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Restaurant at Meadowood [St. Helena]

I went to Meadowood back in Spring 2010 as part of a March celebration of birthdays. We stayed at a resort in Napa within a stone's throw of Bouchon, and they arranged the reservation for us. As part of the trip/visit we went to Neela's, and to Terra, and then took a side trip to Sonoma and Healdsburg. Let me just to start say that I much preferred the food at Neela's and Terra to what we ate at Meadowood.

The Meadowood location is really quite beautiful, and if you get a table by the window, and can look out at the golf course and trees, it is a stunning view. I would go back just to enjoy the view, but then go somewhere else to eat dinner.

It is not unusual for me to remember in detail what I ate a restaurant twenty or thirty years earlier, and particularly so if the meal was special. I have managed to put much of what I ate at Meadowood out of my mind. More memorable was the oyster po-boy that I ate after returning to our resort; had I not had something to eat I would not have made it through the night. By New Orleans standards this was not a great po boy, but it certainly hit the spot, filling the big empty that was left after the meal I had.

So a few memories of the food remain. The first amuse-bouche was a small plate of what appeared to be a grey or smoked salt that had been poured around baby radishes that were the size of a pea, a baby pea. I believe there were two per person. This was followed by a soup-cup serving of a "mashed potato" based concoction, with potato on the bottom, a layer of crisp crumbled potato, then a layer of a watercress foam, and then more of the mashed potato. Not particularly interesting.

My wife had a filled pasta that she enjoyed. The details escape me. I had a platter that had some pate and other charcuterie. It was acceptable but not exceptional.

My wife's main course was not what she was expecting. I had a mixed grill plate. Acceptable, but not really exceptional.

The dessert was a choice from among four or five combinations that all sounded off, and based on the two that we chose in the end, they were off. It was one of those cases of trying to be different, and forgetting that first it needed to be tasty.

We had the wine pairing with this. I think at the time, the three-course meal with wine pairing was about $150/person. I have certainly enjoyed meals that were several times more expensive than this on a per person basis in Japan, and that were comparably priced in the US. It was without a doubt the worst value of any meal I have had in that price category. Even my least favorite meal at Chez Panisse or Oliveto's or Bay Wolf was substantially better. I was on sabbatical in Italy when I heard that Meadowood had earned three stars. I am convinced by this that I never need to buy a Michelin guide, and am better served following my nose.

It was not only the food that was disappointing but the entire atmosphere and service "performance" that made the evening much less than what I had hoped for. When I go out to eat at a restaurant like this I do want to enjoy things that I cannot make easily at home, experience tastes that I do not normally taste, want the service to be non-invasive, and want to leave satisfied. None of these applied to my visit to Meadowood, and the service was particularly annoying. How many Meadowood wait staff would it take to change a light bulb? One to tell you where the glass was made, one to tell you the history of the company that made it, another two or three to stand by admiring the first two, and then at least six to rotate the ladder and screw in the bulb. We were two people. Do you really need six people to serve two plates? It was not dinner service, it was dinner theater. I came to eat. I want the food and my dinner companion to be the focus, not an army of servers.

As I said, after leaving the restaurant, we headed back to our resort, went to the bar, and each of us had something else to eat. If there is a restaurant that is more overrated than Meadowood, may I never eat there. Terra was wonderful. The mussel-saffron soup was as good as the first time I had had it, roughly twenty years earlier. The dishes were interesting, beautifully cooked and totally satisfying. The food at Neela's was very tasty. With a less inept server, it would have been an even more enjoyable meal. The server could not think ahead and combine multiple tasks. I was tempted to recommend that she apply for a job at Meadowood.

All I can say is that I am glad that I went and got it out of my system. There are many fine restaurants in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and at least on the night that I went, this was not one of them.

Skip it.

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Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

Bay Wolf Restaurant
3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

Oliveto Cafe
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

Bouchon
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

Grocery Outlet January 2011

If this is the 2006 Jocelyn Lonen Cab, it is being offered at $20/bottle by WineAccess.com.

Keeping in mind that pretty much every wine they are offering a special on is pretty heavily hyped, this may provide a bit more info on the wine:

"When winemaker Alison Doran first locked into a few rows of high elevation Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet from the hillsides of Atlas Peak, she knew exactly what she was getting: high-end mountain fruit from a vineyard with rich, muscled Cabernet that attracts the likes of Paul Hobbs, Miner and Levendi. When the world is right-side-up, wine made from grapes of this quality would surely be expected to fetch $45/bottle. That, of course, was before the Dow and Napa Valley went into free fall.

Alison did her part with this deep purple, chiseled 2006 Jocelyn Lonen Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle that was released with some fanfare in 2009, yet cautiously priced at $35/bottle. But all the critical praise in the world couldn't trump the fiscal storm clouds that had settled over the Silverado Trail.

In 2007, you couldn't touch top-flight Napa Cabernet for under $40/bottle. By 2009, some high quality new brands, unable to get wholesalers to answer sales calls, went under $30. But what about the next market inflection point? Could a Napa Cabernet from the excellent 2006 vintage, highly rated by WineAccess members (4.0 stars out of 5!), possibly fall under 20 bucks?

For the next 48 hours on WineAccess ā€“ YES. Regular price of $35. Today, just 100 6-packs have been earmarked for members at a price that makes Napa Valley bankers cringe. $119 for the pack, less than $20 bottle ā€“ at least until those storm clouds blow off."

August 2009 Grocery Outlet

The GO in Oakland had several Belo products over the last month or two. They had at least two ports, one a single vineyard Napa, Santa Isabela, with a 1999 vintage, and then a Cotta Vineyard "California" Port with a 1998 vintage. I bought both at a whopping $3.99/bottle and ended up buying more than a case of the former. Spectacular for the price, and equivalent to or better than some ports that are seling for $15/bottle. Obviously a personal opinion. As far as I could tell the only thing "wrong" with the Port was that it did not have a barcode on it. It also tended to "explode" when you opened the bottle. After sacrificing a shirt, I now just drape a paper towel over the cork and let the paper towel take the abuse when the bottle is opened. The port is really wonderful. I bought cases of it, and would be delighted to find more of it at $3.99(or more)/bottle. When I see more, I buy it. It is that good.

I am also very fond of the Muscat Gris. I tried a bottle, went back,
and bought a case of it. I cleaned out the Oakland store when I bought it (sorry Ruth). It is also a very lovely wine. I think it was $2.99/bottle when I bought it, and I also tried an Australian muscat that was around $6/split, and I thought the Belo held its own, not quite as intenseas the Australian version, but still wonderful. I often drink Quady Essentia as a muscat dessert wine and the Belo was very good and obviously at a great price. I would also be interested if anyone sees more of this wine elsewhere because I would be more than happy to buy more. After you get what you want, please post!

Do you still shop at the Oregon St. Berkeley Bowl? If yes ... why?

I still go to BBE weekly, but things have changed at that store in the last few weeks. We usually go on Saturday mornings and for many years were part of the 9 AM sharp crowd, wanting to get in and out before things got too crazy. We went a bit late last Saturday, and there was still ample parking in the lot, and on the street. We thought it was quite weird. We shopped, and there was little if any line at the checkout. Today we went again, this time at 9AM. The entire east side of the store was available for parking, there were lots of spots in the lot, and on the street. There was no line to speak of at the checkout. It was bliss. I am just a bit concerned that this will ultimately affect the freshness of their products and their selection.

I have been to BBW. I am sure it will change, and it may very well already be much better than when I went (about two weeks after it opened). Based on that initial experience, I don't really care for it. As others wrote, I don't like to see tomatoes being chilled. I don't like the way some of their produce is displayed or distributed/placed. Some of the bulk items that I have always gotten at BBE were not there yet. I don't have time to waste going to both. I also like the staff at BBE, and tend to buy cases of produce from time to time. The clerks who stock the produce are always willing to suggest a particular peach or nectarine that is particularly good that week.

If I were to go to BBW, it might be to visit their fish counter. I have no enthusiasm for the fish counter at BBE; the last two times I bought fish there it was most definitely not fresh, and I stopped buying my fish there several years ago.

Honolulu

So to continue, we also visited Akasaka near the Convention Center and enjoyed the meal (sushi and a tempura platter) and service there.

We also tried a number of places that had not been previously recommended as part of this thread.

Mei Sum Dim Sum is at 65 N. Pauahi St, at the corner. The dim sum is served from 7 AM until 8+ PM. We went for lunch on Saturday and tried nine dishes, all of which were generous for two people. The items come in three price ranges, starting at $2.25, and then maxing out at a bit over $3/dish. We tried nine items, including two desserts, and everything was really tasty. The place was filled with locals, and they were doing a healthy take-out business as well. The tab for the lunch was about $23. In terms of value, this may have been the best meal we had in Honolulu, and we went back the next day and ate there again on our way to the airport. It was an odd time, about 10 AM and the service was a bit chaotic even though the place was not full. Still, everything we had was delightful. Across the street from this place there appears to be a place that sells buns or pastries, and although we did not try it, there was a steady stream of locals going in and coming out on Saturday with boxes. Next time.

We had one dinner at Side Street Inn (1225 Hopaka St.) a place rumored to be a favorite stopping point for chefs on their night off. The service was very friendly, the place was low-key, the servings were very generous, and the food was good. They had a version of ribs with a lilikoi barbecue sauce that was very good.

We stopped off at the Marukai Market on the way back to our hotel from a farmer's market. This is a membership-based market, but if you go to the service counter outside the store, they will give you a one-day pass for free if you can show them that you are from out of state. We went in and picked up an assortment of sushi, and a number of other items that are harder to find on the mainland. It is not a gourmet destination necessarily, but a good place to pick up some fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods.

Having had extended stays in Tokyo and in Fukuoka, I am very fond of ramen, and I have not found anything here in the SF Bay Area that comes close to the shops I was taken to by friends in both Tokyo and Fukuoka. There is a shop in the Ala Moana Center that is named Goma Tei, and then another one about a block or so from the Nordstroms that is part of the Ala Moana Center and across from a Walmart/Sam's Club called Goma Ichi. At Goma Tei I had the tantan ramen with char sui; nice rich-tasting dark broth, very nice noodles, the pork was a generous portion, tender, but not as moist as I would have liked. At Goma Ichi I had their zasai sunghonmen which apparently had won an award from Honolulu Magazine readers. I liked this a great deal as well; the added char sui was fatty and a rather modest portion. I wish both would open a branch in Berkeley CA.

Finally, a place or two that you could skip. I was hoping to find some good Korean food. I failed. We went to Yuchun Korean Restaurant at 1159 Kaiolani Blvd. near the Blaisdell Center. The kalbi was tough, and the spicy calamari and vegetables was uninspiring. They brought out a little portable heater, and a pan containing several whole squid slathered in hot sauce. They turned on the flame, walked away, and came back a few minutes later. The cooking time was perfect to bring everything to that golf ball texture we all love. Not worth it.

On an excursion to Haleiwa we stopped off at Jameson's By The Sea. The view is very pretty. The service was very friendly but excruciatingly slow. The calamari appetizer was one of those magical calamari that is 3/8 of an inch thick and about three inches wide and eight inches long. It is a pity that I didn't ask, but if I had known I was getting a deep fried calamari "steak" I would have passed. This processed and reconstituted hunk of calamari paste had spent a bit too much time in the deep fryer. Can you say rubber? I had a caesar salad with blackened ahi. Unfortunately, no anchovies died in the making of the dressing. The ahi was not only blackened, it had been cooked to within a nanometer of its life, and very dry. It really was a horrible thing to do to a lovely fish. The others who joined me were equally uninspired by their choices. Why Frommers recommends this place is a mystery. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day.

My thanks as always to those who posted some of the recommendations that we were able to follow up on. I hope that the additions are useful to someone down the road.

Jun 30, 2009
tutti_a_tavola in Hawaii

Honolulu

Just got back from a week in Honolulu (mostly) and then a trip around Oahu. Read the recommendations before leaving (thanks!) and have a few comments and updates to share. I may have to spread them over several postings, since there is a lot of information to share.

First, Alan Wong's. We went to the restaurant on S. King Street on our last Saturday night in Honolulu. We made the reservation on Thursday or Friday, and it was relatively easy to get a table. I don't know if this is a sign of the times or we just got lucky. We had a table by the window, and although it is not an inspiring view, it is pleasant. Unlike some places, they have paid attention to putting sound absorbers on walls and on the ceiling so you could actually hear the person you were with and be heard without shouting. We opted for the fixed price five-course dinner with the wine pairing. The first course had one of their signature dishes, Poki-Pines, and then a chilled tomato soup served in a martini glass (reminded me of Michael Chiarello) with a Parmesan frico, and a kahlua pig-based "ham and cheese" sandwich. Outstanding! Course #2 was the ginger crusted onaga. Superb! The third course had some Kona lobster on a potato cake with two relishes, one gobo based and the other long bean based. At this point in the meal I thought I would have to sell my house and move to Honolulu. The fourth course was their soy-braised and then grilled "kalbi-style" short rib. I love braised meats. If you catch them at the right point, when the gelatins have broken down and the meat is just right, braised meats are a delight. This dish missed the mark. Although the ribs were tender, they were more stringy than moist and unctuous. The closer was a coconut tapioca in a shell with generally nonlocal fruit, and then chocolate "crunch bars". Good, but far from spectacular. I would definitely go back, but I would really stick with the seafood, and skip the meats (or at least the short ribs). You wonder if they use too lean a cut. It was a very enjoyable albeit uneven meal. The service was unobtrusive but very attentive. At $135/person I think I would focus on the seafood, and pick a nice bottle of wine rather than go with the fixed price menu tastings.

We also went to Ono Hawaiian Foods (info given in an earlier post) and had an enjoyable meal there. The locals were lining up outside, and we caught it before the line got too long. I have been to places on Kauai with a similar menu, but the food was better here. It is a very very informal place.

Bamboo House, which was our original destination, and which is also listed in a prior post, was no longer in business. The new restaurant was a Creole-New Orleans place, and if I want that kind of food, I can find it locally.

We found some very good ramen restaurants and a spectacular and inexpensive dim sum restaurant in Chinatown that I will give information on in a later post.

Jun 29, 2009
tutti_a_tavola in Hawaii

buying a duck

In the Berkeley area, you can almost always get fresh local duck, whole or legs, at Magnani's Poultry across from the Monterey Market on Hopkins. At least this was true six months ago and earlier. During every visit, they had fresh ducks in their display counter, and I believe that they were local. I will say that the ownership changed a while back, and at least my initial experiences with the new ownership were not inspiring. Perhaps I need to go back and try them again. I had bought poultry from them when they were back on College Avenue, and then from the Hopkins address after the College Avenue location closed.

If you can plan ahead and deal with a frozen duck, the most economical place to buy has been at a Cash & Carry. The one in Oakland in the vicinity of East Bay Restaurant Supply has had them every time I have needed them. Although on a recent excursion there the price was a bit over $2/lb, I have bought them there for as little as $1.59/lb, and then stocked up. And no, this was not when dinosaurs roamed the planet. These birds are typically from Canada. Wish they carried goose as well, but it is not as commonly requested.

I have also purchased fresh muscovy duck from a shop in Oakland's Chinatown. I wish I could be more specific but it was several years ago, and I was taken there by someone who frequented a number of the shops there.

May 2009 Grocery Outlet

Went to the Berkeley store yesterday, and there were several interesting finds.

Several varieties of Frontera (Rick Bayless) frozen pizzas $3.99
Naked Mighty Mango smoothie (1 qt) $1.99 (with June 9 expiration date)
Progresso soups (various kinds) $0.99 to $1.59 per can
Various double creme and mixed milk bries $2.99-$3.99 per round
Ben & Jerry Vanilla Ice Cream (1 qt) $2.49
Fresh strawberries 99 cents per large basket (tempting for jam at this price)
Progresso diced tomatoes 99 cents

Starving for BBQ

I have read through the majority of this string, and although it has been a long time since there was a post, the topic of barbeque is always timely. So with the demise of Doug's in Emeryville, a place I would go to periodically, it was time to find a new source.

After seeing the episode on Memphis Minnie's on Check Please Bay Area, I went with a group of ten. As a result we got to try many many of their items. The brisket was very good. I really liked the rib tips and Andouille as well. The sides were enjoyable; I particularly liked the greens. The desserts were also quite good, especially the pecan pie. Although they had three sauces for the ribs, I didn't really care for any of them all that much. Obviously this is a matter of personal taste. Living in the East Bay, heading over to San Francisco for barbeque is a bit of an expedition. I would certainly go back to Memphis Minnies, especially if I were in the City, but I am not sure I would take the trek just for the barbeque.

Last night I tried T-Rex. I have eaten at Lalimes and like it. Sea Salt, another one of their ventures, has gotten favorable comments from friends and colleagues. We were in the area and thought that it was worth a try. Perhaps it was omen when the first beer that I selected was out. And then my second choice was also out. Not very good planning if you are out of beers on a late Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend. We ordered the baked beans, mac and cheese, cole slaw, a full slab of spareribs, and a half slab of baby back ribs. The baked beans were just there. There was no depth of flavor. I don't know what it is about cole slaw in restaurants, but when you make cole slaw in large batches, you have to occasionally stir it, and you have to occasionally adjust the seasoning. Adding some freshly squeezed lemon, some salt, and a small drop of their hot sauce put some life into it, but I don't want to go out to adjust seasonings to that extent. The mac and cheese was the best side, but had a somewhat boring texture. Perhaps it is their dish for kids, but I would have preferred a crust or bread crumbs or something (fresh corn) in it to break the monotony. The baby backs were ok, and no more than ok. The spare ribs were not. There is certainly no indication of any smoking going on here. You will not see a hint of pink on their ribs. The spare ribs were moist, but unfortunately this was because of rather substantial strips of unrendered pork fat in the ribs. I realize that salt + fat = flavor, but I don't want to eat a hunk of unrendered fat. It is supposed to baste the meat but should be fully rendered when you serve it. Overall, this was very disappointing, and I doubt that I will go back.

Also tried Looney's in Berkeley a while ago. Seems that if you order a slab there that they slice the rack, and then reheat the individual ribs on the grill. It does heat them back up, but does so that the expense of drying them out. As I recall, the sides there were pretty unspectacular.

So my next trips may well be over the hills and to Lafayette and Pleasant Hill. If all else fails, I have a friend at the University of Alabama who raves about a place called Dreamland Barbeque. Their T-shirt was on the wall at Memphis Minnies. I have also heard some good things about a relatively place called The Brick Pig's House on Shattuck in the North Oakland/Rockridge area. Anyone have any hand-to-rib combat experience with their ribs?

Is something up with Adagia?

I work on the Berkeley campus, and at the time Adagia opened, I was delighted to have an option to the Faculty Club fare, and to the generally dismal food on Northside (Nefeli Cafe being an exception).

When they first opened, I was intrigued by their menu and the ambience, somewhat like Hogwarts is what one chowhound said, and I couldn't agree more. Although service was spotty, and the food was not consistently well prepared, the ingredients were of high quality and the portions were generous. A year later, I had a luncheon event there for 45 that went over very well. Despite a limited menu and months of advance warning, the kitchen was overwhelmed. I subsequently took my daughter out to lunch there on a monthly basis for several months, and then more recently have taken visiting faculty from overseas and individual prospective graduate students there. With each passing meal over the last year or so, the experience got worse. Service was erratic, varying from pushy fast to glacial but rarely where you wanted it to be, timely and attentive. One thing that I liked about the place early on was that the wines, although not inexpensive, were at least generously poured. The last time I went you almost felt like asking the waiter what he thought of the wine; it seemed like half of it was gone. For an $8 glass of wine, I would expect my glass to be more than wet on the bottom. Food portions have also gotten smaller, perhaps a way to limit price increases. Finally, I don't know if she is still around, but the woman who manages their events, and also for Stradivarius Catering, is unpleasant to work with and totally inflexible, and it seems to reflect an arrogance that has developed in Adagia's kitchen that their food simply doesn't warrant.

There is always the possibility of change, and I do hope that they are getting the message. I will perhaps go there again, and see if things have improved. Would be happy to hear from others that things have turned around, but if not, then I am hopeful that the restaurant will meet the same fate as some of the arrogant places on Center that had forgotten the meaning of customer service. It is a great location in many ways, and it would be nice to have a reliably good restaurant there.

Moderately priced bistro in Berkeley?

I went to dinner at La Rose Bistro on a hot September evening with a visitor from Japan. The air conditioning was not working. The waiter brought the menus and winelist, and I ordered a bottle of wine to go with steak and with a lamb dish that I ordered. The wine arrived, but bread never made it to our table. Neither did water. The waiter must have been having trouble with the rush of three tables that came in over a 30 minute period. The steak arrived, and although I don't like plates that have spent more time getting decorated than the food on them spent being prepared, a brown/tan hunk of steak thrown on top of liquidy tan potatoes au gratin was not inspiring. My dish was not much better in appearance, and it tasted as good as it looked. Overall, I found La Rose Bistro to be a very disappointing place. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day, but I certainly wouldn't send someone there.

Feedback on Somerset in Oakland?

There have been numerous changes of ownership and cuisine at this location, and so when Somerset opened we were intrigued and checked it out on a Saturday night. The food, as described by others, falls into the comfort food category, and includes items from multiple cuisines, perhaps too many. The restaurant has a casual elegance, and I liked the atmosphere. The service was not overwhelming, but adequate. The biggest service negative was a maitre dā€™ who insisted on sitting five people at tables designed for four when there was plenty of space elsewhere. Not very smart. We ordered a calamari appetizer because there is a very short time window in which deep-fried calamari is cooked and tender, and then it begins its transition to golf-ball texture. It is always a good test of a kitchen. It was a bit beyond optimum with two dipping sauces that were unspectacular. For entrees we had a paella which came with rice that was overcooked, and lacked the crust that a good paella develops. We wondered how much precooking it had seen. The duck confit was tender but the skin was flaccid and not worth eating. What a waste. The desserts were attractively presented but lacked depth and complexity. When I compare Somerset to Citron, I much prefer the latter. The prices are comparable, and the food at Citron is in my view better, making it a better dining value.