High above the valley
Dinner last night at Auberge du Soleil, one of the finest establishments in the Napa Valley, high on a hill in Rutherford overlooking the vineyards that produce some of the best wines in the world.
My brother David is in town, so we decided to go someplace special. The Auberge is as special as it gets. A restaurant, a hotel, an escape, an art gallery, the Auberge is all of that. This is a top of the line place worthy of any special occasion, whether you want a weekend getaway or an afternoon snack and a stroll through the sculpture walking down the hill.
If you call far enough in advance you get a table on the terrace, looking out on the valley and vineyards. Call too late and you have to sit in air conditioned splendor, taking in the same view through tall windows while dining in plush splendor.
The menu offers three or four course pirx fixe meals, allowing you to choose from a considerable variety of innovative variations of the standard restaurant fare, all created with the finest of local ingredients.
First, of course, is the amuse bouche, the gift of the chef to “amuse the mouth”.
There was a second amuse, a shooter of wild mushroom soup. My brother enjoyed both his and mine.
Fortunately for fine diners, the courts have overturned at least one stupid law, and Californians can now enjoy their foie gras once again.
This perfectly seared piece of foie gras was situated on a piece of bread studded with valhrona chocolate, napped with a cherry coulis, accompanied by more cherries and crisped onion. I have never had better.
David’s first course was the hamachi crudo, thin buttery strips of raw yellowfin tuna wrapped around watermelon radish, topped with a citrus dressing and black sesame seeds. He pronounced it “awsome”.
Gail had the white corn crab soup. I tried it and loved it. Not as good as the foie gras, but there can only be one best.
My second course was the seared ahi, presented with a Thai curry sauce.
What makes a restaurant great is the constant attention to detail. The main part of this dish, the ahi, you expect to be perfect, and it was. But all the tiny components that make of the plate have to perfect as well, and here Auberge never fails. The tiny, very crisp slice of onion, the itty-bitty portion of black imperial rice, the tempura vegetables, every single thing, no matter how small, is carefully and perfectly prepared to combine into a magnificent whole.
This was my lamb loin. I have nothing to say beyond the fact that it was perfect.
David’s Sonoma duck breast. Another dish prepared simply and without flaw. The spice crust on the this bird was unlike anything I have had before.
Gail had the lobster risotto, and thought it had too much lemon. So I traded her the last of my lamb and finished it. Yes, it was lemony, and we all have different tastes.
There was no room left for us to enjoy anything from the dessert menu.
The service at Auberge deserves a special mention, because they are spectacular. Every single member of the staff is well trained and motivated to provide service above and beyond your expectations. Gail noticed our waiter looking at our table as he passed carrying a plate for another table–he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to check that everything was fine.
I made a comment about the butter on the table:
and the young lady refilling the water glasses was able to discourse on where it was from (Strauss Dairy) and how it was unsalted but topped with crystals of sea salt. A different woman, re-setting the silver between courses, spoke with us about the difference between the sauce spoons David and I had and the soup spoon Gail had. The level of training and attention is stunning.
Dinner at Auberge du Soleil is a treat, a rare occasion to enjoy the absolute finest the Bay Area has to offer in a complete dining experience. Plan to be there for sunset over the valley and call early to get a terrace table.