Last weekend we dined for the second time at JoLe Restaurant (Calistoga). Both times it has been great. It’s currently one of our favorite Napa Valley restaurants and certainly ranks as one of the best up Calistoga way.
Highlights included:
Chicken Livers with medjool dates and Point Reyes blue cheese ($9)
Crispy Pork Belly with quince, ginger, soy & apple cider ($13)
Half Roasted Cornish Hen with collard greens and corn bread stuffing ($15)
Duck Confit with herb spaetzle and huckleberry coulis ($15)
Service started off sputtering but rapidly improved. Our table wasn’t ready until about 20 minutes after our reservation and then after we were seated, it took a an uncomfortable, unusual period before being greeted by our server and then for him to return to take our order. I think there may have been some confusion on who we “belonged” to. Anyway, they caught up and we were treated in a professional and friendly manner for the rest of the evening. Especially of note was outstanding wine service for our BYOB bottles: Burgundy glasses provided for the Kistler Chard, Cabernet glasses for the Arrowood, discussing temperature and decanting needs. This is the type of service I don’t mind paying corkage for. Their own wine list is clever and fairly priced. Many, if not all, of the wines are also available by the pitcher or “pichet” which in this case describes a little decanter that holds the equivalent two glasses.
About the wines:

Posted from CellarTracker

Garibaldis Restaurant in Oakland has been around for years. In the past, each time we’d go there, we’d ask ourselves why we don’t go there more often. It’s usually very good. Recently the restaurant made a big change. They remodeled, dividing their space into two restaurants. One part remained Garibaldis and the other space became Marzano, their pizza / small plate concept. On Saturday, we went to Garibaldis for the first time since the remodel. The space is beautiful.
Service was friendly and sincere, but spotty in the results. The overly-busy staff did not seem ready for the task though I suspect a lot of the difficulty had to do with the big party next to us. Wine service for our BYOB Phelps Insignia was good with the server bringing us excellent stemware without being asked.
Most of the food was good to excellent. My dinner companions liked their salads and hamachi crudo appetizers. My son and I loved our steak tartar. A couple of us were not that hungry and the kitchen and server cheerfully and generously split a delicious salmon entree which was grilled to perfection and served with a yummy pomegranate sauce. The disappointing entree was my own: the potato gnocchi were salty and mushy.
Garibaldis has always been loud and this hasn’t changed. The copper ceiling, while beautiful, doesn’t lend itself to sound dampening. The noise level on our visit wasn’t helped by the neighboring table of about 20 twenty-somethings. They were at least tipsy and for some reason, their table could never be full. Two would leave the table just as two more would return. The constant traffic did take away from our experience.
So, with more hits than misses, we’ll again return to Garibaldis someday, but as usual, a few inconsistencies keep it from being at the top of our list.

5356 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 595-4000

Camino Restaurant was opened a year or two ago by Russell Moore who prior to that spent 13 years as produce buyer and in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. That background under Alice Waters served him well. Camino is a simple concept and one that seems sustainable — and probably profitable — in these tough economic times: Have a daily changing menu of just a few items made from locally available ingredients and do it extremely well. A small menu is easier to plan, execute, and manage inventory. But hey, that is just me being my analytical self. One can go to Camino and not even think about business stuff. Just enjoy the delicious, fairly priced fare. Last night there were 6 appetizers and 3 entrees (one vegetarian) on the menu. I’m the kind of guy who ultimately likes trying new and interesting foods but I am often initially intimidated by descriptions of dishes that use ingredients not part of my usual diet. (Sardines come to mind and some Camino dishes use sardines.) But, even with so few choices that often don’t read like I would want them, I have never been disappointed by a dish at my many visits to Camino. The food from their simple, open kitchen and wood burning oven just works.
Our choices:
Sheepsmilk ricotta grilled in a fig leaf with herb salad and almonds $10
Fresh shellbean, beet and greens salads $9.50
Chicken soup with wild nettles and rice $10
Grilled and braised duck with spätzle, cabbage, red wine and duck cracklings $24
Everything was fantastic.
The bar and wine list work the same way. They stock the bar with only the items necessary to make their own, ever-changing offerings of clever cocktails. The wine list is affordable and well chosen. We had a deliciously aromatic 2007 François Chidaine Vouvray Sec “Les Argiles”, Loire ($11.50 glass) with our startest and a rich 2007 Combier Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône ($12 glass) with the duck.
Camino Restaurant
3917 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 547-5035

I know we’re lucky here in California, particularly in Northern California and wine country, when it comes to being able to bring wine to a restaurant. Many folks in other parts of the country can only dream of being able to legally do this. Although it’s not unusual for a corkage fee to be waived, particularly if one also buys wine from the restaurant’s list, typically the charge ranges from $15 per bottle to $50, usually towards the lower end of that scale. So the other night, we’re at a local Oakland place that I like to support. It’s near our house and the food is excellent. BUT, the wine service was terrible on this night. The waiter popped the corks on some really good bottles, brought the cheapest, smallest stemware, did not have a decanter available for our red wine, and waited too long to bring out an ice bucket for our white. [Sigh.] Corkage was $20 per bottle. I was none too pleased paying $40 basically for the waiter to use a cork screw and for them to stick a few glasses in a dishwasher. I’ve been there before and received excellent wine service on my brought bottles, so I will give them one more chance. Still…

If you’re going to charge me corkage, give me good wine service.

  • 1997 Oakford Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (9/3/2009)
    Brooding and dark with moist earth, tobacco, and some sour blackberry. Unlike a few recent tasters, I think this wine has past its prime. While still showing significant tannins, I don’t think the fruit balance is there for longer aging. Could perhaps have benefited from a vigorous decant which unfortunately wasn’t available with mediocre BYOB wine service at a local restaurant. (86 pts.)
  • 1996 Kistler Chardonnay Vine Hill Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (9/3/2009)
    Deep gold color and huge nut and butterscotch nose. Butterscotch and caramel flavors predominate with honey-lemon tea undertones. This wine suffered from rather indifferent wine service at BYOB local restaurant. The requested ice-bucket never arrived. Not rated as I don’t think we were able to see this bottle at its best. Still, I love Kistlers with some age!

Posted from CellarTracker

Thursday night I had the pleasure (and challenge) of feeding myself and 3 teenage boys at home. Sasha is traveling. What better than some grass-fed rib-eyes from Long Meadow Ranch? LMR is a winery and farm in the Mayacamas Mountains of Napa. Although I have yet to have the pleasure of trying their wines, their produce stand at Rutherford Gardens is a regular stop on my way up the Valley. Selection varies by season. In the winter, one may only find an unattended ice chest full of delicious fresh eggs where you pay on the honor system but in season, a veritable cornucopia of fresh veggies and meats are available. We love their meats, especially the grass-fed rib-eye ($17.99 lb.). And if their produce and meats weren’t good enough, Ted and Laddie Hall and their son Chris, owners of Long Meadow Ranch, are some of the nicest folks in Napa. Check out their website. I just did and it looks like a visit to their produce market is just the tip of the iceberg in experiencing all that LMR has to offer.

Long Meadow Ranch Rutherford Gardens
1796 So. St. Helena Highway (SR 29), just north of the intersection with SR 128

So what would a great cut of meat be without a great wine?

  • 1997 Viader Proprietary Red – USA, California, Napa Valley (7/30/2009)
    I’ve been breaking into my ’97s to see if rumors of their demise are true. The 1997 Viader Red Wine is at a good place. Youthful appearance of medium ruby with virtually no bricking. Blackberry cobler flavors are followed by sweet cherry tomatoes and a backbone of cedar and mint. Sounds odd, I know, but it works. Tannins are still significant. At first I thought it didn’t need a decant but found it better with about 1/2 hour of air and a big rare steak. Drink now until 2012. (91 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

  • 2001 Novy Family Wines Syrah Napa Valley – USA, California, Napa Valley (6/5/2009)
    I pulled this wine from the cellar with hope that it hold its own with the spicy food at Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana (Oakland – awesome restaurant). With the exception of the grilled habaneros, anaheim chiles, and jalapenos, the wine did serve the meal fairly well. Fortunately, the very hot (EtOH) nose of this wine doesn’t overwhelm once you take a drink. Grilled teriyaki steak, dark berries, anise, a bit of a medicinal note, smooth and mouth coating. Drinking at its peak. Interesting, I’m going to give this wine a score not too different from previous tasters on CT but I liked it and their TN seem to indicate otherwise. Excellent wine. 88+. The “plus” is because I’d bet the wine would be even better with a rack of lamb. (88 pts.)
  • 2005 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Rioja – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja (6/2/2009)
    I’m not that experienced with Rioja, but this one seemed quite pleasant a great addition to the Spanish tasting meal at Mezze Restaurant in Oakland. Cherries, wood smoke, fresh turned earth, some crushed sage leaf… not a big wine or especially complex but certainly worth the $30 off a restaurant wine list. (84 pts.)
  • 2001 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (5/27/2009)
    Tight with cedar and sour blackberries. A bit austere and angular right now but should improve with 2-3 more years in the cellar. By about hour 4 in the decanter, it edges had softened a bit and the wine displayed a smokier character. (88 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

The other night we celebrated a special occasion in San Francisco at Chef Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys. Amazingly, even after many, many years in the Bay Area, we’d never been to this famous restaurant known as one of the most romantic in The City. It is one of those restaurants that stays consistently outstanding (Chef Keller has been at the helm since 1986) and continues to thrive while trendy places come and go. The food, service, and atmosphere were impeccable. I’m not going to pretend to be a food writer since I can’t do this meal justice, so I will just list our menu. I would not hesitate to recommend anything here:
Amuse bouche
Chilled Carrot & Coriander soup and Chilled Cucumber & Mint soup
First Course
Pan Seared Artisan Foie Gras with rhubarb, corn, and truffle sauce
Veal Sweetbread “Meuniere” with morel mushrooms, poached egg “purse”, toasted brioche, veal jus
Second Course
Chilled Dungeness Crab Salad with shavings of young vegetables, lobster infused vinaigrette, and lobster fondant with caviar
Wild Prawns with brioche crust (unfortunately didn’t get the full description of this one)
Third Course
Slow-Braised Snake River Farm Waygu Beef Cheeks with Pretzel Crust on spatzle, choucroute gratin and scented beer sauce
Oven Roasted Venison Chop with Truffled Baby Bok Choy accented with rich cocoa nib red wine reduction, Spanish chorizo, and cocoa tuile
Chocolate Souffle
Grand Marnier Souffle
A four course menu is priced at $82 per person though there are additional surcharges on a few menu items. Corkage was $35 which is reasonable in The City at a restaurant of this caliber — especially since they treat the wine you bring the same as if you had ordered it off their list providing proper stemware, decanting, and giving fantastic wine service. Kudos to Marcus, the manager and sommelier that evening for making our dinner special both in food and wine.
Speaking of wine, I guess I should explain the rest of the title of this post…

  • 2001 Harlan Estate The Maiden – USA, California, Napa Valley (7/14/2009)
    Wood smoke, sweet blackberries, molasses, cedar, toasty oak, river rock, and chargrilled meat. It was an outstanding wine after about an hour in the decanter and proved to be a great compliment to the meal. Not overpowering, it was a graceful heavyweight that stood up to the rich, big flavors of the French Alsatian meal at Chef Hubert Keller’s Fleur De Lys (San Francisco). The one negative: after about 2 hours in the decanter, I did notice the fruit starting to trail off and the tannins coming across as a bit dry and dusty. It makes me wonder if the time to drink and enjoy this wine is now, not later. (91 pts.)
    Posted from CellarTracker

Last Friday — I think I’m just now recovering a week later — was quite a day of wine tasting. I never take notes during such experiences but do try to at least write down the names of wines I would recommend for my own purchases and others. If I mention the wine, I would recommend it but an * indicates that I found the wine particularly outstanding. Note, I only tried a fraction of the wines available at these events. One would have to be some sort of super taster on a paid vacation to work through all offerings.
Taste Napa Valley – part of the Napa Vintners’ Auction Napa Valley. This event featured numerous wineries pouring their current releases, many local restaurants offering wonderful edibles, the closing hours of the online e-Auction with computers set up for last-minute bids, and the barrel auction of future releases. Personal observation and confirmed by several vintners was that bidding was down from previous years. Many bidders at the barrel auction were able to pick up some future cases of quite renowned wines for less than the ultimate release price. I was pleased however with our E-Auction lot which went for $5101. Ultimately the auction raised $5.7 million for local Napa Valley non-profits. This is a little more than half of what was raised last year.
Bottled Highlights:
*2007 Truchard Roussane
*2008(?) Heitz Grignolino Rose
2007(?) Broman Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Madonna Estate Pinot Grigio
*2005 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon
Barrel Highlights and there were many reflecting the excellent 2007 Napa vintage:
2007 Blackbird Contrarian Bordeaux Blend
2007 Crocker Starr Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 DR Stephens Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon
*2007 Jones Family Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon
*2008 Mi Sueno Cabernet Sauvignon – if you don’t know Mi Sueno’s wines, you should
*2007 Realm Beckstoffer Dr Crane Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Roy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
*2007 Sonador Cellers Cabernet Sauvignon “The Dreamer” – a winery I’d never heard of but I think one to watch, very charming, lush, approachable, and I believe they said the price point of this wine is in the $50’s
*2007 Viader Cabernet Sauvignon
Next, it was on to Herb Lamb tasting at Acme Wines in St Helena. They were pouring their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 EII Red Wine, and *2005 HL Cabernet Sauvignon. All were good to outstanding. If you’ve not had a chance to meet Jennifer and Herb Lamb, do it. They were wonderful, down to earth, and charming people. It was also a pleasure to meet face-to-face winemaker Michael Trujillo after so many years. His wife planned my wedding back in 2001.
Cheers St Helena – this is the first year for this event held the first Friday of each month (starting last month and ending in October). The merchants of St Helena stay open late and most have a winery pouring inside plus many have restaurants providing munchies. Tickets are $5 a taste, $35 for a VIP one night unlimited tastings, or $100 VIP unlimited for the whole season. This is not your run-of-the-mill wine festival. They limit the number of winery participants to 50 local wineries and there is a waiting list to participate. (I know, I’m on it.) This differs as usually these types of events are begging for participants. Sign of the times, I guess.
Scott Harvey Wines – a new one for me. I liked their 2007 Jana Rose (Napa) and their *2005 Old Vines Zinfandel (Amador County)
2006 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee – “hot” nose, but delicious taste
*2005 Venge Vineyards “Scout’s Honor” Zinfandel blend
2006 Bouchaine Pinot Noir Carneros
*2007 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc
2006 Miller Wine Works Grenache Shannon Ridge Vineyard, Lake County – another new one for me. I’m not normally a big Grenache drinker but thought this one was quite attractive
2006 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon – undoubtedly this will be a great wine but it’s almost painful to drink now. Honestly, I’m surprised they would choose such a baby to show at this sort of mass venue.
I finished up the evening with the delicious Oysters Bingo and the Brutus Caeser sitting at the bar of Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. One final “new” discovery, 2006 Six Sigma Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County) by the glass and a small taste from a neighbor’s bottle of *2006 Inman Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
And then I slept.

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3060 White Sulphur Springs Rd
St Helena, CA 94574
t: (707) 200-3510
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