I glance over at mom who’s seated in the back with me, hardly able to believe he’s asking my opinion about our first lunch in the Napa Valley. Even though my one job for our trip had been to pick out restaurants for the weekend – including the one for his birthday dinner the following night, my father had exercised executive veto power over all my suggestions.
If he didn’t like the sound of a place, or it didn’t fit into his carefully mapped out itinerary, it was out – done – finito. And not up for further discussion.
I clear my throat and lean forward so he can hear me, “Redd?” I say with hesitation.
“Yeah.” He responds with nonchalance, seemingly unaware that he is toying with my emotions. “Where is it?”
“Yountville… right next to Ad Hoc,” I say, trying to keep my excitement from seizing control of my vocal chords. I don’t want to let on how much I want to go to Chef Richard Reddington’s restaurant featuring wine country cuisine with influences from Asia, Europe, and Mexico. If my dad knows that this is the one place I want to go to even more than Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, it will jinx everything. We’ll end up at some place more convenient and conducive to honoring our schedule for the rest of the day.
Some place like Arby’s.
He contemplates a moment before replying, “That’ll work.”
My heart sours as I reach for my phone to secure a reservation for the four of us. Forty-five minutes later, we arrive at the restaurant, starving and ready for our first taste of vacation.
There is wine, of course – a bottle of the Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley ($35), which is a crisp and prudent choice for lunch. I’m not used to drinking wine at mid-day.
Then again, I’m not used to getting my way either.
We decide to go light with our menu selections, and each only order an entrée from the well-edited lunch menu. My brother and I opt for the Dover sole with creamy jasmine rice, clams, chorizo, and saffron curry nage ($15), my mother selects the appetizer-sized portion of the caramelized diver scallops with cauliflower puree, almonds, and balsamic reduction ($14), and my dad goes straight for the appetizer-sized portion of the duck confit with lentils, foie gras meatballs and crispy spaetzle ($14).
The plates are impeccable in both presentation and execution. I sigh with pleasure as I sashay my fork through the foam surrounding my dish to secure my first bite of the delicate white fish. The neutral flesh is the perfect partner for the subtle curry saffron broth that begs to be slurped up with a spoon. The mussels and chorizo chime in with thoughtfully placed salty and spicy notes that elevate the dish from comforting to captivating.
My mom is equally enamored with her scallops. I steal a bite of the almond-topped cauliflower puree and affirm her sentiments – it’s dreamy by itself, and I imagine even dreamier when paired with the supple scallops.
A taste of my dad’s duck confit confirms my suspicions that it’s just as charming as the rest of our entrees. While it’s a rich dish by nature, it treads surprisingly lightly on the palate. The lentils are a nice earthy counterpoint to the crispy duck confit and foie gras meatballs, and I’m surprised to discover that the meatballs taste more like meatballs than foie gras. They lack the vicious fatty mouth feel that often accompanies liver.
As soon as we hear that Pastry Chef Nicole Plue recently won a James Beard Award, dessert becomes an inevitable conclusion. The butterscotch sundae with butterscotch sabayon, vanilla rum ice cream, caramel corn, salted galette, and chocolate cookie crumbs ($10) is a revelation on our tongues. After two weeks of avoiding dessert, the sweet and salty flavors and contrasting textures explode on my palate, and I am eager to take the lead on finishing the grown-up version of a sundae. It’s complex, yet tastes so familiar – almost like a Snicker’s Bar.
The dessert is an appropriate representation of the restaurant itself. The space is elegant, but inviting. The service is on-point, yet friendly – our server is amused, not repulsed when I confirm with her that some Sauvignon Blancs do smell like “cat pee.” And the menu is ambitious, yet accessible. The descriptions might initially seem jarring to those with less daring palates, but the food itself is clean and easy to love.
It was similarly easy for my family and me to fall in love with our first meal in the Napa Valley together. Our appetites whetted for more mid-day indulgences, we crept back to our car with smiles stretched across our previously travel-weary faces.
It was on. And we couldn’t wait to get started on our next adventure -- planned by my dad, of course.
6480 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599-1294