Sunday, July 05, 2015

The cars, food, and sights of Napa

We just returned from a quick trip to Napa Valley to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Even though it's just an hour north of where we live, we don't go there as often as we should. Just for your reference, the Valley is a 30 mile stretch of Highway 29 between Calistoga to the north and the town of Napa to the south.

After we dropped off the dog at camp, we got in the Saab. While trying to repair the glorified fuse box that controlled the broken taillight, I assume the battery was disconnected. Now, the radio tuner is out of whack. FM can now only be tuned in 0.05 increments (instead of 0.2), and this showed up when I switched the band to AM.

Our first stop was St. Helena, which is home to Model Bakery. My wife has been baking a lot recently and this business supposedly has the best English muffins around. I ordered two breakfast sandwiches (one too many). They were spectacular. The muffins were savory, buttery, and chewy. I spotted this propellered Bug a block away from the bakery.

After gorging on the breakfast sandwiches, we stopped at Indian Springs in Calistoga for my favorite spa experience combo-- a mud bath, a soak in a bathtub in naturally heated mineral water, a stint in the sulfur-filled steam room, and a massage.

I always feel bad for the poor guy who has to scoop mud on my junk.

After the massage, visitors can hang out next to the Buddha pond to complete the relaxation process.

Everything-- the heated mud, the mineral water, and the steam-- is sourced from geothermal energy. There are geysers and a dormant volcano nearby.

We stayed at Cottage Grove Inn in Calistoga. The former trailer park on a narrow strip of land now houses around a dozen cozy cottages. Our neighbors drove up in a Cosworth Mercedes.

For our anniversary dinner, we dined at Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Yountville. We went a bit overboard with the ordering. All of the ingredients were extraordinary and the flavors were intense. The service was flawless. I accidentally set my paper menu on fire when I held it too close to a candle. Our waiter put it out with his bare hands like a pro. I'm sure my wife was wondering why she married this buffoon.

For the record, we had the pea soup, French onion soup, mussels with truffle fries, trout, beef tenderloin with foie gras, and strawberry meringue.

We had an early dinner reservation, so we took a stroll back in Calistoga afterwards. At the city park, there was a concert sponsored by the Calistoga water people and I spotted this E-Type with a Grateful Dead sticker parked across the street.

The following morning, we decided to do some walking to burn off some of the calories. We first visited Bale Grist Mill State Park. This is one of those places you pass by all the time but ignore. It is just south of Calistoga and houses one of the first grain mills in the area. When the region still belonged to Mexico, a Yankee moved there and constructed a mill. We learned a lot about how millstones work and there is a functioning mill and you can even buy different milled grains at the park's store. We did a short hike on a trail that followed the streams that fed the water-powered mill.

These red barked manzanita trees were everywhere along the trail.

Then, we visited The Petrified Forest. 3.4 million years ago, a volcanic explosion flattened a bunch of trees and turned them into stone. Here is a modern tree growing out of a petrified log.

For lunch, we had Malaysian at Kopio in Calistoga. I've never had Malaysian food before so I can't vouch for its authenticity. But everything was great and the service friendly (if a bit slow). We had the curry puff app, curry laksa (spicy coconut noodle soup with seafood, tofu, and potatoes), and lamb rendang.

These little towns along Highway 29 have tons of interesting cars. Here is a pre-facelift Saab 9-3 SportCombi.

Some kind of McLaren (I can't tell the different models apart).

A Ferrari 612.

A Porsche 964 Targa.

Falcon convertible.

Then, for our second and final dinner, we went to FARM at Carneros Inn. Rchen recommended this place. We got there early, had drinks in the pavilion, and basically people watched.

Having learned our lesson, we ordered less food this time. We shared the baby beet salad. It had six pieces of beets (two red, two orange, two yellow) with some kind of gooey cheese, quinoa chips, and local blackberries. Many of the ingredients are grown in-house, right behind the restaurant. For entrees, we had the lamb and the duck. We concluded the meal with peach ice cream with thin Graham crackers.

We ended the trip the following morning with more English muffins at Model Bakery. This Thunderbird passed by while I was parking the car in St. Helena. I did not have a chance to photograph an ocean blue Fisker Karma, a white Hummer H1 pickup truck with the vanity plate "H1TRUCK", and a gold/bronze Volvo P1800 with gold BBS rims. The carspotting opportunities were endless.

The trip ended with a run to the local grocery store for some 4th of July BBQ provisions. I think I saw that old Land Rover listed on Craigslist recently, but I can't find the ad now.


Richard Chen said...

What a fun weekend! We max out on our muffin quota when we visit (turns out if you call & prepay the day before, you can get as much as you want too -- they just don't want walk-in's to wipe out their stock) and bring them home; they freeze well!

steve-vh said...

I've been to that petrified forest (tourist trap as my wife calls it)! I however enjoyed it!

Maxichamp said...

@steve-vh: Not exactly a tourist trap, but I was expecting literally a forest of petrified trees, rather than a handful.