We live in a time and age where food and wine accolades are thrown around like singles at a strip club. Just like Little League, where every kid gets a chance to hit, it seems as if you can always find someone to praise your product or establishment just because no child should be left behind. Lucky for us the good people at Michelin, through their Travel Guide and Star Rating System, put real work into separating the wheat from the chaff. You can pretty much trust that Michelin starred restaurants are the real deal. The single-starred Redd in Yountville, CA is a fine example of the Guide’s accuracy. Who knew a tire company knew so much about fine food?
For Wifey’s birthday we spent the weekend at the polished and modern Avia Hotel in Downtown Napa, about ten minutes from Yountville. We kicked off the trip with a spectacular brunch at ad hoc, but I was really looking forward to Redd after recommendations from friends Danny and Taylor as well as my nephew Kent. I’ll dispense with the suspense and just tell you: WORTH EVERY PENNY. Just intimate enough for a romantic date, yet casual enough that you inevitably strike up conversation with fellow diners – usually along the lines of, “What is that? It looks delicious!” All you need to know is that we had only two days to spend in the area and we had dinner at Redd both nights. With apologies to beloved Bistro Jeantie, another owner of a single Michelin star, we had to cancel our reservation there in favor of “Redd: Reloaded” because The Wife decided on the first night that dinner would consist of two appetizers and three birthday desserts.
Night number two was a much more proper dinner, with a shared appetizer, two entrees and two (hey, at least it wasn’t three) desserts. It is hard to find any fault with a place whose reasonably portioned food is clearly deserving of it’s Michelin star, where the staff is friendly and unpretentious and the atmosphere is pleasantly semi-casual. For $100 (including tip, excluding drinks) per couple, you can easily get away with a shared appetizer, individual entrees and a shared dessert – not to mention the several amuses that you are treated to by the chef. I was digging almost everything that hit my palette, but following are some of the standouts.
This dish was un-fucking-real. I prefer hot preparations of foie even though it is not on many menus, but this cold plate blew my damn socks off. For those in Cali, you need to go get you some of this (or ANY foie) before the ban becomes official in February. I had to finish the whole plate myself because Wife doesn’t eat foie gras, but it was worth every calorie and every molecule of fat. The pumpernickel as well as herb brioche, honey, apple slices, and pear puree were just the right combo of light flavors to complement the foie without dominating it. The mousse was perfectly airy, contrasting with the crunchy puff pastry. There was not much of a distinction between the terrine and the torchon, although that didn’t quite matter to me because both were feathery light and creamy on the tongue. The terrine held up to the brioche a bit more, while the torchon literally melted in my mouth. This is what foie gras is all about. Let us only hope that public outcry forces a reversal of the ban because I don’t want to have to leave the state to get this shit.
You know a chef is on point when even the amuses leave you hankering for more. This tiny dollop of lobster bisque made me want to crush through the kitchen doors and fill up the rest of my bowl. The broth was extremely rich, with barely a hint of the cream that I feel many cooks use to mask a less-than-fully-formed broth. This bisque was chock full of lobster flavor with very clear notes of the tomalley, which I typically don’t care for by itself but is a must in a real lobster stock. Then, there were the two pieces of lobster. Easily the best cooked lobster I’ve ever had in a bisque. Unlike the overcooked, stringy consistency I usually brace myself for, these two little morsels came out perfectly poached (in white white, if I had to guess), rendering them moist, pliant and not the least bit chewy. I wasn’t really expecting this burst of awesomeness and reflexively blurted out, “Oh shit!” upon the first bite.
I’m no fan of cauliflower, but when it’s cooked and seasoned like this, I might become a convert. The beautifully browned scallops had just the right amount of firmness, so they paired well with the slight crunch of the cooked cauliflower. The puree brought in an almost starchy element and the balsamic reduction did it’s job in adding a little sharpness. The one component I could have done without was the truffle oil. I know, I love truffle oil as much as the next person, but I just didn’t get it in this dish. All in all not enough to take away any points – this was a nearly flawless dish, and Wifey loved it so what the hell do I know?
The only downside of this dish was that there wasn’t more of it. Even thought it’s perfectly sized as an appetizer, I still could have used a few more bites of this. On paper, it didn’t really sing to me. I’ve had hamachi a million times. Coconut rice? Sounds too sweet and counter-intuitive to pairing with a delicate fish. Thankfully Wifey overruled any of my reservations and ordered this because it was a nearly perfect construction. The rice had only a mild coconut aroma, but almost none of the sweetness that I had expected. Combined with the ginger lime sauce and cucumber slices, it made for a wondrous bite: all four major flavors represented, with the suppleness of the hamachi playing against the crunch of the cucumber. After being so used to eating sashimi as a heavily flavored dish with soy sauce, this dish completely made me rethink the flavors that hamachi could be paired with.
p.s.: This is the maiden voyage for the new Canon Rebel T3. What do y’all think?