Troy Hightower

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Fall Napa Sojourn

Recently we made a little foray out of 'our' valley (Sonoma) over the Oakville Grade into the 'other' valley of Napa. Late fall--well into November--is a good time to do this, as the crush is done, and accordingly, the hordes of tourists and their traffic have ebbed back to the wherever they've come from. The lovely town of St Helena was mellow and un-crowded on a crisp, sunny Saturday as we strolled its tree-shaded streets, window shopping, stopping for a bite of hand-crafted chocolate at  Woodhouse Chocolates, or a loaf of crusty bread at  the venerable Model Bakery. We lunched at the bar at Tra Vigne--again uncrowded, plenty of seats--on Mozzarrella 'al Minute', that was literally just made, served on smoke-tinged grilled bread,  salad of Forni Brown greens with shaved goat cheese, and the Pizzeta of the day.

An interesting twist on accomodation came in the form of The Cottages of Napa Valley, located a couple miles south of Yountville. This inn comprises a cluster of eight--yes, cottages--grouped around a tree-shaded courtyard, with outdoor seating, firepit and dining areas ('twas a bit cold for such activities this time of year). Painted in tones of barn red, mustard, ochre and the like, with attractive cupolas, private gardens and covered porches, they were originally constructed toward the end of WWII (although the first cottage dates to the '20s) to provide housing for returning servicemen. They were acquired and completely renovated several years ago by Mike Smith and partners, and provide an ambience that's both luxurious and unique. We met Mike through two of his partners, his parents Marilyn and Bob, who are neighbors in Glen Ellen. Each is a junior suite, with seating area, fireplace and tiny kitchen, and are quite nicely fitted out, in a sort of Ralph Lauren-esque style. Mike said of the Cottages in a recent interview  " . . I waited until things came together enough to put all I learned into one project requiring style, comfort, and design. That faith in its potential is being rewarded by the confirmation that other visitors like what my partners and I did here".

After a refreshing nap in the however-many-thread-count sheets, we headed to Yountville for a wander around town in the fall air. We stopped into the new 'hot' Hotel Bardessono for a look and a pre-dinner cocktail. Tons of money have clearly been spent on this modern-design 'green' facility, and the meandering courtyards, fountains, outdoor art, and landscaping are fairly stunning. The landscaping is 'green' as well featuring ancient olive trees and lots of low-water ornamental grasses and drought-tolerant shrubs. The bar provided a tasty martini and Manhattan--it was peopled mostly in black-clad thirty-somethings, that went with the trendy Ian Shrager-ish decor.

We drive 'over the grade' moderately often to dine in the Napa Valley, as it's only a few minutes farther from Glen Ellen than getting to downtown Sonoma, or up to Santa Rosa. One of our very favorite dining experiences there is shared plates, seated at the bar, at Redd. Chef Reddington was hitting on all cylinders this night. We've eaten quite a number of his iconic dishes, but there were some new and delicious twists. The Crispy Tomales Bay oysters with a horseradish cream sauce perched on a mound of fingerling potato salad and frisee' were spectacular. The appetizers at Redd are generously proportioned, and great for sharing. I love his Asian-themed pork belly, but something we hadn't tried was his version of Steamed Pork Buns--cubes of that melting pork belly, hoisin glazed and served open-face on a fluffy steamed bun, spiked by a spicy vegetable slaw.  The portions were so large that we stopped at those two, and indulged in the pastry chefs signature offering, a peanut butter-milk chocolate/hazelnut 'finger'--described by the bartender as 'a cross between a Reese's peanut butter cup, and a Kit Kat bar'. Pretty spectacular. Rather than take a nightcap at the bar at Bouchon, or Jeanty, we opted to enjoy the ambience of the Cottages, and sip a small malt whiskey by the fire before bed.

Continental breakfast is included in the Cottages' room rate, and comes in the form of a wicker basket set on the porch around 8 am, stuffed with pastries fresh from Bouchon Bakery, a French-press of coffee, and the Sunday New York Times. This engaged us for a couple of final hours until it was time to leave the fall glamour of the glitzy valley, and return to the real one. 

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