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.
“HI CHEF KOSTOW, I THINK YOU ARE REALLY NEAT!”
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!