After the closure of French Laundry for renovation the Napa Valley lost bit of the dining allure. But this is nothing which a great view, the magic stars, great cocktails and fine dining food can’t solve.
I do my due diligence this time and find that the Valley has been graced with a few more Michelin stars than those owned by French Laundry. I try my luck at booking on Valentine’s Day eve and thank people for being so last minute with their reservations so that I can get mine for two at Auberge du Soleil.
Getting there is half the fun and as our Uber driver skids and tries to find the place not without a few u-turns and missed intersections I realize the restaurant is up on a hill overlooking the Valley. The setting is spectacular.
Although it is a crisp night the outdoor heaters are great at keeping us warm throughout the meal so we can enjoy the view without the chill.
Auberge du Soleil has a small bar and a very large main room, much bigger than I had expected for a fine dining place in Napa Valley. The walls have been painted in a dark earthy orange color and the signature sun logo. Outside the lights are dimmed down to a romantic level. We have been given a table by the edge of the balcony from where we can not only look down to the hotel and the rest of the valley but also up to the sky where thousands of stars bright the night.
We get the menu and the drinks list on an iPad. The restaurant offers 3 and 4 course options at $110 and $130 respectively to which you can add a cheese selection for an additional $12. We are slightly confused with the options as we can’t replace a main for the cheese, the supplement would always apply. Eventually we set for a 4 course and a 3 course plus cheese.
The menu is French and Italian with Californian influences. We get served slices of freshly baked breads accompanied with butter and we decide to enjoy a cocktail while we wait for our wine and meal. The cocktail, a Soleil Ray, is wonderful. It is made with Charbay, Pomegranate vodka, fresh mint leaf, aperol and sauvignon blanc. Tonight deserves a celebration.
To start with I go for the Kona Kampachi crudo, sesame crème fraiche, cucumber, radish and dashi and Isa gets the Poached Maine Lobster, roasted beets, horseradish, carrots, dill.
Our dishes are both perfectly decorated and served. My portion is tiny, exactly 4 bites, and I am glad I ordered 4 courses or I would leave starving. The fish is fresh and the crème fraiche goes well with it but I feel that the entire dish could do with some more spice and flavor as it is slightly bland. Isa’s lobster is a work of art, with so many tiny ingredients and drops of various parts to make the entire combination work. It tastes beautifully although I’m not much of a lobster fan.
To follow I go for the Seared ahi tuna, parmesan, roasted artichokes, pickled shallots and black garlic. I find the tuna slices too thick and again lacking in flavour.
The fish is very fresh and is simply seared but it lacks in the way of seasoning. Perhaps there could be more black garlic and shallots to go with it but the amount is not enough the large 3 pieces of tuna. It is a dish that I could almost cook at home and although I do appreciate the bareness of great raw ingredients it is too simple and could do with some more dressing.
The mains are a more consistent portion. Isa gets the Prime beef pave, glazed chestnuts, swiss chard, celery root, caramelised shallot sauce and I go for the Liberty farm duck, miso sweet potatoes, Tokyo Turnips, Orange star anise glaze.
We finally get enough food to be full and have to stop eating the wonderful rustic bread. My duck is exquisite, very tasty and perfectly cooked and Isa’s beef is also very good. We give these two dishes top score.
Before desert Isa got the cheese platter which is also of a very considerable size. The waitress was kind enough to advise that we should only get one platter because it is well enough for two people and she was right, for $12 I feel that the selection is great value.
Deserts do not disappoint either. The restaurant has one of those desert menus that I have a hard time with, because I would eat it all. Having to choose only one I am curious about the Garden mint ice cream, Valrhona Bahibe cremeaux, Devil’s food cake and pepermint meringue. It seems like a refreshing combination and also a good way to end the meal with some irresistible chocolate. It comes very beautifully arranged in small mushroom like pieces of chocolate with ice cream and cremeux. It is delicious if again on the small size. I can’t help it, I have a weakness for sweets.
Isa opts for the White chocolate passionfruit mousse, golden pineapple, mango, lime granita which is colorful and bright. The waitress had told her that more of a white chocolate mousse this was a passionfruit affair and it was true. The colors were nice together and the mix of fruity flavors a better way to follow the cheese platter than my chocolate choice.
The Italian lady serving our table is homey and genuine. She cares about our order and we feel ass if we are at home. It is as though she honestly wants us to have a good time, from the bottom of her heart. Since we are both Spanish the Latin connection works well and the stiffness of a Michelin restaurant is completely gone as she talks to us in the singing of an Italian accent.
She is patient despite our questioning on the menu and tries to accommodate our request. She is a true delight.
We do not interact with anybody else and I am glad because the staff do not seem to be having a good time.
We go all in and come to a bill of $300 including the tip which I find reasonable given the quality of the food and the service and must admit that the setting is half of the value, and makes the trip well worth it. I reckon the restaurant must be beautiful during the day when the views over the valley are in plain sight.