MASI, A Memory

A Memory.

My days fueled by recent memories of traveling and experiencing the cultural significance of food and wine in California, Italy and France. Upon returning from The Kopf Scholarship, I unintentionally abandoned my blog. Mid-way through documenting my trip, I entered into an intensely chaotic work-life. My job in a NYC restaurant is demanding and time consuming. I love the pace. I am there nearly 10-12 hours a day (plus commute), and when I have a free day, I tend to spend it in a haze of running errands and researching new restaurants to try. I am constantly questioning “what’s next?” and seeking ways to increase my wine/food knowledge.

When I was traveling, wine did not seem complicated. It was a passion and a way of life, rather than a trend or commodity. At MASI, in Valpolicella, Amarone is made in the time-honored tradition of drying grapes on mats in drying lofts to concentrate flavor, sugar and alcohol levels. These BIG wines are the pride of the region. A skill that has been refined through a careful process.

We spent a very full day with the team at MASI Agricola, learning about the area, the grape varietals and understanding the focus and foundation of their wines. We began our journey with a heart-warming lunch with Sandro Boscaini, perhaps better known as “Mr. Amarone” in the wine world. We sat in awe as he shared his story with us.

Here we were, a group of young 20-somethings, who are still trying to figure out what life is all about, listening to the thoughts of a legend. He told us about his journey into the wine world, what he hoped to accomplish and of struggles he endured to get their. He shared his love for the area with us and told us the history and food, largely concentrated around seafood, as Lake Garda is a stones-throw away.

I work hard and hope to find success in my lifetime, however; I constantly face self-doubt and other frustrations. It was a pleasure to be reminded that mistakes and perseverance are apart of the journey.

After lunch, Oenologist Andrea dal Cin, gave us a guided tour of Valpolicella through a tasting of grape varietals. Valpolicella consists of three main varietals: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. (same grapes used in Amarone–the process for fermentation is just different.). We tasted each fermented varietal first alone, then their “semi-dried” versions and blended. We found that with Valpoilicella, team work is key. Molinara is a bright Veronese varietal, spicy with a little acidity and dryness yet is lack luster and falls flat on the finish. Rondinella is filled with red fruits such as pomegranate and has astringent acidity. It is not an intense grape but provides structure. Corvina is the most concentrated of the three grapes in color and flavor, and serves as the backbone of the wines of Valpolicella. Rich coffee and licorice, red fruit flavors were found in this varietal but it was lacking the interesting acidity and spice, found in the other voretals. When we tasted a blend of 70% Corvina (barrique aged), 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara it was apparent that these grapes were meant to be together. Bright red fruits, balanced acidity and light tannin that could be paired with light pork dishes or even grilled fish–perfect for the foods in this area.

To follow our tasting, Aurelia Pavel, took us on a tour of the drying loft and cellars and explained the history of their location.

As I previously noted, our day with MASI was very full, and our journey did not end here. In fact, when reflecting on our visit I mistakenly thought we were with the team for two days because of the wealth of knowledge we received. Later that evening, we went to dinner at a local restaurant on the top a hill that overlooked the entire region. They gave us a sample of local fare: hearty, rich and all together comforting. The kind of food that makes you feel loved.

A wonderful match for the 2007 MASI Riserva Costasera. A wonderfully luxurious wine filled with flavors of rich dried plums and figs. The intensity of this wine matched the richness of the braised beef cheek and the cream-sauce laden gnocchi and porcini farfalle. Needless to say, I went home with a smile on my face and only peaceful thoughts in my mind.

Sharing food and wine in Italy over a late night supper, has a way of making any and all worries go away. I love it.

Remembering the people that I met along my journey inspires me. It reassures me that the time I am investing at work right now will ultimately make me a stronger person and help push me forward in the restaurant industry–an industry that I have an unwavering passion for. I am reminded that wine is about honor. Honoring the land. Honoring tradition. Honoring the people who put their heart and soul into the process.

Slowly but surely I hope to share the stories and places I have been. Finding time right now is my biggest challenge…but I am always up for a challenge!




Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Place: Fernando Pighin & Flglis, Udine

In 1963 Luigi, Ercole and Fernando purchased the 200 hectare estate belonging to the Risano family in Friuli. In 1968 they purchased Spessa di Capriva, 30 ha in the Collio DOC, further establishing the quality of their wine production. In 2004, Fernando his wife Danila and children Roberto and Raffaela acquired full control of the wineries.

From the office headquarters to the individual vineyard properties, a constant symbol presents itself: The Rooster. It is a symbol of land, fertility and personifies sunlight. To the Pighin family, it is a reminder that wine is a reflection of the environment and what Mother Nature gives them any given year.

We toured the prized vineyards in the “Colli” (technically, “small hill” in the Friulian dialect) where the Pighin family produces some of their finest Pinot Grigio wines. The best grapes are grown in soil known as “Flysh”–well drained, rich, crumbly marl and sandstone.

Technically this area is closer to Austria and Germany and the wines can have similarities. The natural elements of the area help moderate temperature and protect the vineyards from harsh weather conditions. The Alps form the northern boarder and nearly all the vines are grown along the  Sierra Foothills, stretching inland from the Adriatic Sea.

For this specific wine, no time is wasted. Grapes go straight from vineyard to press and stainless steel fermentation tanks on site.

Fernando lead us through a tasting of wines that were at various stages in the fermentation process. The wines had bracing acidity. There were similarities between each stage and they were certainly full of rich citrus and banana notes.

We later toured the Pighin Estate. Which was marvelous, old and highly prestigious. Many  important visitors and friends of the family stay here when they are in Friuli.

They also house their small red wine cellars here.

Refosco anyone?

After a full day of tours, Fernando took us to a local restaurant: Da Nando. We were welcomed into the restaurant and placed at a pre-set table filled with elegant Murano glassware. We weren’t sure what to expect, however; I am certain that not one of us anticipated the courses to keep coming. We started with a “mushroom cappuccino” (soup with a cream spuma),  which lead to 5 fish dishes, 2 mushroom dishes, proscuitto, figs, a cheese course, chocolate and biscotti. Dish after exciting dish, each pairing delicately with the Pigin wines on the table. I was beyond full by the end of the meal, and wound up sleeping uncomfortably that night. It was all so delicious, but I felt a bit gluttonous.

Thank you to the Fernando Pighin and family for graciously hosting us for the day and teaching us about the area of Friuli and your wines!



Tenuta Sette Ponti

A long, long (well…not SO long) time ago, I can still remember the rolling hills of Tuscany. I’ve been in the US for 2-weeks and have finally adjusted to life in NYC.  Since my last blog post, I suffered through a few days worth of jet-lag, spent a weekend with my parents (LOVE YOU, MISS YOU!), had a few job interviews AND started working in a restaurant (wooh!).  I had this Sunday evening off from work and met my friend Kelly, one of Kopf Scholarship students I traveled with, for dinner in the city.  We ate rich pasta dishes with Barolo *SWOON* and reflected on our journey. I miss it, but the memories remain.

Let me take you back in time.

Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Place: Tenuta Sette Ponti, San Giustino Valdarno

Our first day of winery visits in Italy was simply AMAZING (albeit exhausting). We traveled from Bolgheri and Montalcino, and then finally spent a few hours sleeping at a hotel in Alighieri. (Side Note–WOW–just remembering all of car trips we made in Italy makes me tired!) The next morning we were early to rise and made a 90 drive to Tenuta Sette Ponti. To be perfectly candid, it was more like a flustered 2+ hour drive if you take into account in all the time we spent driving around COMPLETELY lost. Google Maps is a terrible resource when navigating in Europe. Thankfully, our gracious host at the winery, Daniel, was able to meet us in town and guide us to our destination.

When we finally arrived, Daniel took us through the vineyards. We had the opportunity to visit one of the oldest planted vineyards, Vigna Dell’Impero, “The Emperor’s Vineyard” that was planted by the Count of Turin, Vitto Emanuele of Savoy. This 3 hectare parcel was terraced by hand.

We were welcomed into the beautiful home and treated to a beautifully prepared meal that was served “family style” on big platters. It was an incredibly comforting and welcoming experience. A memory that I will surely have for life. Over the course of our trip, I was constantly reminded that providing exceptional hospitality creates lasting memories. We were thankful and honored to each person who hosted us through the course of this trip. Our memories remain and we are surely attached to the wines, the people, and history of the places we had the opportunity to visit.

Daniel lead a tasting of wines in the Kobrand portfolio with lunch. To start, we were served Paccheri with a Spicy Tomato Sauce made from scratch from the tomatoes in the garden. This dish was my FAVORITE pasta I had in Italy. And I ate a lot of pasta in Italy. The sauce was incredible and the pasta was cooked to have just the right amount of bite. Daniel explained that THIS was how pasta SHOULD be made. I was in heaven and ate far too much.

Next we were served Braised Pheasant with Grapes and Pomme Puree. I was a bit inpatient when I took this photo. The aroma of the meat was intoxicating and I couldn’t wait for the potato accompaniment before I began eating. The dish was straight forward and perfectly executed. Just the right amount of seasoning. I was so happy eating this dish. The sheer comfort of the aromatic meat reminded me of something my mom and nana  prepared for our family when I was a child. I sat in silence for a few moments over lunch, wishing my parents were joining me around the dinner table. I have extremely fond childhood memories of nightly family dinners, a feeling of love and appreciation floods over me whenever I’m in a setting like this.

One of my favorite wines with our meal was Orneo. An IGT wine, composed of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. It had a wonderful tannin structure and fruit that perfectly complemented the luscious meat course.

We concluded our meal with Peaches and Cream. Light, refreshing and perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon.

Thank you to Daniel and the team at Tenuta Sette Ponti for your incredible hospitality and for providing us with a wonderful “taste” of the area!

Next Stop (tomorrow, I PROMISE!): Fernando Pighin & Figli, Udine



Tenute Silvio Nardi

After an incredible 4-weeks in Italy and France, I am back in the United States. My time in Europe was fast and furious. I barely slept and shuffled from hotel to hotel daily. Full days and lack of Internet has kept me from posting the happenings of the trip. All I have left are pictures and memories of the most majestic places that I've seen and the talented people that I've met. In the coming days, I will post a small glimpse of the events and places I experienced in Tuscany, Venice, Fruili, Valpolicella, Piedmont, Paris, Reims and Burgundy. Please bare with me as I dig through photos and flip through my notebook.
After an exciting day and delicious lunch at Tenuta San Guido (see previous post), we drove to Montalcino to visit Tenute Silvio Nardi. This visit marked our first time getting lost on the trip, and we drove up and down a dusty mountain side for what felt like hours. Upon our arrival, our car appeared to have changed from black to brown from the dust. We joked that we had “Montalcino” on our car, to forgive their dirty appearance.
Crush pad at Silvio Nardi
The hillside village of Montalcino has a unique location that gives a dramatic impression to the vines. It is is approximately 40km South of Siena, 50km from the ocean and bordered by the Arbia, Asso and Ombrone valleys, which you can see from the hilltops. Monte Amiata, is about 5,600 ft and helps protect vines from stormy conditions. The warm climate of the Tuscan Coast coupled with rocky soils (galestro–less fertile) give the wine from this area great age-ability. This area is Brunello (Sangiovese) territory. “Brunello” refers to “nice dark one”, indicating strength and masculinity of these full bodied wines. Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG was first produced in 1958. Tenute Silvio Nardi has a long history of wine production in the area, dating back to the 1950s. They pride themselves in expressing the terroir of the area through their wines.
The Manachiara Vineyard (literally “bright morning”) is exposed to the the sunrise in the East and produces powerful, well structured wines; whereas Casale Del Bosco resides in the West where the sun sets, and produces wines that are softer, more elegant and refined. Wines from the Manachiara Vineyard were first produced in 1995 and only produces about 10,000 bottles in the finest years. In total, Tenute Silvio Nardi produces about 150,000 bottles each year.
By law, Brunello di Montalcino must be aged for 4 years (2 in oak) and 5 years (2.5 years in oak) for riserva. At Silvio Nardi, the wine spends 12 months in a French barrique, followed by 2 years in larger Slovenian oak barrels. For wines from their best vineyards, 18 months in barrique, 12 months Slovenian oak and age for a total 6 years instead of the required five. The most recent vintage of Brunello di Montalcino available today is 2008!
Michela, the Brand Manager for Silvio Nardi, gave us a tour and told us that on average there are about 4,500 plants/hectare, and a mere 1,500 plants/hectar for older vines. From start to finish, it requires about 500 hours of work per hectare during harvest. She joined us for a comforting meal following the tour prepared by a chef visiting the estate from England!

We sat in an elegant dining room and enjoyed rich dishes such as cheese soufflé and venison alongside the luscious wines. I particularly enjoyed how the wines could match the heavy dishes in richness, yet still provide acidity to balance the fat and cleanse each bite.

Thank you to Michela and the staff at Silvio Nardi for such a lovely and educational evening!




Tenuta San Guido

After two busy days in Florence, the Kopf group set out for Tuscany. Our first visit: Tenuta San Guido aka Sassicaia. I was excited, intimidated even, to visit this “powerhouse” of a winery. “San Guido” is named in memory of San Guido della Gherardesea who lived in the 13th century. Mario Incisa planted grapes on a stony hectar in 1944, with techniques that were unique and radical for Italian wine production.
Who would have thought that this neglected land in Bolgheri, mostly used for agricultural purposes–peach and strawberry fields etc, would produce some of the most interesting wine in the world? Located just 6-miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, the microclimate of Bolgheri is heavily influenced by the water and hills that protect the vineyards from harsh winds. Elena took us on a tour of this majestic property.
Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy??!! YOU BET! Reflective of the land and never lacking power or balance, Sassicaia is complex, filled with slatey-soil minerality and rich flavors of green bell pepper, red cherry, currants, blackberries and raspberries. The bracing tannin and lingering acidity of the 2010 vintage, made us all believe this wine could easily age another 8-10 years!
The barrels are mainly French Oak produced by 2 coopers. Each vintage, the winemakers use 40% new oak (the remaining barrels are 2nd and 3rd uses as indicated by the date of barrel production). They hold the last 2 vintages in cellar at any given time, after which, the wine will spend an additional 7 months in bottle before distribution. The philosophy at Tenuta San Guido is not to use too much oak, as it overpowers the wines. I was intrigued by the barrel storage. Each barrel sits in a rack with wheels (as seen above) on the base so that the barrels can easily be turned during the aging process.
We had the opportunity to taste 3 wines with Elena.
Le Difese (Tuscany I.G.T.): 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese
Guifalberto (Tuscany I.G.T.): 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot.
Sassicaia (Bolgheri Sassicaia D.O.C.): 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 15% Cabernet Fanc
I was impressed by the range of wines in their profile. Le Difese was plesent and bright—surely something any wine-drinker would enjoy. The Sangiovese certainly softened the Cabernet in the blend and I could imagine this as a very food-friendly wine. The Guifalberto was darker and richer. Hints of roasted red pepper, black plum, currants and dried cranberry appeared. A hearty wine that had a medium tannin structure and slight juniper, minty notes on the back palate. I think I would really enjoy this with a nice piece of roasted beef and winter root vegetables on a cold Autumn evening. MMM….
We were treated to a fantastic lunch at Osteria San Guido, with many traditional dishes. To start we had a selection of cheeses, curred meats and crostini. One of my favorites was the Crostini Toscani, a fresh chicken liver pate flavored with capers and anchovies on grilled bread. For our main course, Elena planned one of her favorite dishes: Pappardelle alla lepre o al Cinghiale, a wide-noodle, fresh egg past with a sacue of wild boar cooked in ride wine and tomatoes. The lucious sauce was like velvet on the noodles, and I couldn't stop myself from eating every last bite. It was simple and decadent. Perfect with the Guidalberto Tenuta San Guido wine. Of course a meal is never complete without dessert. I had the Pistachio Semifreddo with Raspberry Coulis. I am a sucker for cold-desserts and this did not disappoint. I especially loved the pieces of pistachip laced into the smooth cream. Be still my heart. Needless to say, I was rather full at the end of this meal.
And before leaving for our next scheduled vineyard site in Montalcino, we stoped by the quaint, Midevil town of Bolgheri. I only wish I had more time to buy things from the artisan shops and dine at one of the local restaurants. I will surely find time to come back and visit one day!
Many thanks to Elena and the staff of Tenuta San Guido for their amazing hospitality and for providing us with an incredibly rich cultural and educational experience!
Next Stop: Tenute Silvio Nardi




After an exciting 2-weeks in California, we departed San Francisco Airport for the next leg of our journey: ITALY! The flight was tedious–straight from California to Germany and then Florence. The 9-hour time difference had us feeling a bit off, however; once we saw the beautiful hillsides and red-roofed homes of Florence, we knew we had to explore and take it all in. You only live once!
Starving but still “early” for a local dinner, we found a small location called La Prosciutteria for a few appetizers and a glass of wine. For a few Euros, they agreed to make a tasting board for the six of us. The marvelous wooden board (top-middle) was presented to us, magnificently decorated with crostini, charcuterie, cheese, grapes, olives, sun dried tomato and marinated eggplant slices. I swooned over the creamy truffle-gorgonzola crostini and the finiocchiono. We had a casual dinner at I Ghibellini of salads and pizzas. I ordered the Grilled Artichoke Salad with Arugula, Tomatoes and Parmesan and shared a few slices of Funghi Pizza with my fellow mushroom-obsessed travel mate, Kelly.
The city is rich in culture, history and food. It is very busy and well maintained. I found peace in the quiet side streets.
Our second, and sadly our last day, was filled with “touristy” things. We spent hours at the Uffizi appreciating the paintings and perfectly-crafted marble statues. Things that I had only ever seen in books, popped out at me and became too real. All works of genius.
Kelly and I decided to climb a mountain aka the Duomo, and get a better view of Florence.
It was a long hike up the stone stairs and small passageways. Half way, we marveled at a view of the interior through the plastic walls surrounding the walkway.
I ate a ton of gelato…more than I care to admit, but I'm sure we walked it all off.
Cream with chocolate covered hazelnuts. I'm in love.
I nearly broke my neck staring at the ceiling of The Baptistry. If we had more time, I'm sure I would have needed a neck brace because I was completely entranced.
The Doumo and Baptistry.

The Arno
Outside Michelangelo Piazza
I took hundreds of pictures of the Doumo and they never quite capture the essence of the skilled art and passion behind it's 140 year construction.
And we ate. I loved 9pm dinners in Florence. Even when we couldn't find a table at the restaurant we wanted to go to, there was always another just around the corner with delicious food. On our last night I ordered Homemade Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms and Beef Carpaccio. I also tried some of my friend, Emily's Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce. And then I died.
The morning we left, I made a trip to Robiglio for a pastry and espresso. This cafe was recommended to me by my mom's friend and did not disappoint. My croissant was light, not buttery, with the freshest apricot jam inside. I miss Florence already and can't wait to go back one day.




Our last visit in Sonoma was to the biodynamic beauty, Benziger. I wouldn't mind this view everyday. We met Kathy Benzinger and her husband, Todd, who gave us a tour of the gorgeous estate.
We needed a car to drive around. Figs trees, lime trees, quince… OH MY! The land is completely self-sustaining. Along with multiple gardens, pigs and cows roam freely after harvest to aid with fertilization, and an insectery helps keep the land louse-free.
The root system grows 7-10 feet deep. Although watering hasn't been necessary for their vineyards, a drip irragation system is in place. For sustainable water sourcing, an aquifer was constructed in 1980 and recycling ponds are in place to filter any used water during the harvest process. By doing this they save about 3.5 million gallons per year!
Pictures do not accurately portray the beauty of the land at Benziger. I don't think I would ever tire of these views.
We walked through the gardens and picked figs to enjoy with a taste of their light and refreshing 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. We also saw a 35 year old blue agave plant (bottom right image in the picture above) that basically looked like the worlds largest asparagus plant!
Benziger compost! Every element of the property demonstrates responsible, sustainable and organic methods. Nothing is wasted, natural farming and production methods are highlighted, and efforts to reduce the use of non-renewable energy sources are taken.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! The Sangiovese was alive! Joe Benziger is experimenting with many Italian varietals for production at the affiliated Imagery Winery.
The punchdown. They will do this 3/4 times a day, as desired by the winemaker. This process will help with the color and texture of the finished product.
We watched as white and red grapes (chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon) were silmultanious sorted on alternating sides of their extremely well organzed crush pad. They use vibration technology to gently destem and sort the grapes. While we were there, they were testing a system called WECO that uses optics to distinguish undesirable grapes, leaves and stems from the grapes that will go into wine production.
In 2000 wine caves were constructed in the side of the mountain to have a natural, climate controlled area for barrel storage.
We ended our day with a light lunch at Benziger followed by a tour and tasting at Imagery.
Many thanks to the entire Benziger family for your hospitality and teaching us about biodynamic farming & production!


St. Francis Winery and Vineyard

After a wonderful week in Napa, it was time for us to migrate to Sonoma. Our first stop: St. Francis Winery and Vineyard. We met with CEO, Chris Silva, in the morning for an overview of St. Francis' mission. They are devoted to making wines that are luscious, true to Sonoma and reflect the beauty of the area.
Following our briefing, we spent time with winemaker Chris Louton touring the Beheler Vineyard and the Wild Oak Vineyard. Chris is responsible for the “Bordeaux” varietal production and walked us through the vineyards explaining the hillside cabernet, and various irrigation techniques. We had the opportunity to taste several varietals and compare the flavor differences, seed size and skin consistency.
We returned to the crush pad to meet 25 hospitality professionals from the Celebrity Cruise Ship, The Solstice. The members of the ship were from all over the world, and were docked in San Francisco for the day. They came to learn more about St. Francis wines, and we had the opportunity to tour the facilities and dine with them later that day. The meal prepared by Chef David Bush, was fantastic!
First Course
Heirloom Tomato Salad, Pickled Peaches, Burrata, Arugula, Harissa Croutons
Pairing: 2011 Chardonnay, Sonoma County
Second Course:
Wine Braised Short Rib, Basil Potato Puree, Candied Carrots, Fried Shallots, Braising Jus
Pairing: 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County; 2008 Merlot, Somoma County; 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County
Third Course:
Warm Chocolate Ganache Cake, Fresh Summer Berries, Whipped Cream
Pairing: 2010 Port, Sonoma County
That night we had dinner at Flavor, a local restaurant, complete with St. Francis Zinfandel. To pair, I ordered the lamb with polenta.
The next day we had a comprehensive tour and tasting with winemaker Katie Madigan, who is responsible for the Chardonnay and Zinfandel production. She brought us to one of the vineyards that St. Francis sources their grapes from and taught us how to recognize: alicante bouschet, zinfandel, petit syrah and cariganan.
Before lunch we had the pleasure of speaking with Aura Bland, Consumer Direct. She spoke to us about the food and wine pairing programs they have on site. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! We tasted the cheese and charcuterie board, learned about their customer base and how they choose to market their wines.
….And then Chris had a special lunch in store for us. In fact, he kept the location a secret until we arrived. To our delight it was one of the BEST taco trucks in Sonoma: Lonchera Emely.
I couldn't decide what to try and had a mix of 3 tacos: Pastor, Lengua and Carnita. All delicious and JUST what I needed after days of heavy eating.
We sat on the ground behind the taco truck with the CEO of St. Francis, sipping on coke and letting the messy juices from our tacos drip down our hands. It was perfect. We enjoyed our time with the dynamic staff and can't thank them enouch for their tremendous hospitality.


The French Laundry


The iconic restaurant. The pincale of professionalism. The lifechanging culinary experience.
Why yes…yes we did.
We like to think of our reservation at The French Laundry as something of fate. Gathered around a communal table at the Double Tree Metropolitan in New York City, the six of us still strangers, we began plotting and planning our California adventure. We knew that a reservation at The French Laundry was going to be nearly impossible. They typically book months in advance and we were looking less than 2-weeks out. Also, a reservation for 6 at this point seemed even more ludicrous. We made other plans for our few off-days, and we were able to secure a late reservation at The Meadowood as our “splurge” dining experience while in the area. Never discouraged, Miles (Cornell Alum and obviously the only male in our group) searched OpenTable and a few clicks later found a single reservation–12pm for 6 people on the day we were traveling from Napa to Sonoma and had no other plans. It was our destiny.
I was both nervous and excited to be a guest at The French Laundry. I mean, this is THE French Laundry. THE flagship restaurant of THE Thomas Keller. This restaurant was the start of an empire. It was the pioneer of ingredient & chef driven menus that are thought provoking and demonstrate the intellegance, passion and sheer dedication that it takes to be an incredible chef. Having a meal at The French Laundry isn't just “fine dining”, it's a complete sensory experience.
THE! FRENCH! LAUNDRY! I've idolized this restaurant in Yountville, CA from my New York home for years. To a point, it almost seemed like it might be fictional place, yet here I was standing in front of the modest looking restaurant. I couldn't help but think, “Did Thomas Keller know that this little restaurant, sitting in the small town of Yountville, CA, would become such a global phenomenon? Did he know that through this restaurant he would inspire young culinarians and hospitality-minded individuals to strive for excellence in the industry?” Bravo Chef. You've made it possible for so many of us to move forward and follow our dreams.
Miles and Casey
We were welcomed into the restaurant and stunned by the size of the dining room and kitchen. Maybe there were 9 tables? Most of which sat 2 people? The six of us sat in scilence for nearly an hour carefully observing our surroundings. We watched the servers seemlessly glide through the restaurant. We noticed that not a single hair on their heads was out of place and that their suits were perfectly tailored. We noticed they had a rhythm. They were refined. They were intellectual and well spoken. Out of context, I might think they were Ivy League graduates working on Wall Street making an obsurd income and dining at places like The French Laundry. I lost all notion that a “server” was anything less than an impressive profession. These individuals are leaders in hospitality.
L-R: Salmon Tartar (Creme Fraiche, Sesame Tuile); “Oysters and Pearls”; Egg Custard with Perigord (Veal & Truffle) and Chive Chip; Salad of French Laundry Garden Tomatoes (Hawaiian Heart of Palm, Brokaw Avocado Puree and Natsurtium Leaves); Sauteed Fillet of Gulf Coast Pompano (“Falafel”, Sweet Peppers, Young Fennel, Charred Eggplant Puree and “Sauce Pimenton”); Alaskan King Crab (“Pommes Maxim's”, Compressed Garden Cucumbers, Flowering Watercress and “Sauce Montpellier”)
The dishes were playful and perfectly executed. The food made you appreciate the chef's thoughts and artistry. Nothing presented was quite what you thought it would be, which made it even more exciting to eat.
And yes, the classic “Oysters and Pearls” dish surpassed my wildest expectation. It was sinful and lucious. I never wanted it to end and it was excellent with a glass of The French Laundry Cuvee produced by Schamsberg. I'm swooning as I remember that dish. I savored every bite.
L-R: Liberty Farm Pekin Duck “Rillette” (Black Mission Figs, Wilted Dandelion Greens, Toasted Marcona Almonds and “Creme de Topinambour”); Herb-Roasted Marcho Farms Nature-Fed Veal (Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Chantrelle Mushrooms, Cherry Belle Radishes and Brentwood Corn Pudding); “Ossau Iraty” (Silverado Trail Strawberries, Celery Branch, Sicilian Pistachios and Black Truffle); Rice Pudding with Honey Comb and Raspberry Sorbet; “Carrot Cake” with Rum Raisin Ice Cream; “Coffee and Doughnuts”
Like little kids at the candy store. Completely enamored.
I slyly tried to take a picture while on a tour of the kitchen. I've never seen this level of all-around excellence. To have an entire team with the same passion and high regard for the operation was astonishing. After our 4-hour lunch, I left feeling rejuvinated (and full). Maintaining high-standards and always striving to be better as an operation is important to provide the guests with the best possible experience.
This dining experience was an education. It was truly a pleasure to have the opportunity to dine at The French Laundry with such wonderful company.


The Meadowood

The Kopf Scholarship has been one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had the fortune to be apart of. I am forever grateful and honored. I never thought that I would have the opportunity, at the age of 25 nonetheless, to travel and REALLY be able to immerse myself in the food, wine, and hospitality industry. It is a true blessing. My outlook and knowledge of the industry becomes richer each day and is something that I will bring with me as I move forward in my career. As a group we have analyzed and redefined our prespectives on 'hospitality'. We learn through observation and practical application. Our backgrounds vary from hoteliers to culinary arts and we benefit from sharing thoughts and opinions with eachother.
When we gethered in New York City two weeks ago, we decided to embrace every moment of this trip. You only live once and chances to experience the world, food and wine may not come around a second time. We made plans to eat at a few “fine dining” establishments along the way. On the top of our list: The Restaurant at Meadowood in the Napa Valley. Outside of our budget? Probably, yes. Worth the experience? TOTALLY! To us, this wasn't JUST a restaurant. This wasn't JUST another dinner. THIS WAS THE MEADOWOOD FOR CRYING OUTLOUD!
From the moment we set food in the restaurant we were treated with respect and kindness. The environment was unpretentious, comfortable and seemingly farmiliar. I felt as if going to a dinner party at a friends house…er…well the most extravagant dinner party EVER at a friends house.
Natural elements were carried throughout our experience. The stone, wood and pottery used in the decor matched the 'foraged', seasonal, all-natural, forrest-driven menu. We arrived early to soak the experience We ordered cocktails while we relished in the lounge, mine was a perfect apertif– Aperol, Cocchi Americano, Meyer Lemoncello, Schamsberg Blanc de Blanc. The bartender presented each cocktail, as if he had made it just for us just for the occassion. He informed me that the Meyer Lemoncello was made with lemons sourced from his grandmother's tree.
Lesson Number One: Personal touches matter!
We were not a group of VIPs but we sure felt like it. That timeless phrase, “treat others the way that you would like to be treated” applies in every aspect of life.
To start we were given a series of small bites (pictures 1-4), served with 2000 Billecart-Salmon “Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart”, Champagne. The first item was described to us as a “pillow on a pillow”–a light, luscious cracker filled with whipped formage blanc, that was presented to us by our server on a pillow. The second, an assortment of baby vegetables that had been fermented in champagne yeast overnight was presented to us natural stone, as if it had just come straight out of the garden. Next was “Kale Chips” and Pumpernickel-Radish macaroons, served on a picture book with descriptions of Chef Kostow's garden for the guests to read. Lastly, “Rutabega Fries” that on first look reminded me of the fried dough sticks I enjoyed at The State Fair when I was younger. The coating was deceptively light and the filling was a puree of rutabega.
At this point, my enthusiasm was through the roof. This was a show. This was thinking outside-the-box. This was FUN!
The first “menu” item was Whipped Yogurt, Black Sesame, Pickled Plum and Shiso. I should have taken a pen and paper out of my purse to make notes. The bite was small but complex. There were many layered elements that came together in harmony. Next Up: Green Tomato, Clam, Lovage and Sea Lettuce paired with 2012 Kongsgaard ” Albarino”, Napa Valley. I loved that each person at my table had a different enclosed glass dish. The glass was thick and embeveled. It reminded me of my grandmother's house.
The “Albarino” continued to support the next dish: Cucumber Seed Porridge with Costal Grasses. Followed by a play on various textures and preparations of potatoes: Potatoes Cooked in Beeswax with Assoted Sorrels paired with 2007 Jean-Marc Pillot Premier Cru “Les Chenevottes”, Chassagne-Montrachet. The wine carried into the next dish: Spot Prawn Summer Curry. These dishes were cohesive and wonderful. Having the sweet spot prawn with summer corn and bean components, follow the delicate potato dish made me think of a New England-style seafood boil. Pulling together the fish-and-potato mentality, the next item was Black Cod with Hazelnut, Sunchoke Minutina paired with 2008 Domaine du Cheteau de Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos des Grandes Vignes” Monopole, Nuits-Saint-Georges. This dish reminded me of flavors of “fish and chips” in the best way and was stunning with the Pinot Noit. We were served “Squab Tea” after our fish courses to segway into the Aged Squab with Napa Poutpourri, Wild Berry and Radish.
I watched in awe as one of the chefs came to pour our “Squab Tea” tableside. This consomme-like liquid was the perfect teamperature, rich and extremely flavorful. This gesture prepared our palates for the transition from fish courses to the meat courses.
My favorite wine pairing of the night was the 1997 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”, Napa Valley with Lamb, Sunflower “Tripe” with Pickled Lime. Our next dish was a cheese course to make the leap from savory to sweet. Brie Set in Flax with Elderberry Honey paired with 2001 Chateau Coutet, Sauternes-Barsac. The stinky cheese, coated with earthy flax, accompanied by the floral, acidic elderberry was PERFECT with the sweet Sauternes. My mouth waters just thinking about reliving that moment. A mildly sweet, cleansing dessert was next: Sorbet of our Verjus and Gjetost Celery. Folloerd by White Chocolate, Carrot, Malt and Lime paired with Maderia Barberito “20 Anos Malvasia”, Maderia. And finally, a “Plate of Local Fruit”, that was deceptive. Everything on the plate looked like fruit, had fruit flavors but was all hand made by the pastry chef.
The meal was impressive, playful and entertaining. Beyond the food I was completely enamoured by the knowledge and flawless, orchestrated service. This was one of the most memorable dining experiences I've had to date, and I thank the entire Meadowood staff for their hospitality. It was a pleasure dining with you, and I look forward to saving my pennies to return again in the future!


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