We could not believe the experience at French Laundry last time, so we had to try another high end prix fixe restaurant in Napa Valley. Were the merits of French Laundry inflated due to its historical significance, or did critics grade all Napa valley restaurants too kindly after a few bottles of wine?
Auberge du Soleil is one of the most reputable (and expensive) properties in town, and attached to it is a restaurant on a terrace looking over rolling hills and vineyards. The wicker tables are covered with embroidered tablecloths and matching napkins. It is perverse torture to sit spitting distance from such warmth and beauty only to be covered from the sun by a roof. Our hard wicker chairs were trapped in a whirlwind of freezing cold. The overhead heaters, which the server explains only had a on and off switch and no adjustment for the level of heat, has no chance of producing anything but a tantalizing flicker of light that could provide us any comfort. When the hope faded from watching the heater light up over and over again to very little effect, so did our patience.
The menus are handed to us without explanation. It is a standard menu with 5 sections – primi, secondi, entree, cheese, and dessert. But the choices are a 3 course prix fixe or four course prix fixe. Those of your who are blessed with quick thinking and logic might realize that it’s not clear if we can pick any three courses? Or perhaps everyone is limited to dessert OR cheese? Primi OR Secondi? What if someone wants four?
Ever in the pursuit of knowledge, I stare the waitress down to find out. The waitress explains to us that we can pick any 3 or 4 courses that we want. The table does not have to decide on the same number of courses, and someone can order all mains, and someone else can order all desserts. If this is not asking for a logistics disaster in the kitchen, I’m not sure what is. My sister’s face lights up like three servings of fruit sorbet, but I tell her that everyone will be sticking to somewhat similar orders to prevent harsh judgement from parents and further confusion.
After we order, a single server comes and plops two different types of bread onto each of our plates slow, clumsy, and silent as the grave. One of the breads is clearly riddled with seeds and grains and possibly nuts. No one asked any of us about nut allergies, which is interesting. Maybe the assume that anyone with a nut allergy probably already died during a wine tour somewhere reaching for a snack. Good thing is, the only person with a nut allergy decided to take the dive, and he did not fall over gagging in the middle of dinner, so we know that everyone is likely safe.
Apricot, almonds, and basalmic 3/10: It was sour, bland, raw, and lacks any sweetness. It tastes like a sauce that has not yet been reduced, or a dessert that is missing sugar.
English pea risotto 8/10: Soft, perfectly made, but too bad the bowl is so shallow. But the time i got to my last bite, everything was cold! But that’s the fault of the building/restaurant design, not the dish.
Lobster 9/10. Beautiful strong herby dill flavor. Once again, the ingredients in Napa tend to be very fresh. I like that the brightness and acidity of fresh herbs is on display here at Auberge and Farmstead. At French Laundry? Not so much.
Halibut: didn’t eat this one, but it was a big hit. I could tell from across the table that the filet is as soft as a pillow.
Lamb 3/10. Really dry and really old! The lamb tasted like it had already died on its way to my plate.
Veal: didn’t have this one
Duck 5/10: If I based this on flavor alone, the duck would get a 7 or even an 8. But I asked for medium rare, and medium well showed up. I asked a server what she thinks the done-ness of our ducks are. She looked utterly confused and ill equipped to answer my question and commented that our orders were taken based on our table seating, therefore they must be correct.
How can the duck be almost 10 minutes overcooked, I wonder? There was not a hint of pink. Not. A. Hint. The flavor was fine, but it was the most overcooked duck breast I have ever seen in my life. How did the person who was slicing this not notice?!
Prime Beef Pave: 3/10 Dry, lacks flavor, and is not that prime of a cut. Also since the restaurant had fries as an option. A side of fries was requested with this dish, which took about 20 minutes to arrive, and by the time the steak was finished.
Peach and strawberry palate cleanser 1/10: Sour. Bland. It was like fruit backwash. The preparation was thoughtless.
Trio of sorbets: didn’t try it, but must have been good. I turned around and they were all gone, and my sister’s face was brighter than ever.
Devil’s food cake 6/10: The flavors were good, but I was really hoping for a cake. The mint ice cream was cooked with raw milk, which did not settle well with me.
Almond Croquant: didn’t have this
Strawberry sponge cake: didn’t have this
Didn’t have this (white chocolate) half the table thought the little tubes were catepillars, and the other half thought it was cat poop. Appetizing.
Coconut cream and chocolate ganache: didn’t have this
Petit fours… or as it seems they are petit threes. The truffles were good. Everything else was meh.
That de-escalated quickly. My conclusion is perhaps it is the surrounding hills, fresh air, and bottles and bottles of mind warping alcohol gives the famous valley an aura of greatness. Although one Michelin star restaurants are fairly commonplace, I don’t see any that would serve you the wrong doneness on your meat or not ask you about allergies. Certainly if a table is freezing and asking about the heater, you would offer to move them inside or to a better location. I’m sure this would be a beautiful hotel to live in, and it would be so much fun to have lunch on the terrace, but if you go for dinner, be prepared with a parka, and I hope I’ve helped you avoid some really poorly cooked dishes.