A Pretty Darn Good Day in Northern California

Our second day in Napa started with my waking up quite early.  My internal clock was still a few hours ahead so it felt natural to open my eyes at 6AM.  I thought about going to the fitness center and trying out the spa’s sauna, but I could see the sun shining brilliantly between the folds of the curtains and I knew I had to be outside.  So I went for a walk down Washington Street, and enjoyed the small yet sophisticated and immaculately clean town of Yountville.  Everyone I passed by on the street greeted me warmly and I was charmed by everything from the post office to the occasional modern sculptures I stopped to admire.

Kevin not being a breakfast person (he loves breakfast food but doesn’t enjoy eating in the morning), I knew I’d be taking full advantage of the champagne breakfast offered at the inn by myself.  I could actually write a whole post about the breakfast at Vintage Inn as I have done previously about my breakfasts in India, Mexico, Spain, and Argentina, but I’ll pass on it today.  Let me just say that it was one of the best American style breakfasts I’ve had in a long time- imagine bottomless glasses of champagne, a Bloody Mary bar, fresh baked breads and scones, an omelet station, house-made granola, beautiful local & seasonal fruits, coffee, tea, juice, etc.  I was in heaven.

Vintage Inn’s rooms are a bit more “rustic” and has a B&B feel to it, but I thought the service was friendly and the extras (a welcome bottle of wine in the room, afternoon tea, the champagne breakfast) were all great.  I actually liked the grounds at Vintage Inn better than its sister property Villagio down the street…

About a week before arriving in California I wrote to di Rosa, an estate in Carneros to make a reservation for a guided visit.  We were scheduled to join a two hour tour so that’s where we headed in the morning.  I’d read up on it a bit but really didn’t know what I was going to see there, and as for Kevin, he is good-natured enough to usually go along with whatever I scheme up.  He had no objections to my wanting to go to di Rosa, so it became a part of his birthday present.

I’m happy to say (and I hope Kevin agrees) that di Rosa turned out to be a fascinating place.  Our guide informed us that there are over 2,000 pieces of artwork displayed at di Rosa and obviously in just two hours we couldn’t possibly have an in-dept experience.  But he stopped often to talk about various artists and their work, and thoughtfully answer any questions we had.

Mr. di Rosa originally came to Napa Valley to be a winemaker but became friends with local artists (Northern Californian) while he was taking viticulture classes.  He eventually decided to sell some of his land, and dedicate his estate to foster and showcase the works of those artists.  He and his wife have both passed away but the extensive grounds with a lake, large galleries, a sculpture garden, and the main residence are filled with art and open to the public.

There was a number of impressive photographs, sculptures, paintings, and new media pieces throughout the property.  I particularly liked this clever installation art that used 27 TV screens to mimic stained glass windows at a church; it showed how the light shines and reflects the colors of the window over a 12 hour period.  To view it we were led down into a basement that was set up like a chapel with rows of chairs and an aisle through the middle.  The effect was fantastic.

As if all the artwork wasn’t enough, we even saw a half dozen peacocks leisurely roaming the garden.

I could have lingered there for many more hours but we had to return to Yountville for our lunch reservation at Etoile at Domaine Chandon.  Kevin’s allergies were really getting to him but it was so beautiful out that we braved the pollen-filled air and sat outside for our last meal in Napa.

The service was particularly slow and we wondered whether we’d ordered the wrong things (everyone else around us seemed to progress along nicely), but we took our time and enjoyed the food.  I started with the tabbouleh salad because it came with boquerones and yogurt spheres.  My love of boquerones doesn’t quite match that of Paula’s (see “the Great Tapas Crawl of 2010: Seville“) but it’s up there and I wanted to see yogurt in “sphere” form.  Kevin ordered the Yellowfin tuna and oxtail as his starter- I couldn’t even begin to imagine what and how this dish would be composed.  My salad was delicate yet punchy, and Kevin’s tuna and oxtail appetizer was unbelievable.  Such an interesting combination of flavors and textures…  Oh, and the bread service with their butter!!  So… Good…

For our main courses I chose the halibut and Kevin, again, went for the scallops.  They were good, but we both preferred the fish and the scallops at Redd from the day before.  We were running about 30 minutes behind schedule but we decided to order dessert anyway (two scoops of sorbet in rhubarb consommé).  It had been a great 24 hour stay (+/- a few hours) in Napa for the two of us… and naturally our conversation turned to where we’d eat the next time we return to Napa.

We drove back south to San Francisco surrounded by vine covered hills, and shades of blue and green all around us.  As we neared the city as if on cue, the famous San Francisco Bay fog was rolling in.  It was sunny and beautiful as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge but I could see the thick white wall waiting for us up ahead.  And just like that, we couldn’t see a thing until we got to the other side of the bridge where it was sunny and bright again.

Kevin dropped me off at the hotel and headed back home, and I quickly changed to meet up with my dear friend Paula.  We had a date to go rock climbing!

With her own spidey sense Paula doesn’t need Peter Parker to save her

I’d always wanted to try rock climbing and Paula’s friend Chris, who met us at his rock climbing gym, was kind enough to take the time to teach me the basics.  It took at least an hour to figure out how to properly get all the gear in place, tie the knots correctly, memorize all the safety check points, and learn to belay.  Once we got that out of the way it was time to actually climb… which wasn’t too terrible.  Chris has been climbing seriously for a while (he’s brother is a pro and will be opening a large rock climbing gym in LA) and looked like a leaner version of Tom Cruise from the Mission Impossible movie.  And Paula, with her long limbs, stubborn determination, and gracefulness was eager to push herself up to the top.  She maneuvered the difficult parts of the wall with patience and strength, and it was really impressive how well she could climb.  For me, I didn’t completely embarrass myself my first time out…  I went up a straight wall (no cliffs or weird angles) with a 5.9 difficulty rating without cheating and I was quite happy with that (the scale goes from 5.1 to 5.15).  Chris told us to be aware of guys hitting on us if/when we come to the gym by ourselves.  He added that they have a name for those guys who routinely take their shirts off to climb to draw attention to themselves.  It’s called “the McConaughey*.”  muwahahahahaha!

Dinner was at a low key Thai restaurant in the Mission with Chris and Paula over a couple of bottles of Singha.  Gorgeous weather + great food + art + a bit of high flying adventure + friends and family = A pretty darn good day in Northern California


*I went to grab the url address for the Matthew McConaughey website & saw that the homepage image today was of Mr. MM promoting the movie “Magic Mike” with his shirt off.  Again, muwahahahahaha!

Vintage Inn: 6541 Washington Street  Yountville, CA 94599

di Rosa: 5200 Carneros Highway  Napa, CA 94559

Etoile at Domain Chandon: 1 California Drive Yountville, CA 94599

Touchstone Climbing (Mission Cliffs): 2295 Harrison Street  San Francisco, CA 94110

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