From The French Laundry to France: I’m digging the continuum this week.
Across the road from The French LaundryÂ is what appears at first glanceÂ to beÂ a public park. On closer inspection, however, it reveals itself as the restaurant’s extensive chef’s garden. Interestingly, it’s neither gated nor guarded, giving anyone and everyone free rein to roam the planted beds and see what a handful of lucky diners might be feasting on that evening. Tonight, one of those lucky diners is me – turning my early evening stumble into a serendipitous aperitif.
Hall is one of those small-scale wineries that make tasting your way through the Napa Valley so enjoyable: intimate, artisanal, organic, they produce fourteen-odd varietals each season, two of which you might find in your local liquor store – if you’re lucky. Because they’re such a diminutive producer, the majority of their wines sell out via subscription. Which means to taste the breadth of their fabulous Cabernet, you really need to visit theÂ St. Helena estate vineyards. Though currently in the throes of constructing a major new guest experience facility – of which I’ll tell you more later – I still got the chance to relax in the dappled sunlight of the tasting garden and sip my way through a handful of choice bottles. Cabernet is like the Chardonnay of reds: people either love it or loathe it. If your palate falls into the latter camp you might be surprised, however,Â by the pure and vivid flavors Hall achieves. Unfined and unfiltered, these wines are layered, expressive, and totally delicious.
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn is one of the original Napa Valley trailblazers. On the eve of her pioneering eateryÂ Mustard’s GrillÂ celebrating it’s 30th anniversary of dishing up heaping plates of honest American fare with worldly sophistication, she took time out to take me through her gardens and sound off on what it’s like for a one-time hippie to suddenly find herself part of the establishment, the importance of educating diners about what’s on their plates, and why she can’t stand reality shows likeÂ Top Chef. Alas, you’ll have to wait until the story is published later this year; I can’t give awayÂ everything hereÂ for free.
With year-round perfect climate andÂ unparalleledÂ natural beauty, SouthernÂ CaliforniaÂ providesÂ theÂ idealÂ backdropÂ for rekindlingÂ the spirit and pamperingÂ theÂ body.Â Â TheÂ recent worldwideÂ spa explosionÂ is exemplifiedÂ inÂ San Diego,which boastsÂ a bevy of spas with top-of-the-line treatments, first-class services andÂ indulgentÂ amenities.Â These luxurious escapes can be found throughout the regionÂ nestled against the dramatic Pacific coastline,Â perched high above theÂ glitteringÂ downtown skyline,Â tucked into theÂ CuyamacaÂ MountainsÂ andÂ set amidst the serenity of Â lush inlandÂ canyons. Get ready toÂ sootheÂ yourÂ senses, inspireÂ yourÂ soul, invigorateÂ yourÂ step and energizeÂ yourÂ spirit.Â They donâ€™t call this the Sunshine State for nothing.Â READ MORE (pdf download)
It’s been an enjoyable (if terse) time in and around the Monterey peninsula. (Though passing the wreckage of the Air Asiana as I arrived into SFO this morning was a doubly disturbing sight.) I can’t say I’m looking forward to trading in the cool Pacific breeze for an East Coast heat wave, yet as George Harrison is currently crooning on my iPod, “all things must pass away….”
Unlike the tourist trap of the same name in San Francisco, the old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey retains a flavor of its commercial past. Sure it’s pockmarked with t-shirts shops and all manner of snow globe sellers, but dayboats still head out in the early morning hours to troll for the seasonal catch of the day – making it an arresting setting for a big bowl of seafood chowder.
It’s a curious sensation sitting down to eat seafood at an aquarium. Yet when the setting is Monterey Bay Aquarium, theÂ researchÂ center behind Seafood Watch, a consumer’s guide to responsible eating,Â andÂ theÂ chef is Cindy Pawlcyn, creative force behind Napa Valley institution Mustard’s Grill, you breathe a bit easier, knowing that everything on the menu will not only be locally sourced, but also sustainable. And delicious I might add. From house-cured olives, which arrive as a gift from the kitchen, to grilled artichoke grown in neighboring Castroville – artichoke capital ofÂ theÂ world – the fresh flavor of the produce coming out of the Salinas Valley really shines through. Bodega Bay coon shrimp are a rare and tasty treat, perfectly suited to an old-fashioned get-your-hands-dirty shrimp boil. So, too, is wild-caught King Salmon, simply grilled and tasting like the sea. Dessert is an equal opportunity offender: olallieberries are a CaliforniaÂ curiosity; a hybrid, they taste like the liaison between a blackberry and a raspberry – and make for a delicious, warm tart. The tables at Cindy’s WaterfrontÂ eachÂ come with a pair of binoculars for the curious, as well as a guide to the wildlife on ample display in the bay. But don’t be fooled by the distraction, sea otters and cormorants are no match for what’s sitting on the plate in front of you.