Wednesday, April 6, 2011

California Food Adventures.

The 'little rabbit' has returned from California.

After meeting up with another 'little rabbit' and picking up a rental car, two little rabbits set off on a California adventure.  Yes, the forecast all week was rain, but that wasn't stopping us.

So we set off.

The first stop was Napa Valley.

We visited Domaine Chandon in Yountville, where we toured the winery, learned about the process of creating still and sparkling wines, and sampled four classic sparkling wines.

Chandon Brut Classic was our favorite, by far. Crisp and refreshing.

We enjoyed dinner at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro in Yountville.

Our meal began with Chandon Brut Classic, Bouchon's epi baguette and creamy butter that  simply melted in your mouth. 

We moved onto a cheeseboard with local cow's, sheep's and goat's milk cheeses, served with toasted bread, candied walnuts and smooth honey.

For dinner we enjoyed raw oysters tasting of the mysterious depths of the ocean and chicken roast to a juicy state of perfection I had no idea could be reached.

Dessert was light profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce and Ile Flottante - poached meringues in creme anglaise, drizzled with smooth, buttery caramel sauce.

The portion sizes provided just enough to satisfy without pushing you past your limit or wishing there was more.  The staff were friendly and informative, and the interior was appropriately reminiscent of the many bistros of France.

All in all, it was the perfect meal.

And of course we picked up some treats from Bouchon Bakery the next morning.

Ever since I tasted french macarons from Laduree in Paris several years ago, I've been disappointed by many macarons I've tasted in the US. 

Not anymore. 

The chocolate bouchons, madeleines and financiers weren't too shabby either.

We also admired the beautiful French Laundry gardens right across from the restaurant in Yountville.

After thoroughly exploring Napa Valley and picking up a small tub of white truffle butter and some local cheese at the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, we began to drive from Napa Valley to Yosemite National Park, where we planned to spend the next two nights.

The scenery was beautiful.

And I'm sure Yosemite is beautiful too.

The wicked white witch from Narnia seems to have followed me across the country.

While it was raining in most of California, snow was falling nonstop in the park, resulting in over five feet of snow, impassable roads and widespread power losses.  For the first time in nearly 15 years, the park was closed, trapping visitors and workers in and keeping us out.

So we pulled the rental car over and did what we do best in times of crisis.

We ate.

Bouchon Bakery bread, white truffle butter, local cheese and lots of french macarons.

Yes, those are crumbs on me. Don't worry, I ate them.

Finding ourselves in the middle of nowhere with the evening (and a macaron induced diabetic coma) fast approaching, we spent the night in the mountain town Groveland. The local hotel boasted of its long history since 1849.  I'm sure the town and hotel where beautiful back then, but I think they forgot to fix things up over the years.

The next day, park roads were still closed and the forecast called for even more snow.

Spirits lagging, we changed our destination and drove South to Carmel. We had new plans to drive down Big Sur and visit the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant as well as Nepenthe.

We found the darling Lamp Lighter Inn in Carmel, where we were given a beautiful room complete with an electric stove, private deck and a perfect space to finish our treats from Napa.  It's just what we needed after the previous night's stay in Groveland.

We took advantage of the few dry hours to walk on Point Lobos and enjoy beautiful views of the coast and walk off some of the truffle butter.

Then things went a bit downhill again.

Part of Big Sur washed away into the ocean and we couldn't take in the beautiful views or visit Nepenthe or the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. 

Then it poured rain when we strolled through downtown Carmel, ruining my nice shoes.

And of course it poured rain the next day when we drove to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park to go hiking.

Interestingly, the rain had started pouring the day we picked up our little rental car, so we were eager to drop it back off.  And sure enough, as soon as we were rid of the car, the skies cleared as the sun returned from hibernation.

Stupid bad-luck rental car.

With the weather back to where it should be in California, we took a day trip to San Francisco to explore the city.

We visited the huge Williams-Sonoma in Union Square.

We visited the Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown, and tried their infamous egg custard tarts.  

At first I was a little dubious.  I love bakeries with ornate packaging, lavish displays and delicate desserts.  The golden gate bakery doesn't meet any of these criteria, but what it does have is some of the most delicious tarts, cakes and moon pies I have ever tasted in my life. (It also has long lines that pour out the door and monopolize the sidewalk)

The egg custard tarts are warm when you buy them.  The filling is thick and creamy, tasting of freshly laid eggs.  The pastry shell was crisp and buttery without feeling greasy in your mouth. 

Even better than the custard tarts were the black bean paste and lotus seed paste cakes.  Both were mounds of flavorful and creamy pastes, surrounded by light and crispy pastry that flaked off effortlessly, leaving evidence of my overindulgence all down my sweater.

We also visited the darling bakery Miette in the Ferry Building Marketplace.  Miette certainly meets the 'cute bakery' criteria that I missed in the Golden Gate Bakery.  We sampled some of their french macarons, however after eating macarons from Bouchon Bakery, it just wouldn't be fair to say anything.  So I won't.

And finally, the two little rabbits enjoyed afternoon tea at Crown and Crumpet in Ghirardelli Square. Right behind Bouchon Bistro and Bakery, this was my second favorite experience of the trip.  Owners Amy and Christopher Dean have created a witty and playful tea room at Crown and Crumpet that offers a fresh and delicious take on tea service.

The tea consisted of tea sandwiches, crumpets and scones, dainty desserts and a generous pot of tea.

The tea sandwiches were soft and moist and composed of great flavors including truffled egg salad, spicy ratatouille and taragon chicken salad.  The scones were perfectly sized and served with smooth clotted cream, flavorful strawberry jam and tangy lemon curd.

And the desserts, oh the desserts!  Instead of just a few larger sized desserts, Crown and Crumpet serves more smaller bites.  This included a tiny french macaron, a soft slice of pate de fruit, a shortbread cookie that melted in the mouth, a tiny chocolate shell filled with a whipped buttercream and the smallest square of a moist and light chocolate layer cake.  Any sugary craving, be it chocolate, butter, fruit or nuts, was fullfilled with their selection.

They send you off with Crown and Crumpet tea bags, allowing you to relive the experience at home, or paste them into your travel notebook if you're anything like me.

I'm now back in the cold and wet weather of New England, wishing I was back in California with my favorite little rabbit, sitting in the sun with an espresso and some Bouchon french macarons.

Oh well.

I guess I'll pass the time until my next visit attempting to recreate some of the delicious treats I sampled during my trip!


  1. Hey, welcome back! Your trip sounds amazing. My favorite picture was the one of your spur of the moment lunch (bread, cheese, butter, yum!). The pictures of Chinatown and Miette bakery brought back wonderful memories of our trip to SF a few years ago. Most of our snow here in MN has melted. How about yours?

  2. Wow...beautiful photos. Looks like you had an amazing time!

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Hanaa - I'm glad most of your snow has melted in MN! Pretty much all the snow here has melted as well (YAY). I think Spring is finally on the way!

  4. What fun! I think I need a vacation like this. :)

  5. I'll run New England up against California any day! One place isn't better than the other, just different. I live in NH and have lived in New England all of my life. I have been all over the country, but I still live here.

    I'll be in CA later in the year and hope to have some interesting adventures as well.


  6. Jason- I agree, New England is awesome! I just wish our winter was a tiny bit shorter.

    Have fun when you travel to CA!

  7. What a fun trip! It was awesome to live the adventure through your words and pictures. I gather that you didn't see Clint Eastwood wandering the streets of Carmel?

    I agree with Jason on New England (during the spring, summer and fall). But the whole reason we won't move up there is that one other season.

  8. The Mom Chef-

    Unfortunately there were no Clint Eastwood sightings in Carmel. There would definitely be a huge paragraph about that here if I had seen him, haha!

    And yes, that 'one other season' which shall remain un-named is definitly a killer! Good thing it's finally over!

  9. I too found the macarons at Miette to be lacking positive remarks. I hear that their gingersnaps are definitely worth giving a try. I'll be stopping by later this month and will keep you posted. =)

    As for afternoon tea, if you make it back up to SF, Leland Tea Company serves an absolutely delightful tea. The portions are hearty so even my boyfriend is full after the meal with salad, sandwiches, scones, and cookies. Will (the owner) also bakes some of the best tarts from scratch as well!

  10. Kimmie- I hope the Miette gingersnaps are better than the macarons! I cannot wait to hear!

    Thank you for the Leland Tea Company recommendation. Although I won't be back in SF for a while, I'll add it to my growing list of places for my next visit. There's nothing more divine than slowing down in the afternoon with a pot of tea, tiny sandwiches, scones, dainty desserts and someone special to share them with!



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