the restaurant at meadowood

Some of my regular readers may be wondering whatever happened to the US blog posts I (fickle person that I am) unceremoniously ditched when distractions in the form of Spain and Asia came my way. This month I’m finally in one place long enough to pause and revisit those abandoned posts. I last left off at San Francisco, where we spent the best part of five days eating, before jumping in a rental to Napa for fresh air, gutsy reds and more of the same.

On our previous trip to Wine Country we had luxuriated over a five hour lunch at French Laundry, a meal that ranks as one of my all-time favourites and was the catalyst of me starting this blog. Needless to say, I was desperate to relive that experience. However we only wanted to do one blowout meal during our brief weekend there and a new three Michelin-starred restaurant had sprung up since our last visit. We were keen to see what magic Christopher Kostow was conjuring up to nab a star after just two years at Meadowood, so reluctantly left Keller’s place for another time.

As we were staying on the grounds, dinner was only a short buggy ride away and we arrived freshly-showered and in high spirits. To our dismay, despite being guests at the resort (and having booked the table 3 months in advance), we were placed at a long 12-seater dining table together with another couple and a group of four, separated only by rows of artificial potted foliage. As if sitting within arm’s length of our neighbouring diners wasn’t enough, we were placed at the choice position next to both the drafty entrance and busy kitchen doors.

Sensing my displeasure, B quickly ordered champagne which helped calm me a little, allowing me to shift my attention from the intrusive conversations around us to the menu. The seasonal 4-course prix fixe appealed more than the chef’s tasting so we made our choices and sat back to enjoy a series of amuses that flowed seamlessly to our table. These varied in success. A tiny “pillow” of filo pastry piped with fromage blanc didn’t register much of a reaction, but the crunchy baby carrot crudités planted in romaine lettuce créme fraîche and tomato water snow was refreshing and rather nice. Sadly the tempura-battered Geoduck Fritters were greasy and tasted mostly of pepper (we couldn’t detect the shellfish at all) and home-made Goats curd with Pickled Plum, Shiso and Black Sesame brittle was overwhelmingly acidic and equally unbalanced. Nice brittle though.

Onto the first course. Both B and I chose the Veal Tongue and Hamachi, Caviar, Raw Cauliflower and Tendon Suc – thin rolls of cured tongue, yellowtail sashimi, dabs of briny oscetria, vinegared tendon, tender braised daikon and egg yolk discs. Although the components all worked well individually and as a whole, it felt too polite and didn’t blow us away.

Pristine stalks of White Asparagus with Brown Butter Hollandaise, Hazelnut, Black Truffles and Fennel Fronds were very sharp and undercooked. I had picked this as I love the mild seasonal vegetable but a heavy dose of hazelnut oil overshadowed both the asparagus and the diced Perigord truffles.

B’s choice of second course of CK Farm Egg, Meadowood Garden Broccoli, Bottarga and Agnolotti fared better – a lovely combination, marred only by the bitter aftertaste left by broccoli that had been charred to a crisp.

Service had been pretty uninterested up to this point – professional but not warm – so we were surprised when they presented us with an additional course, saying that the kitchen likes to choose random diners for comments. More likely they spotted my camera and our disgruntled faces and wanted to sweeten us up; after all they never did end up asking us for that feedback.

The complimentary dish was a slow-cooked Idaho Sturgeon with Bone Marrow, pressed Asian Pear, Brussel Sprouts leaves, Chestnut Purée and Vegetable Jus. The cubes of sweet dashi-braised nashi pears and pink rounds of bone marrow accentuated the crisp-skinned fish well and there wasn’t much to criticise – everything on the plate was executed to perfection.

We didn’t really need the freebie to realise the chef’s potential, as our main, a shared local Guinea Hen roasted in salt, made that abundantly clear. The golden bird, served with its own broth, braised artichokes, potato purée, garden herbs, wild and cultivated greens, was well-seasoned, moist and terribly tasty.

The highlight of the evening was definitely the sweets which were a step above everything else we had eaten so far, both conceptually and on the palate. To lead the way, Huckleberry Yoghurt followed by a Huckleberry Marshmallow with Champagne Foam, heralding the arrival of the desserts. The yoghurt deserves special mention, as although it consisted simply of berries folded into yoghurt, the fruit had been delicately smoked which elevated the breakfast-like dish to something pretty spectacular.

The intriguingly named “To Quicken the Heart” did just that – an exquisite composition of Red Cedar Ice Cream, Brown Butter Popcorn Caramel, Chocolate Strands and Umami Powder that fascinated and satisfied in equal measure.

Vanilla Bean Oeuf à la Neige blanketed in Caraway Sabayon also made our pulses race, with a light spongy soft meringue, glossy custard that coated the tongue, caramelly wood grained speculoo and Flake-like aerated chocolate chunks.

Thanks to dessert and some competent mains the meal ended on a much higher note than it initially promised. That said, the service, food and setting still fell drastically short of what I would expect of a three starred Michelin establishment, and I left wishing we had booked in at French Laundry instead.

The Restaurant at Meadowood
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena
California 94574

t. 800 458 8080

Restaurant at Meadowood on Urbanspoon

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~ by gourmettraveller on July 22, 2011.

8 Responses to “the restaurant at meadowood”

  1. I have worked in food service for a long time. This type of food is so beyond my experience both as a diner and a cook. I always go into a restaurant and set my expectations to fit what I am paying. When you are dining at this level you have every right to expect the service to be top notch.
    A very interesting post and as always I enjoy your knowledgeable reviews. I cannot stand negative reviews from people who have no idea what they are talking about.

    • Thanks CL, that’s nice to hear – I always try to be as measured in my reviews as possible. Like you said, when paying top dollar it is only fair to raise expectations accordingly.

  2. Your pictures are – as always stunning. I’m sorry parts of the meal disappointed. I agree with the previous poster – when you are at such a fine restaurant, high expectations should be met.

  3. What a shame this restaurant didn’t live up to expectations, especially given the prices. Those desserts do look delicious though – brown butter popcorn caramel is something I need the recipe for now!

  4. What elegant plating and unusual food. Although somewhat disappointing, I’d still like to give the place a try!

  5. Very much enjoy reading the blog for a good while already.

    Will be there in late August, from the exchanges via e-mail I had, it seems like it won’t be the most memorable meal on the trip!

  6. Yea, let’s see…

    We’ll have plenty of meals lined up. Will spend three weeks going from Napa and Sonoma to LA, SF and perhaps Santa Barbara County a bit too. FL we didn’t get in, but we’re working on it.

    Would be a shame to go all that way and then not manage to eat there…

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