Birthday Travels

Birthday Travels

It’s my personal policy to avoid working on my birthday at all costs. The last birthday I worked on found me stuck at my desk late, working on cleaning up a crisis someone else created. It reinforces the importance of this rule. Ahem.

This year, with the birthday falling on a weekday, I thought it would be worth it to attempt a trip to Napa* for dinner with friends and some wine tasting. But a broken dishwasher and uncooperative property management, and my significant other’s last minute early next morning meeting conspired against that.

Many phone calls ensued. Eventually, I ended up with part of my birthday free, and we hopped in the car, and sped up Highway 101 in time for lunch at Bouchon in Yountville.

I had been thinking Bouchon would be similar in food and vibe to Balthazar for some reason (presumably from the many write-ups I’d seen of Bouchon, and the many yummy lunches I’ve had at Balthazar.) But it was a lot more low key. And despite being full of tourists, in décor and service felt a lot more like a small town restaurant. The bathrooms under renovation that left a port-o-potty outside for the men, and a fairly unkempt men’s bathroom with a wet floor for use by the ladies, was a poor start to the meal.

We started off with creative and refreshing house cocktails that I didn’t think to write down (birthday girl was concentrating on her sparkling champagne cocktail). As a starter, the salt cod beignets were amazing. They looked just like their Café du Monde inspiration, and had the same textures when you bit into them. Their fried sage accompaniment was a nice touch but the tomato confit didn’t really enhance the crunchy morsels. Overall tho, they left me happily anticipating my entrée.

The boy on the other hand absolutely hated his chilled corn soup. It turns out he only heard the “corn” and “soup” portion of the special. So when he slurped up a large spoonful of the pureed cold soup…he was surprised. And not unexpectedly pleasantly surprised. Oh well.

After really loving my inventive starter, I was prepared to be wowed by my steak frites. It’s my typical comfort food dish, and I had figured they would have a great one. The herbed butter on top was delicious, but the cut of meat, a prime flatiron, was fatty and chewy and the French fries were unremarkable and not as crisp as I like them. I left as much on my plate as I ate. My boyfriend’s Croque Madame was a far better choice.

We finished with profiteroles doused with a not especially flavorful chocolate sauce, and a blueberry infused pot de crème.

Overall, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. For the prices and location, I expected more from Bouchon. After all, they have to compete with Bistro Jeanty right up the street, where I have many outstanding lunches over the years. Our waitress was difficult to obtain service from, and never inquired after the half-eaten dishes were taken from our tables. At most Bay Area restaurants, if you leave even a forkful of food on your plate, someone asks what was wrong with the food. But since the waitress never checked in while we were eating, and was not the one taking away the plates, apparently she did not get the message. And by the time we flagged her down for the dessert menus, I was over wanting to talk about it.

I do have to call out props for their bread. We went next door to Bouchon Bakery and bought an epi baguette to take home.

The rest of the day involved splurging on T Vine zinfandel, Mariage Freres tea and various cooking supplies at Dean and Deluca, plus wine tasting at St. Clement and Cline. Not a bad way to spend a birthday.

* Trying to drive through Napa on a weekend is nearly impossible due to all the traffic the tourism generates. Trying to wine taste at all on weekends is maddening.

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