these super pretty but also super tasty.
Everyone grows up with canned tomato soup, but the cream of tomato by Bistro Jeanty can wipe your memory. This is nothing like what you’re used to, for it was very rich and deep in spices.
Zach can’t eat sesame seeds so Redd’s Chinese chicken salad was off limits for him. August thought it was a very layered California twist with a variety of ingredients mixed together to create a rich yet refreshing salad.
Pacific Blues Cafe had run out of their vegetarian and chicken Chinese salads but quickly brought out some more in just seconds after we walked up. We both got to try the vegetarian since there were no sesame seeds. Napa cabbage, carrots, and crispy chow mein combined for a super simple but delightful salad, with a dressing that was sweet and just a hint garlicky.
August found a pair of amber and silver earrings from Jeeba. There were many other ladies loving the selection of silver jewelry with semiprecious stones.
She also stopped by Yount Street Glass for a bangle bracelet. Kay and Cindy ingeniously recycle wine bottles to make jewelry, table cellars and keychains.
Overall it was a fabulous day. We had no idea we would find so many wonderful food stuffs. We’re inspired to come back to Yountville soon to try some restaurants for their regular fare, and stay at one of the beautiful hotels for our still-new Hospitality section!