The Red Chair explores downtown Napa

Red Chair Fireplace ChatThe Red Chair’s day began with a fireplace chat at The Inn On First.  It was cool in the mornings and it was a great opportunity to sit with the Chairs of the Inn to discuss life in Napa.  “Yes,” the Red Chair was told, “cool mornings are part of Napa all summer long.  Then the temperature changes dramatically, rising from 55 degrees upwards toward 90 degrees or warmer.  The grapes love the diurnal temperature range- maturing in the warmth all day and slowing down at night. It permits them to hang longer on the vine and to develop greater complexity and flavor.”

It was time for breakfast and the Red Chair looked forward to enjoying Chef Jim’s Huckleberry Fritters.  Jade Fritters“Huckleberries have a short season,” the chef stated, “only about four weeks long.  So I try to use them as much as possible while they are around.”   The assistant innkeeper offered extras to the Red Chair as well as the fresh fruit salad, the homemade granola, yogurt, cereal and milk.

Historic NapaAfter breakfast the Red Chair went for a walk with the three dogs and the chef around the neighborhood.  The inn is part of the historic downtown district of Napa where there are homes dating back to the late 1800′s.  They are so beautiful and grand, making for a delightful walk after breakfast before spending the day touring the city of Napa.

 

River Front Parkway   Angele RestaurantAfter breakfast the Red Chair and Chef Jim walked around town, visiting the Napa Valley Visitor’s Center for an overview of the valley, then through Veteran’s Park that overlooks the river, and finally down to the River Front parkway for a riverside view lunch at Angele, a lovely California French restaurant with great cuisine.

The Red Chair then went out for the day on Platypus Tours. Platypus ToursThis is a small group tour in a stand-up limousine that visits 4 wineries, provides snacks and water on board, and a picnic lunch at a winery, all for just $110 pp.  From 10:30 am until 5:00 pm the Red Chair was given an opportunity to see the Napa Valley and enjoy many great world-class wines that are available here.

Baby Grand PianoAt the end of the day the Red Chair returned to The Inn On First for an afternoon nap.  Once up, the Red Chair spent some time perusing the Tea Bar selection of loose leaf teas, a perfect complement to the chocolate chunk cookies available in the dining room every day.  Of course the Red Chair just couldn’t resist playing the baby grand piano in the living room, entertaining all who were staying in the house.  It had been awhile so the Red Chair was grateful for the Adult Beginner Book at the piano to refresh finger memory.

Big Napa ChairFor dinner the Red Chair walked back to the River Front, only a fifteen minute walk from the inn, to enjoy dinner at Morimoto Napa.  Iron Chef Morimoto is the original US Iron Chef who helped to develop the series and today has a great restaurant in Napa.  And LO!  The Red Chair ran into the Big Chair of Napa!  How exciting and fun to find a soul-spirit who shared the same interests.  The Big Chair of Napa was hanging out with Napa Jack-O-Lantern, and it was a pleasure to meet this Holiday Spirit who is ready to delight children and adults alike.

“What a great day,” the Red Chair said.  “I am tired, but am looking forward to another day to celebrate my stay in Napa.  Tomorrow I will do more wine tasting with Jamie Cherry, the co-owner of The Inn On First, on a private 5-hour transportation package tour of smaller vineyards around the valley.”

Today we welcome The Red Chair to Napa!

The Red Chair Makes Coast to Coast Journey    Red Chair on its way to Napa

I never knew about Flat Stanley, but soon came to discover that he had been around since 1964.  Where travelers once held photos of Flat Stanley in unusual places, photographers now shoot photos of a humble red chair. Long considered simply a place to rest one’s buttocks, the lowly wooden chair has been elevated to celebrity status, and is being welcomed at inns and B&B throughout America. It’s all part of a consciousness raising experiment among innkeepers.  After a short drive to to Davis/Fairfield, we found The Red Chair waiting for us, excited about the the next part of this trip in the historic Napa Valley, home to over 400 wineries and world class wines as well as Michelin-star-studded chefs with great cuisine.

Grape Crusher StatueOf course we needed to visit the Grape Crusher Statue that welcomes all guests to the Napa Valley . He stands at the entrance to the Napa Valley and is the enduring symbol of what makes this valley so famous.

 

This week the chair is making its way to The Inn On First, our beautiful 10-room Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn. Look for innkeepers Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry shooting images of the Red Chair at local Napa locations.    Red Chair Welcome

 

Throughout 2012 and early 2013, the Red Chair developed a personality of its own being photographed by innkeepers in communities from one end of New England to the other. Starting in Cape Cod, the Red Chair journeyed throughout the six New England states on a nine month tour. Follow the Red Chair’s travels on www.RedChairTravels.com where inspiring photos of the Red Chair can be seen from beaches to bandstands. Throughout 2013 and 2014 photos and stories from the Red Chair’s journey to nearly twenty states will be added to the website as they are captured.

Vineyard View

Look for tales of the Red Chair’s travels to The Inn On First on this blog over the next few days.   “We are privileged to be able to participate in this nationwide adventure,” said Jamie Cherry, co-owner of The Inn On First. “We want to show off the best that the City of Napa has to offer in the way of food, wine, and lodging.”

 

Torc: a great dining experience in downtown Napa

A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, just off the corner of First and Main Streets, is the restaurant called Torc.  The menu is eclectic European ranging from snacks (house made cured olives, or the Iberico ham toasts, and deviled eggs), to small plates (salads, soups, light pastas), to large plate entrees (lamb, beef, chicken, fish).  We were fortunate to join our friends Sara and Dan, with their 11-year old son, Charlie, so there were lots of bites to be enjoyed.  As Sara is gluten-free they were readily able to work with her dietary issues.  It is also clearly stated on the menu that they work with vegans, vegetarians, etc.  Basically, “ask and we will accommodate as best we can”-  That is service!

Quail with Mushrooms Halibut Pasta with Cheese Boar Ravioli

The highlights for me were the hamachi tartare with avocado, the delicious gazpacho soup perfectly chilled and flavored, the quail with mushrooms au jus, boar ravioli in a beautiful boar broth, and silky smooth halibut that was perfectly cooked with mushrooms and squash.  Why, even Charlie’s plain pasta with grated parmesan was scrumptious in its simplicity.

Prices range from $5 snacks to $10 small plates on up to $18 – $40 entrees.  Plenty of wine and beer by the glass and bottle.  A lovely meal with a hip-urban environment that is worthy of Napa.

Post-Earthquake Information from The Inn On First

Calvin
Calvin

First and foremost we are doing very well.  We want to say “thank you” to all  our guests, family, and friends who reached out to us with emails, phone calls, and texts of concern, love, and support.  It means very much to us and and reminds us of how much love there is in the world around us.

Hugo & Maxwell
Hugo & Maxwell

We, Jamie and Jim, were in Santa Cruz at the time of the earthquake for a niece’s wedding.  A friend called at 4 am Sunday and said we needed to come home right immediately.  All guests were accounted for and uninjured.  We learned Calvin hid underneath a night stand.  Maxwell jumped up on the bed, barking (naturally).  Hugo stood up and watched the whole thing happen.  No injuries, just scared little dogs needing some love and attention.

Staff Workers
Staff Workers and Clean Up

Our interim innkeeper, Cindy B., out-did herself keeping things calm and cool in the aftermath of our 6.0 earthquake.  We lost a lot of “things” and any damage to the historic mansion is cosmetic (cracked plaster, paint chipped off).  We called the staff and told them to take care of their families, and if they had time to join us later for clean-up.  Cindy B. rallied the troops around us and we began the process.

KitchenMess
Kitchen in Disarray

We closed the inn for two days to clean up the mess.  Lots of broken glass, lost dishes (a 100-year old hand painted china set- ugh!), two armoires that fell over and broke apart , and the picture window in the living room overlooking First Street.

However, as you can see in this next picture we had cleaned up by Sunday evening,Kitchen Post Clean Up and  most things  were back in order.  We only lost six bottles of wine in the basement/cellar and although everything fell over or off its perch in the attic, very little was lost.  All Christmas decorations managed to survive!

We were told to repair the cracked stucco on the chimney and the living room window won’t be repaired for awhile what with all the other businesses and homes in town in the same post-quake boat.

When you visit you are apt to see the plaster cracks in the living room and foyer even though we are structurally sound.  Again, the damage is cosmetic.  Cracked Plaster We are currently ordering new items for the rooms that need it, so please forgive the mismatch of lamps, etc., until we are able to restock our inventory.  Apart from some of the visual clues around the house, you would be hard pressed to imagine we experienced an earthquake at all.

What about the aftershocks or tremors?  We felt two this morning but thought it was the dogs jumping onto the bed.  That was the extent of movement we experienced- very short, very small.  As seasoned Californians we know these come and go and we find them more amusing as there is no damage to the house or belongings.   Our guests from Georgia slept through the first one and she thought the second one was her husband shaking the bed to wake her up.  They are with us for another night.  Others, though, for their own reasons  canceled and while we were sad to see them go we understand their comfort level is different in regard to this event and they didn’t want to visit Napa, or even California at this time.

OxBow InteriorAs with all things Californian recovery comes quickly and the community moves Oxbow Markettoward full recovery.  The Oxbow Market, our local Napa gathering spot with shops, stores, and restaurants, is already booming with activity.  I walked around today purchasing produce, spices, and meat as I wanted to support local vendors in their loss of inventory over the weekend.  It was nice to see so many other people doing the same.  They reopened Main Street today and they are currently looking to reopen First Street this weekend.  There are parts of outer Napa (away from downtown where we are located) where water is still an issue with broken water mains.  The majority of downtown restaurants are open, some with “limited menus” until inventory is restocked, and wine tasting rooms are still open for business.  The wineries are open after their own clean up, and the local grocery stores are looking to be reopened by Friday (the clean up there is pretty significant).

Living Room Post Clean UpHow can you help?  Come visit.  Taste wine.  Go out to lunch and dinner.  Support the local community.  Let Napa know that we can and should carry on with the great gift of hospitality that is offered to all.

 

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.

 

Aonair: small, intimate winery for those looking to purchase luscious mountain reds

Just ten minutes from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is a winery called Aonair.  Well, actually, it is the tasting room built out of an old stable that overlooks acres of vineyards in the southern hills of Napa.  We were introduced to Aonair by Grant Long, Sr., one of our favorite characters here in Napa Valley.   Grant Long, Sr.I say character because he has plenty of it and it shows in his demeanor and expression, always making you feel that you are the most important person in the room.  Long ago he made an investment into grapes and hillside wineries and eventually brought his son, Grant Long, Jr., into the business, and it is Grant, Jr. who is making wine, and Grant, Jr., who is usually doing the pouring for you.

When I say it is small, even the name “Aonair” gives it away, meaning “One Man” in Gaelic.    Driving back through the estates hidden in the hills you enter the security gate, drive up the long driveway, park, walk to the tasting room and then turn and behold the view.  Just perfect. Aonair Aonair Views

He only uses Napa mountain fruit for his reds, which means bright fruit flavors with robust character. We tried his Merlot (taste of raspberries with a light earthy tone), Cabernet Sauvignon (soft and subtle on the nose with blackberry and cherry notes, using whole berry fermentation), and Bordeaux Blend (big, bright fruit flavors).  All were delicious.

He also had a White Wine Blend (Sauvignon Blanc Clone-Semillon-Muscat) which we enjoyed as well as a Grenache, with fruit harvested out of the Sierra foothills from one of the oldest vineyards in California.  You can purchase a few bottles while you are there but to be guaranteed this wine for the future will require signing up for wine allocations (which we did, we liked it that much).  Wines generally range from $35 to $85 per bottle.

What to do for Cinco (okay, Cuatro) de Mayo? Visit a winery of course!

Just a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast inn in Napa, is Ceja Vineyards.  This family knows how to put on a party and you don’t want to miss it if you’re going to be in town.  Details below:

Cinco de Mayo at Ceja Vineyards

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, Ceja Vineyards hosts a festive afternoon filled with a live Mariachi band, Ballet Folklórico performances, authentic Mexican cuisine from Amelia’s kitchen, bocce ball, dancing and of course Ceja vino!

It’s from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 4 at Ceja Carneros Estate, 1016 Las Amigas Rd.

Cost is $80.

RSVP to jennifer@cejavineyards.com or call 255-3954.

Addendum is open for the season! Get your picnic baskets ready for lunch….

Per Paul Franson, our Napa “in the know” columnist and writer has informed us that Thomas Keller’s Addendum is open for the season, only a fifteen minute drive from your favorite luxury Napa bed and breakfast inn, The Inn On First.

Addendum behind Ad Hoc in Yountville serves take-out lunches Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They also have some tables you can use for a picnic.

While fried chicken remains on the menu (our favorite item on the menu),  chef Thomas Keller and the Ad Hoc team have decide to take BBQ more seriously with the recent purchase of a new Rolltisserie Smoker, which is one of 40 in the country.

Ad Hoc’s chef de cuisine Katie Hagan-Whelchel and TKRG chef de cuisine Devin Knell have spent weeks perfecting their “mop ‘n smoke” technique and BBQ recipes that will be available at Addendum throughout the year.

All meat is smoked with hickory and Napa Valley grape vines cuttings.  We provide you with the picnic basket and ice packs; you fill it with your favorite BBQ items and we’ll send you to one of our great picnic spots in the valley.

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.