For those touring Sonoma, consider El Dorado Kitchen for dinner

Fettucine Carbonara With all the great dining in downtown Napa we don’t often send people over to Sonoma to dine.  Yet I know there are plenty of guests who spend the day in Sonoma as part of their stay in Napa, and I would highly recommend a restaurant for some great food.  Sonoma is a small, quaint town with a notable restaurant we were able to enjoy this past week: El Dorado Kitchen. It is a Lobster Rissotsshort 20-minute drive from The Inn On First, where you enjoy the best in romantic lodging in Napa.

With contemporary decor and an open kitchen it makes for an intimate dining experience.  We shared the meal with our friends, Don and Kathy, so we enjoyed quite a few delicious bites.

The chef sent out an appetizer: small cups of Butternut Squash Soup with housemade marshmallows and pepitas.  What a great start!  I couldn’t pass up the Lobster Bisque with chunks of lobster floating in the broth, and also shared the Beef Carpaccio, thin slices of raw beef with a lemon aioli and fingerling potato chips and, for this night only, shavings of black truffles on top.  Both were delightful beginnings to the meal.  Jamie ordered the Mussels with Chorizo which he enjoyed while Kathy and Don shared the Dungeness Crab Cake (yes I got a bite and the fresh grapefruit citrus just made it perfect).

Wine of the Night

I ordered the special of Roast Duck with Rancho Gordo Beans and Squash and it was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin on the breast.  The Lobster Risotto with Celery Root was delicious, as was the taste of the Fettuccine Carbonara with Bacon Lardons and Brussels Sprouts (yes, my bite excluded the Sprouts as you know how I feel about those!); and the Balsamic Reduction sauce on the Pan Roasted Scallops was incredible.  We paired everything with Copain Pinot Noir and it worked really well.  I love this wine!

Because it was my birthday celebration we ordered dessert, and my favorite bite by far was the Baked Chocolate Mousse; although the Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Baked Apple Tart were both really good, too.

Baked Chocolate Mousse

 

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.

Rocabella: Rock Me On! Mediterranean food with Italian undertones

Recently stopped in on Rocabella, a fairly new Mediterranean restaurant at 1st and Main Streets, a 10 minute casual walk from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa.  With all dishes under $14 we decided to invite some friends to dinner and enjoy the experience with them and to order as much as we could together.

The food: we loved it.  Continue reading

Dog-friendly wine tour driver and trainer!

Woof!  Are we excited about Dan Cartwright, dog trainer and now wine tour driver in the Napa Valley.  You no longer need to leave your dog behind when you visit us here at The Inn On First.  Dan will take you and your dogs along for the ride, customizing the wineries to your needs and to your dogs’ needs, too.  Yes, he’ll even do a little training for your pooches while you sip and enjoy your wine in the Napa Valley.  The name of the company is Good Dog Wine Tours, and we are more than happy to schedule your pickup here at the inn.  Dan charges $50/hour per couple and their dogs.  You can bring along up to 2 additional human guests at $10/pp per hour.  Minimum 4 hours.  And yes, Water and Tennis Balls are included.

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.


Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant: still producing Grade A innovation and flavor.

Only a ten minute walk from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant; what we call a “small plates restaurant”, meaning you order to share.  Where else can you be tempted by the daily taco of the day (filet mignon with pomegranate glaze, or shrimp pad thai, or pulled pork with a chipotle sauce, or lamb with pickled slaw- every bite delicious!) that changes all the time according to the chef’s inventiveness and seasonal ingredients.

I’m a fan of their pork steam buns, the short ribs, and their filet mignon with red rice cake.  Yet by the time you get there these may be gone and replaced with some other yummy dish for you to choose.  The fried olives are still a favorite of mine, and the truffled popcorn is downright addictive.  You swear you will stop eating it, and yet your hands keep reaching.  Jamie loved the brussell sprouts flatbread (you know I’m a hater so I don’t touch the stuff!), and the soft housemade burrata with olive oil drizzle and toast points is always fun.

This restaurant is fun, exciting, and always busy, so reservations are a must.  With so many wines by the glass, too, it makes it really interesting to try new wines with these dishes.  We’ve even had guests return two nights in a row just so they could try out other dishes and different wines.  Stephanie and Scott, Owners, Hostess and Chef, make this must-eat stop in Napa.  Oh, and seriously, if they ever take the Twix Bar off the dessert menu I might consider picketing the establishment.


Brix Restaurants: when you want a lovely garden to sit in for lunch

Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Brix Restaurant.  As my friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC I wanted her to experience the beauty that the Brix Gardens enjoys while dining on incredible food.

Asparagus Salad Brix Butter Lettuce Salad Brix Brix Garden View

 

 

 

 

As it was a bit later in the afternoon when we arrived (2 pm) we were practically alone on the patio for lunch.  With spring blossoms everywhere in sight, as well as bud break beginning to show on the vines all around, the place could not have been more welcoming.  We ordered the cold beet soup with a vegan base and a beautiful floral design of creme fraiche on top.  It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm spring day.  I ordered the asparagus salad, with a variety of white and green asparagus, and a light lemony dressing with petite brioche croutons.  So far the meal was perfect.

Donna enjoyed the house salad with butter lettuce, english peas, and a garlic-yogurt dressing, although we were both sorely tempted by the tempura fried green beans and the steak tartare.  The dungeness crab salad was tempting, but we tried to keep it light.  We decided to split the lamb sandwich on housemade focaccia bread with the most lovely crisp french fries (okay, so maybe we tried to keep it partially light!).  The bacon pizza looked delicious as we saw it delivered near us, as did the lamb bolognese.

Prices range from $8 to $18, for soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees.  If you are here during the busier summer months I would suggest making a reservation and tell them you want to sit on the garden patio.  If you ate my breakfast  that morning you probably won’t be hungry again until 2 pm, which is a great time to sit and enjoy an afternoon break from wine tasting.


Laird Family Vineyards: finding your place in the sun with so many varietals to try

A five minute drive from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Laird Family Estate.  With its oxidized copper roof that you can see from Highway 29, it sits on a small hillock with both indoor and outdoor seating.  Outdoors is where you want to be as you overlook the hills of Napa Valley as well as Laird’s vineyards.

Laird Family Winery Laird Entrance Laird Outdoor Patio Laird Indoor Seating Laird Tasting Menu

We started with the Big Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, with a nose of green apples and pear blossoms, with crisp, floral tones and light acidity with a hint of grapefruit.  Next was the Cold Creek Pinot Grigio with a hint of peach and honeydew melon, and very lemony on the  tongue with a slight mineral flavor.  The Cold Creek Chardonnay was next with light buttery notes, a little oak- it tasted like buttered toast when I swallowed.  The second Chardonnay was the Red Hen Chardonnay, heavy on the oak and with a light minerality with citrusy tones.   Interestingly, it also was more full bodied over the first one.

We moved onto the reds next, beginning with the Suscol Ranch Merlot.  Big black cherry aromas, with blackberies and cinnamon, and yet a light and soft wine on the tongue, with hints of blueberries.  The Suscol Ranch Syrah followed with aromas of dark fruits (plums, black cherries), light tannin on the palate with a clove-spice finish.  Jillian’s Blend, a Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot blend, was filled with herbaciousness (think bell pepper) and had a soft finish.  The Diamond Mountain Cabernet, 8 years old, was as soft as  Cabernet could be, with great fruit flavor.  It is drinkable right now, and carries flavors of raspberries and light cherries.  A lovely wine.  We finished with the Mast Ranch Cabernet, with dark cocoa and dark fruit on the nose, with leather undertones and some tannins on the palate.  I could have used a NY steak at that moment.

Wines list from $20 to $90, with club member discounts available.  If you see Ben while you’re there, or Val, tell them Jim and Jamie say hello!


Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

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Celadon: a Mediterranean style restaurant in the neighborhood

A 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Celadon, a restaurant celebrating Mediterranean cuisine.  Friends had come into town and it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cooking of Greg Cole, executive chef and owner. As they are one of the few restaurants with a full bar we imbibed in cocktails to begin and sat and enjoyed the beautiful dining room.  Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor patio area with its concrete floors.  It does have a large fireplace in the center and is surrounded by shrubbery, but I think the main dining room is beautiful, romantic, and elegant in feel with its booths, carpeted floors, and well-appointed artwork on the walls.

We ordered the Calamari with its sweet and spicy chipotle sauce- someone recently referred to it as Rhode Island style.  I’ve never heard of this before, but I loved every crunch bite, especially with the bits of pickled ginger.  The duck salad was phenomenal and the seasonal vegetable soup was rich in flavor and chock full of veggies.  Jamie ordered the pasta with lamb bolognese and it was incredible.  I ordered the pork porterhouse that was grilled and it was huge!  Much more than I could eat, but I knew I would enjoy it the next day at lunch.  Yes, dessert was ordered: the lemon pie.  Light, refreshing, and tart, with a buttery crust.  A perfect ending to the meal.

You’ll find a wide variety of fish and meats to choose from, as well as salads and starters to satisfy pretty much everyone: pork belly, crab cakes, beef satay, coconut prawns, grilled duck breast, flatiron steak, and stuffed chicken breast.  Prices for starters run from $9 to $18 and entrees from $14 to $40.  See http://www.celadonnapa.com for more information.