Category Archives: bed and breakfast inn

Was on Silent Retreat in Montecito…so what?

Garden Pond 2015I usually blog about the restaurants (you’ll see more soon) or wineries (always more to share), but today I wanted to share something a bit more personal and compelling for me as Chef and Co-owner of The Inn On First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa.

Annually Jamie gives me one week to go away so that I can spend a lot of time in silence and reflection with my BFF from southern California (Linda, whose husband is also generous in letting her go for one week).  We rent a cottage on a 25-acre retreat property, are self-sufficient for the day in terms of breakfast and lunch, and then gather at dinner to cook and share our thoughts about the day.  Each day we independently choose our theme for the day: what’s on our minds or hearts that is calling for attention?  It could be work, relationship, self, family, friends.  It doesn’t matter.  There is no formula.  You spend the day however you choose (reading a book of reflection, walking at the beach, going for a hike, sitting in your room, sitting by the river, enjoying the views, swimming in the pool, drawing pictures) and trust your heart, mind, and body to lead you through the silence.

My overall theme this year was Joy.  It always seems to elude me.  I feel love and peace so often, so why not joy?  I also know that sometimes I have to work at love:  that some days love really is a decision even though I don’t “feel” it.  That I have to work at peace: taking time to sit for five or ten minutes in quiet and solitude, a moment set aside for my heart to settle down for a bit.  So, where is joy in all of this?  And how do I go about working at it?

Over the week of reflection I realized that I have defined joy as effervescence, a giddiness or happiness that bubbles from within.  How wrong I have been!  I realized that joy is the simple action of appreciation, a moment when I am awed by nature, or touched by a friend’s concern, the deep abiding breath you take when you are simply awed by a view from the mountain top.  I came to understand that it is an “ah” (or “aha”) moment when you are not necessarily effervescent but simply in appreciation for what you have before you.  Thanks and gratitude.  Not overflowing, but simply in appreciation and simplicity.

Garden2015I returned home to The Inn On First from retreat and sat in the garden.  I saw the hummingbird feeding from the salvia flowers in the yard, watched the fish swim excitedly in the pond just before I threw in their food, and enjoyed watching a couple sit at a table, conversing and sharing a glass of wine.  I thought about all the ah-some moments I have had here at the inn over the past seven years and I took a deep sigh in gratitude.  Of course, this is my joy.  People, food, wine, nature, Napa.  All of it put before me.  Not in giddiness.  Not effervescent.  Simply grateful and appreciative for what was right in front of me.

The work of joy for me, then, is to take the time throughout my busy and not always joy-filled day to “look” for those ah-some moments: in the laughter of guests at the breakfast table, in the tenderness of a couple sitting quietly hand in hand in the yard, in the joviality of a couple playing chess over a glass of port, in the sound of a guest playing the piano in the living room, in my surprise at the guests who enjoy throwing the ball for my dogs as much as I do, in the delight of guests who share their appreciation with the morning’s selection for breakfast, in the clink of the glass cookie plate cover (meaning someone else has returned to the jar once more for some chocolate love) multiple times over the course of an evening.  All of this brings joy to me.

So don’t be surprised if you find me glancing your way with a smile as you sit in the yard sipping wine, or see me sitting in the yard with a cup of coffee enjoying a moment of quiet gratitude as you return from your day of wine-tasting, or walking by your breakfast table with an appreciative nod as you eat my food with delight.  It’s just me, working at joy, finding it in every ah-some moment put before me here at the inn, hoping that, maybe, you’ll find some too.

 

Torc: restaurants come and go…I hope this one stays.

A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging property in Napa, is the restaurant called Torc.  It opened a few months ago and I wanted to give it awhile before tempting fate with such an eclectic menu.  We shared the evening with our friends, Don and Kathy, so that meant more bites to enjoy.

Beginning with the artichoke soup with mint and lemon, I was in love with the velvety finish.  The portions are not large (we had read about this beforehand) and yet when I saw what was put in front of me I appreciated that they seemed just perfect for dining on multiple courses.  The Kampachi Crudo was incredible, a white fish with a citrus sauce and avocado, as was the Roasted Beets with Burrata and a Sherry-Maple glaze.  Growing up on canned beets I thought I would never try them again.  Since trying roasted fresh beets my heart has been changed, and Torc delivered it with gusto.

We also tried the Deviled Eggs, and the Pakora, as well as the Jamon Iberica, all great small starter appetizers for the meal.  Jamie had read about the Coconut Rice and the flavor on that dish was subtle and fun to eat.  We also enjoyed the Pork with the Cheddar Grits and a Buccatini Pasta with a Lamb Bolognese.  We enjoyed all of it.  Prices for apps and sides run $5 to $15, and the entrees are from $14 to $29.

Torc is willing to accommodate changes to dishes to present Vegans, Vegetarians, and Gluten-Free guests.  That is something not every restaurant in Napa offers.  The menu changes seasonally so I am looking forward to some really great meals in the future.

The new Fish Story: you don’t want to miss it

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a provider of romantic lodging in Napa, is a restaurant called Fish Story.  They opened two years ago and chose to follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists for sustainable fish that are good for dining.  It was good but I could make almost everything on the menu at home; and when I want to eat out I generally look for chefs that will teach me, or tantalize my palate, or offer me things I would never do at home.

When the new chef came one month ago we were intrigued by the new menu.  Celebrating our 20th anniversary of our first date we decided to give the restaurant a try.  I texted a friend immediately after dinner: “Just go!”  Everything we had was delicious.

Jamie started with the tuna tartare with sourdough crisps and balsamic vinegar glee with a violet mustard.  Every bite was incredibly wonderful with little bursts of the gelee that would shine through the tartare.  I was tempted by the cold green garlic soup that was light, refreshing, and creamy goodness in a bowl.  For a main course Jamie ordered the Lobster “pot au feu”, a fish stew with a large lobster tail in the center, mussels, clams, and a luscious sauce to be sopped up with the hot bread they bring to table.  I ordered the sturgeon and it was perfectly cooked, a bit meaty and every bite tender, with this bed of leeks underneath that was a great complement to the fish as well as wild escargot bites that were incredibly tender.  I didn’t want my meal to end.

For dessert we enjoyed the soft vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and it was a perfect ending to a delightful meal.  The wine list for March was 1/2 off (their version of March Madness) so we splurged on a Storybook Zinfandel that was perfect with our meal.  First courses run $9 to $15, and entrees $17 to $38.  If you’re looking for some incredible flavors to go with fish, this is a great place to dine.

One last note: on the menu they state that “many items can be prepared in a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free fashion.”  That really impressed me as so many of our guests are looking for alternative cuisines due to dietary restrictions.

Fly Fishing Guide and Lessons now available!

The Inn On First, your luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is proud to be the first to offer Fly Fishing Lessons to our guests.  This is a unique experience that can enhance your stay here in the Napa Valley.

You begin your day at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of the inn where you will meet your guide, Richard Loft, who will offer you an early morning continental breakfast.

Fly FishingYou will sign all the necessary paperwork, he will hand you a map, and you will follow him for 45 minutes up into the hills beyond the Napa Valley.  When you arrive he will suit you up in your waders and boots, and explain the basics of fly fishing.  After a few lessons of casting and reeling, the real fun begins!  Wading out into the river you begin the process of catch and release.  Plan on a minimum of two to three hours in the water.  Snacks and water available as you fish.   When you are finished you can sit down to enjoy your sandwich lunch soaking up the beauty of Napa County Wilderness.  Generally you can plan on returning to the inn no later than 1 p.m. which still leaves time for wine tasting in the afternoon.  (Disclaimer: As with all fishing excursions, expect to have fun but catching of fish is not guaranteed).   $525/couple, or $325 for one person.  (50% deposit required, and there is a 72-hour cancel policy)

Fishing in the State of California requires a license which can be procured from the California website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/, or you can make a visit to Sweeney’s in Napa (1537 Imola Ave West., Phone: 707 255-5544, Store Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00 – 6:00, Sat 8:00 – 6:00 Sun 9:00 – 5:00).

Learn how to make Corndog Omelets at home!

The Inn On First, your favorite romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was happy to be a part of DoNapa.com’s efforts to showcase culinary talent in the City of Napa.   As part of their chef’s series they asked to film Chef Jim Gunther prepare one of his 120 breakfast creations, the Corndog Omelet.

Don’t forget, to access local downtown Napa news and events, visit DoNapa.com.

Spelletich Family Wines: it may look corporate, but really it’s just the family.

IMG_1173 IMG_1184

Only a ten minute drive from your romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, lies a corporate park of which there are many tasting rooms and even a wine country hotel.  We were invited to come and try out the Spelletich Family Wines, SpellWine.com, by daughter and tasting room hostess, Kristen, and her co-host, Miguel. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the wonderful greeting from Molly, the house dog.

MIguelMolly

On entering the tasting room you immediately sense how much work they put into the detail of the tasting room, providing a seating area with big, comfy chairs and a coffee table, as well as a large table with bar stools.  The colors, the layout, the wine display, have all been carefully crafted together to give you a homey and yet elegant feel to the room.  With nuts and crackers on the table we were escorted to our tasting chairs and presented with a menu of wines we were to enjoy for the day.  From a crisp and yet creamy Chardonnay, to a lovely, toasty Pinot Noir, and even a taste of their soon to be gone Zinfandel Port.

Barb and Tim Spelletich are the creators of these wines, and surprised us with a French Bordeaux they make.  Yes, I said French, not Napa Bordeaux-style.  They import the juice from France and make a Bordeaux of their own with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wonderful berry notes with a bit of tobacco bring pleasure to the palate as you taste.  Then we were given the 3Spells Cabernet Sauvignon, a seductive wine that is soft, with a lot of fruit and very soft on the finish.

IMG_1176 IMG_1181 IMG_1174

We liked everything they poured and, even better, their price point is phenomenal: $10 Chardonnay, $35 Pinot, $22 Bordeaux, and $30 Cabernet.  You can’t beat that for these lovely, very enjoyable and drinkable wines.  Tasting fees range from $15 to $40 depending on how many and which wines you want to try.  I know we all think of vineyards and large wineries with spectacular views as part of the Napa experience, but finding great value and flavor in wine is part of that experience too.  The whole winery operation is there, it’s just not surrounded by vineyards.  Especially for those who have been to Napa before, or are looking for something new, different, and unusual, I would encourage you to seek out Spelletich Family Wine Company as part of your stay in Napa.

Anatomy of a new breakfast: Cheese Fritters.

Breakfast here at The Inn on First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa, is a big deal.  I really appreciated a recent guest review on TripAdvisor that stated that B&B really stood for “Best Breakfast”.  Thank you!  Currently I am on breakfast 121: Cheese Fritters.

It started with Fondue.  I love breakfast Fondue: yes that is one of the 121 breakfast recipes (served with quail eggs, roasted potatoes, and roasted and buttered bread cubes- homemade bread, of course).

Cheese FrittersI was thinking about fondue and remembered how my brother Andrew loved fried cheese when he was a child.  I wondered it I could create something similar, with a fritter, where the cheese would come oozing out as you cut it open and yet retain the crustiness of fried cheese that you get in a pan.  After some experimentation with eggs and flour, I found what I wanted.  I could use a small round of bread as the base, create a cheese paste mixture with gruyere, cheddar, and pepper jack cheese, egg and flour to be scooped on top, and then deep fried until everything was crusty on the outside and oozy, delicious on the inside.

 

Next came the decision about what type of egg to serve: poached, fried, scrambled.  Poached seemed like the obvious choice so that the yolk and whites could easily be mixed into the melted cheese on the plate.

IMG_0201 IMG_0229

I also wanted more flavor infused into the dish and so I added basil oil.  I realized I can play with infused oils over the next few years and try a wide combination of cheese flavors with different oils.

Lastly, I wanted something to finish off the dish.  Homemade toasted bread to finish wiping up the cheese from the plate, and homemade jam to finish with any leftover toasted bread.

IMG_0243 IMG_0241

Thus, Cheese Fritters with Poached Eggs, Basil Oil, homemade toasted bread with homemade jam was created.  This is going to be a delightful addition to my winter menu.

 

What color and flavor is Napa in Fall?

All around The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, are streets filled with Fall Foliage.

IMG_1057

In June, Napa’s color is green when the leaves first break on the vines.  In July the grapes change color and reds and purples are dominant.  Once crush begins, purple and inky black colors flow in the juices being pressed.  When it is all over, though, Fall descends upon Napa, upon the vineyards, upon the streets, and city becomes a vibrant host to a rainbow of colors.

 

IMG_1046

 

 

 

This year has been intensely colorful and as I walked around the neighborhood with the dogs I was surprised by so many opportunities to enjoy what Fall has to offer in Napa.  This is what we call “Cabernet Season”.  When the weather becomes cooler and the focus of food is on stews, roasts, and slow cooked meats, Cabernet Sauvignon comes to mind as the wine of choice.  Of course, with so much to choose from here in Napa Valley it can be difficult to decide what to drink.  Like the colors on the trees, each winery provides a different approach to wine making and finding your palate can be daunting.

IMG_1083 IMG_1093 IMG_1065

 

As I turn the corner from The Inn On First to walk toward Jefferson Park I see bright orange colors, which remind me of bright Cabernet fruit being grown on Spring Mountain.  Pride Mountain Vineyards, Spring Mountain Winery, Terra Valentine, Barnett, and so many others.

 

Getting closer to Fuller Park I can see the subtlety of color in different trees, and I remember how different Rutherford District Cabernets are from Stag’s Leap Cabernets as are Coombsville Cabernets.  Oh we love the usual suspects: Far Niente, Cakebread, Stag’s Leap, Nickel and Nickel, Caymus, and the like.  We have also come to discover the diversity found in smaller wineries such as Baldacci, Sinskey, Regusci, Trefethen, Miner, Porter, Whiterock, and Crane Family.  Our general guideline is that if you can find the wine at home, try and find something new, different, and exciting.  With over 400 wineries to choose from, that leaves so many great options to try.

Leave time, too, to walk around the neighborhood.  The Historic District of Downtown Napa where we are located is filled with Victorians homes, Craftsman bungalows, and many other styles of architecture.  Fuller Park provides a 1/2-mile loop around the park for those looking for a short walk or run.

Lastly, as you drive through the Napa Valley, don’t forget to enjoy the great Fall colors on the vines.  Pull over, take a few pictures, and soak up all the beauty that is here for you to enjoy.

IMG_1108

IMG_1104

It’s a dog’s life….here at The Inn On First!

I never understood why people grieved so deeply for their pets until I had to let go of one this week.  Here at The Inn On First we have had the privilege of sharing our 3 furry friends, Oscar de la Renta, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein, with all of our guests.  Oscar, the oldest, came into our lives when he was six years old.  A “champion” we were told, but once we got him home he didn’t know any commands: sit, down, come.  He would just stare at you.  So we called the breeder and asked her about his champion status.  “Oh,” she said, “he is a champion for his looks, not for obedience.”  Great, a pretty boy.

Eight years later he did come to understand “sit” but only if a treat was in hand, and generally would answer to “come” when breakfast or dinner was ready, and he never really took to “down” no matter how many treats were in hand.  A pretty boy he remained.

To all of our guests who visited here: if you ever held one of our dogs in your lap like a baby, on his back, belly up, and rubbed his tummy- that was Oscar.  If you stopped rubbing he gave you that piteous stare, until the hand moved over the belly once more.  He favored ladies over gentlemen, and often would just curl up on a female guest’s lap and rest his head on her breast.  Even to the point where he was unwilling to come back with us into the house.  We’d practically have to pry him off her lap.  If you were lucky, before he left your lap, he’d give you kisses to thank you for the attention.  We called him Munchkin, Oscaruni, Lover Boy, and in the last year Little Old Man.

He had Cushing’s Disease, a form of cancer, that worked on his liver and his brain, slowing things down for him daily.  The vet had told us: “No more than two days of not eating.  That’s when you call me.”  When Jamie went to an East Coast wedding last week and Oscar stopped eating during that week, I begged him to wait until Tuesday, when Jamie would return.  Sure enough, he went back to eating until Monday.  On Tuesday Jamie returned home and by Wednesday he was gone.  Can’t thank him enough for holding on a few extra days for Jamie’s return.  Can’t say enough how much we will miss him.

Thank you, to all of you, who ever made him feel welcome, comfortable, taking the time to say hello to him, and caring for him this past year through his aging process.  Thanks, too, for all the love, support, and compassion given to us via messages and hugs here at the inn.

Oscar leaves behind his nephew, Calvin, who has many of his pretty boy looks (black/white), but none of that pretty boy charm.  Oh, you all know Calvin, our seven year old, the one who wants to announce to the world that there are people in the yard.  Yes, the one we tell you to ignore and keep walking as he will immediately stop talking.  And don’t forget Hugo, who turned ten today, who loves to chase the tennis ball, and knows if you’ve been here before when he makes this low sounding funny begging sound in his effort to see you and reconnect with you once more.  He is distinctive in his single color (black) and his friendly demeanor.  Our Welcoming Ambassador for all guests, both new and old alike.  Even amid our sadness at Oscar’s loss, we are happy knowing that it is still a dog’s life here at The Inn On First where you can enjoy the company of our little family of furry friends.

120 breakfast recipes to choose from

I know.  We’ve read about it for years: breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day.  So here at The Inn On First, a luxury Napa bed and breakfast inn, we take it seriously.  Today we have over 120 recipes that we utilize over the course of one year.  We keep track of when you visit, what you eat for breakfast, and ensure you don’t get served the same dish again.  It is our way of keeping you excited for what is about to be presented to you each morning, no matter how often you visit us.

Corndog Omelet-103   Birds Nest-113

It is also a way for Chef Jim Gunther not to get bored or complacent. His goal is to develop a minimum of 250 recipes before he retires.  He’s hoping for another ten years to work at it and thinks he can achieve that goal.  For Jim, it is a very Zen-like experience- you eat, you enjoy, you let it go. Something new is coming your way the next time.  ”Knowing you get to eat this breakfast but once helps the guest to savor what is present to them today,” Jim stated.  ”And in case you didn’t really enjoy that particular breakfast,” he added playfully, “you’ll never see it again.”

Sushi Om-170 Hot Dog Omelet-154 Cheese Consomme-135-1

 

 

So what are some of the more recent creations that have come out of The Inn On First’s kitchen?  Cheese Consomme with Roasted Potatoes and Poached Egg, Corndog omelets, Argentinian Arepas with Eggs in Chipotle Cream Sauce, Macaroni and Cheese, and S’mores French Toast are a few of the items you can expect to enjoy this year.  The key to the inn’s success?  Everything is made from scratch: from macaroni noodles, to the graham cracker bread Jim created for French Toast.  Using fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients, the focus is on cooking seasonally and creating recipes that have “comfort food” in mind.