Oh, sure -- there were other activities, and a whole lot of driving, but mainly there was lunch.
You see, when we first visited Napa, some years back, we semi-accidentally wandered into the CIA for lunch. They managed to just barely get us in, sitting at the bar, and we proceeded to have the single best lunch ever. So going back was one of the few things we specifically set out to do on this trip.
The full name of the place is "The Wine Spectator Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone Campus", but we think of it as simply Greystone. It is a four-star restaurant built into the school, worked by a mix of students and professionals. It is one of the five best restaurants we know anywhere, and when I say "five" that's only to leave room for one or two I might have forgotten. (The only peers I know in Boston are Blue Ginger in Wellesley, and La Campagnia in Waltham.)
We had a late lunch at 1:45, so it was fairly empty, but we chose to sit at the bar again anyway. The bar surrounds the circular main kitchen, so it's endlessly entertaining for foodies like us.
We started off with the "Temptations" menu -- essentially five little tapas-style appetizers, ranging from a potato-leek soup with truffle oil to thin-sliced seared meat with capers. For the main course, she had the glazed and braised quails, served over a complex array of sweet roasted onions, roasted potatoes, and greens. I had the swordfish, served with a complex pottage of lentils, carrots, bacon, onions and (I think) capers, surrounded by a moat of subtle mustard sauce. For dessert, she had the chocolate lava cake with nocciola ice cream, and I had the pumpkin-spice custard torte with rum raisin. She had a flight of Zinfandels to accompany it (reminding us again of how much we like the Ridge Lytton Springs); I had a small shot of good grappa to go with the torte.
Everything was as magnificent as we'd remembered. Mind, the place is *not* cheap -- I've come to find that, while you can get a great meal fairly inexpensively, the truly superlative ones are always fairly expensive. (The above meal ran about $150, all told.) But as a special occasion, this is a place to reckon with, as good a restaurant as exists. Well worth visiting, if you get the chance.
Greystone also has a gourmet shop in the building, which was a joy to play in. We wound up picking up a couple of historically-oriented cookbooks, some cool ingredients (white ginger glaze, sharp lime syrup), a skimming spoon for the next batch of mead, and suchlike. It's a good thing the place isn't local, or we could spend way too much money there.
Other than that, the day was a bit quixotic. We tried to visit Trentadue Winery, purveyors of our favorite port, but got there a few minutes after they closed. We hit a bit of traffic on the way back, so tried to look for a theater to see the Incredibles -- that involved a fair amount of wandering around, going into a mall to see if they had movies, only to find that the time that that took meant that we missed the start of the film at the theater a block away, and so on. Oh, well -- we'll find a chance at some point on this vacation.
The trip really emphasized how far we are from the tourist season -- Napa was deserted. I wasn't expecting crowds, but we were astonished at how empty everything was, perhaps a fifth as many people as were there the last time we were there. Being able to drive up the main drag of Napa Valley without being stuck in traffic was a very nice change.
Dinner was pretty much an afterthought: we stopped at Chili's for appetizers, which was pretty much all we were up for. And it did throw lunch into stark relief.
Next: down to Monterey for the next few days, with a day-trip down to the other specific destination for this trip -- the icon of crass consumption, Hearst Castle...