The highlight of my recent trip to Napa was a return to a restaurant, The Restaurant at Meadowood. The second visit did not disappoint. Our scenic drive on the Silverado trail, with rolling hills and up a winding drive in St. Helena, led us to the scenic 250-acre resort and one of only fifteen three-star Michelin restaurants in North America. Everyone has heard of the French Laundry in the town of Yountville Napa, but few know about this cutting edge restaurant. Dinner at Meadowood is much more casual than any other three-star. I would call it rustic luxury, with a country cottage-like setting. It is elegant but unfussy, with beautiful views of the meadow outside. The restaurant is about ceremony, cleverness, and innovation without the theatrics and gimmicks of other Michelin restaurants. Here the meal is based on what is fresh at the given time. Almost everything comes from its organic and sustainably managed three-acre farm located about a mile from the property. In fact, we are first introduced to our evening with a basket full of vegetables and herbs that will be used throughout our meal. What they don’t grow, they source from local artisans, growers, and foragers.
Our server Mika was attentive, professional and made our evening highly personalized. In fact, he indulged our every whim without being snobby or stuffy. This was so refreshing after so many other pretentious gastronomic meals.
We were asked beforehand at our introduction if we have any allergies or foods we don’t tolerate, and the chef creates a bespoke menu that speaks to individual preferences.
We went with a ten-course dinner at $350 per person, and there is also a 20-course offered at $500 as well. Or a chef’s table in the kitchen for $600.
We dined with 10 people and ate in their private dining room, as they felt the main dining room is too small to put a few tables together for us. I suspect they were also worried that a larger group could become rowdy in such an intimate and quiet dining room. I was put off by the $500 charge to do so.
What I did find impressive was that all our needs were anticipated and we were served with synchronicity by a group of “men in black”. Water was continually poured, napkins replaced when you got up. Wines were chosen well for our suggested price range, from the 3,000 bottle selection. When we requested one they didn’t have, they went to the hotel’s regular dining room and secured it for us.
We started with well-executed cocktails that came from the adjoining bar area. A series of canapés appear in quick succession. The chef begins to toy with your expectations. He likes you to think the food is one thing when it is entirely something else. So the green almonds look and taste like green olives. What you think is a corn on the cob with caviar, is actually a creamy corn custard, with caviar and dressed in a wild pecan oil. I adored that dish, the flavour reverberated through my body, and I found myself eating with joyful abandon. We enjoyed a salad roll and a light as air beignet with a miso custard filling. Next up, a delicate hickory corn tamale, filled with a spot prawn. Another visual joy was the grilled succulent heart of sunflower cooked in green sunflower oil. It was reminiscent of a grilled artichoke. Another dish with wonderful components was the black cod topped with fresh sunflower petals. A unique course was the abalone and Napa cabbage. For the meat, we start with a quail dish that is presented in a salt crust and ceremoniously cracked open at our table. It then appears sliced with herbs and edible flowers. Next, a square of dry-aged American beef wagyu, sitting on top of silky creamed potatoes. Mika puts on a show when he lights up the cognac and crowns the meat, further enhancing it with the aroma and nectar of the sauce. The meat is beautifully fatty, rich and marbleized, and left everyone groaning in delight. The cheese course is an aged gruyère, that looks like a stick of butter, and is accompanied by fresh peach compote and honeycomb. This is served with sourdough bread that is made at their sister restaurant, Charter Oak. It is toasted and buttered – and made me swoon. Dessert was a koji rice tart, with a perfectly crunchy base. This was followed by chocolate that looked exactly like the inside of a fig, and one that looked like walnuts, tiny strawberries bursting with flavour, and tiny green tomatoes that originated from Peru, but are now grown in their garden and made into a gelée.
We were taken on a culinary journey, that had surprises throughout. Even if the dishes seemed modest the ingredients were unforgettable delicacies. Each bite brought a new appreciation for the perfect preparation and flavour pairings of each dish.
Meadowood is a benchmark for culinary excellence.