Dinner At La Toque

We have planned two trips to Napa in the last few years, and for both trips, we have centered our plans around a fancy dinner. For our first trip in 2017, we had dinner at The French Laundry; a bucket list dining destination in Yountville for any foodie. For our trip this year, our original plans were unfortunately disrupted by the California fires. As people who travel to eat, we felt lucky to steal a reservation at La Toque – a Michelin star restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in downtown Napa. La Toque, run by chef Ken Frank, has earned a Michelin star every single year that Michelin has awarded stars in wine country and from our experience, rightfully so.

Fine Dining During Covid: Before we dive into the details of our meal, we wanted to give a quick update for how dinner went during COVID. Some people might think that sitting down for a multi-course, three hour dinner is crazy during a pandemic, but we felt La Toque went above and beyond to ensure the safety of their staff and diners. We were asked to fill out a contact form and our temperatures were taken upon arrival. We were asked to wear masks until our orders had been placed, and after that we were free to enjoy our dinner! The staff was seamless in their efforts for safety and we were in great hands to celebrate our vacation together.

Making A Reservation: Reservations for La Toque can be made on Tock. At the time of making your reservation you can choose between the tasting menu or the a la carte menu. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu but did not choose to do the wine pairing. Due to our busy day of visiting local wineries we went for cocktails and glasses of wine. The restaurant has over 2000 bottles in their cellar and the extensive menu is presented via iPad. Out of all the fancy dinners we have been to, the wine list was very reasonably priced and there were plenty of options for people who weren’t looking to spend tons of money on alcohol.

The Menu

Amuse Bouches

We were offered two amuse bouches to start our meal. Our first bite was a brunoise of fresh garden vegetables and our second bite was a mussel with chorizo.

First Course – Puffed Rice Bowl with Dungeness Crab.

A few of us left dinner with this as our favorite dish. The beautifully served bowl felt like everything you wish a poke bowl could accomplish but never quite does. A perfect bite of soft crab paired with an Asian infused sauce atop the crunch of puffed rice.

Second Course – John Dory with Artichoke Puree.

An absolutely delectable bit of pan seared John Dory with a rich and unctuous artichoke puree. This is the preparation for fish that we always strive to create at home, but never quite achieve. This was the other favorite dish in our group.

Third Course – Fresh Spaghetti with Roasted Sunchoke and Fresh Burgundy Truffle.

The truffle dish of everyone’s dreams. Creamy, rich, homemade spaghetti topped with an embarrassing amount of freshly shaved truffles. This is the course that always makes us feel like we are at a really special dinner.

4th Course – Veal Variations.

Three preparations of veal; braised, roasted, and seared accompanied by a bean and carrot stew.

5th Course – Choice of Cheeses or Dessert.

We had a lot of fun with this course since we could pick and choose our own adventure. Calli and Jamie opted for the cheese course and the boys chose dessert. Our waiter helped us navigate the 8+ offered cheeses based on our preferences of texture and funk. Jamie was a bit more adventurous and went with two pungent options while Calli went for milder cheese, and were both very happy with our selections. The cheeses were presented on a personal cheese board with fresh bread, fruit, fig jam, and roasted almonds. The boys both chose the milk chocolate creme brulee and were very happy with their sweet selection.

6th Course – Six Textures of Chocolate. As we were getting full we thought “there’s no way we can eat more”, but as this final course came to the table we knew we were willing to make more room. A playful presentation of chocolates on a dish that was shaped like a painter’s palate. The palate included a traditional chocolate truffle, chocolate brittle, hazelnut biscotti, pate de fruit sweetened with cocoa sugar, a chocolate curry truffle, and last but not least, a miniature pumpkin white chocolate latte. The desserts were small and decadent; the most luxurious way to end a delicious dinner.

Overall Experience: Dining at La Toque was the perfect way to say “thank you” to Calli and Kidd for extending their home for almost four months. The food and service were great and the meal felt special. We highly recommend La Toque to anyone visiting Napa – it is a great way to experience multi-course fine dining without the heavy price tag that comes with eating at The French Laundry. The staff went out of their way to ensure a safe dining environment and we will be thinking about the food for a long time to come.


2 Days in Napa

If you follow us on Instagram you know we just spent the weekend in Napa. During the peak of the pandemic, Jamie and Ryan temporarily moved in with Calli and Kidd. What we thought would be a two week stay ended up being SIXTEEN WEEKS of living together under one roof! To say thank you, Jamie and Ryan treated everyone to a special weekend in Napa. One of the ways we all maintained our sanity was wine, so this felt like an appropriate way to celebrate. Despite the California fires and COVID cases on the rise, we had a safe, fun, and healthy trip!

If you are planning a trip to Napa, you likely have eating and drinking on your mind. With hundreds of wineries and restaurants in the region, your options for a weekend trip are endless; the difficulty in planning the trip is choosing where to go. One of our strategies for creating a weekend itinerary was intersperse eating and drinking with other outdoorsy activities like hiking and biking. We went to Napa October 22-25th and the weather was perfect for moving around outside. Adding these to the agenda helped break up the drinking and allowed us to see wine country in a new way.

A List

Restaurants

  • French Laundry, Bouchon Bakery, La Toque, Restaurant at the Meadowood, Oxbow Market, Gotts Roadside, Girl and the Fig

Activites / Things To Do

  • Riding bikes from Napa to Yountville, Hiking, Wine tastings

Planning Out Where To Drink

There is so much to see in Napa and the surrounding wine towns, it is hard to know where to start when it comes to planning out winery visits. Reservations are required at most wineries and restaurants with the exception of bakeries and coffee shops. Reservations are limited and fill up quickly, so much so, that you won’t be able to get same-day reservations at most wineries on weekend days and are unlikely to get them even 48 hours in advance for a Friday or Saturday. Trip planning is essential but can be really helpful in mapping out where to go and what to see on vacation.

During our first trip to the Napa region in the fall of 2017, we spent most of our time in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. This trip we wanted to focus our time on Yountville, Napa, and a little bit of Sonoma. Although the towns look relatively close on a map, driving to each town takes longer than you think it will. We suggest sticking in an area for at least half a day to make sure you aren’t spending the majority of your trip in the car. There are so many vineyards and wineries that it is nearly impossible to narrow down where to go unless you have suggestions from friends. Our best advice is to focus on what type of wines you prefer to drink and choose wineries that way. We don’t love chardonnays, so we try to avoid wineries and tastings that focus only on that type of wine. We also try to do a mix of larger and smaller wineries – some of the smaller brands give some of the best tasting experiences and are often the places that we bring home bottles of wine for later. The larger wineries offer breathtaking views and often have the most Instagram worthy picture opportunities. During our two trips thus far, here are some of our favorite wine experiences:

Happy tasters at BR Cohn in Sonoma
  1. Priest Ranch (Yountville) – the tasting room for Priest Ranch is right in downtown Yountville, so you won’t get the vineyards and rolling hills for views. You will, however, get a relaxed tasting and some of the best wines we had on our trip. The Double Barrel, Malbec, and Block 72 were some of our favorites. They have cheese boards if you are in the mood for a snack, otherwise Bouchon Bakery is right down the street.
  2. BR Cohn (Sonoma) – Calli is a member of this winery and they have a large variety of wines to sip on during a tasting. On the weekends they have a pizza food truck roll in, so you can sip and graze all afternoon long. We love their cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and their sauvignon blanc. They also sell olive oils, which make a great gift to bring home to loved ones!
  3. Hanzell (Sonoma) – a great winery in the hilltops of Sonoma. Of all of our wine stops on our first trip to Napa, this is the vineyard we took home the most bottles from. Their chardonnays were some of the few we really liked during our first trip and the tour of the grounds and wine making process was also very entertaining.
  4. Ram’s Gate Winery (Sonoma) – this was one of our favorite experiences from our first trip to Napa. We did the wine and food pairing- a multi-course lunch that had excellent food. The decoration and setup of the vineyard are spectacular.
  5. Passalacqua Vineyards (Healdsburg) – one of our favorite stops on our first trip to wine country. If you find yourself in Healdsburg and like a good zinfandel, this is your spot!

Pro Tip: If you plan to bring wine home, most wineries will cover the cost of your tasting if you purchase 2 or 3 bottles. They will usually ship larger orders as well, which will help you travel home as lightly as you came!

Planning Out Where To Eat

If you’re going to Napa you are likely planning on doing some great eating while you are there. There are tons of “food and wine” experiences to be had at the vineyards in the region, but some of the best restaurants in the world are also located in wine country. During our two trips we have visited some of the best of the best, and here are our recommendations:

Brunches & Lunches:

  • Bouchon Bakery – Thomas Keller’s traditional French bakery, located in Yountville. Stop here for a coffee and pastries as a warm up for wine tastings.
  • Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company- a great local coffee shop serving up all our caffeine favorites.
  • Model Bakery – another great bakery located in the Oxbow Market. We stuffed ourselves silly with scones, croissants, and danishes and we have no regrets.
  • Bounty Hunter – excellent barbecue in Napa with views right on the river. They also have a great whiskey list and beer flights for those of you looking for a break from the wine.
  • Gott’s Roadside- great burgers and fries for a more casual lunch or dinner.
  • Oxbow Market- a great food market with everything from coffee to oysters, sushi to empanadas. The perfect stop for a group that can’t narrow down on what they want to eat.

Fancy Dinners:

If fine dining is in your itinerary, be sure to check the reservation policy for each reservation. Most Michelin restaurants take reservations only 30 – 60 days in advance and are booked full the day reservations open.

  • The French Laundry – if you are a foodie, you know of Thomas Keller’s institution for fine dining. Located in Yountville, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can we only hope to enjoy for a second time in the future. The service, food, and overall experience are second to none.
  • La Toque – another Michelin ranked restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in Napa. This is everything you want about fine dining with a bit of a smaller price tag than The French Laundry.
  • Restaurant at the Meadowood- the restaurant we were supposed to visit in St Helena this trip. Unfortunately it was one of the buildings lost in the California fires. We look forward to their reopening and cannot wait to eat here once they are back on their feet!

Our Suggested Two Day Napa & Sonoma Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Sonoma. Start with a quick breakfast in town. Enjoy a leisurely, food and wine filled lunch at Ram’s Gate Winery before making your way back into town. Enjoy some of the wineries in Sonoma (our favorites are Hanzell and BR Cohn). Have a delicious dinner at Girl and the Fig.

Day 2: Explore Napa and Yountville. Rent bikes from Napa Valley Velo and ride on the Vine Trail from Napa to Yountville. Enjoy breakfast at Bouchon Bakery and a wine tasting in Yountville (we recommend Priest Ranch). Make your way back to Napa (there are plenty of wineries on the path between) and stave off your hunger with a hearty lunch at Bounty Hunter. Stop by another tasting room in downtown Napa before some downtime. Have a fancy dinner at La Toque, The French Laundry, or any of the highly rated restaurants in the area.