I just returned from Napa Valley – took a weeks vacation there…

Just in time for it to be filled with the worst wildfire collection California has seen in a very long time.  Fifteen fires, all at the same time in the area, over 6,000 structures destroyed including homes and wineries, current count is at least 40 lives lost with about 200 people still unaccounted for.

So not exactly the trip I had planned, needless to say.  Thankfully a few months ago I gave my husband a list of Bed & Breakfasts to stay at, one in Santa Rosa (where the worst fire damage has been), one in Calistoga (which was completely evacuated the second day of our stay), and one in Downtown Napa (between the two largest fires, but far enough away from each that it was safe), he chose Napa back then, so we didn’t lose power, get evacuated, or have our lodging inaccessible/damaged.

Tuesday we walked down to the Oxbow public market to visit their cheese shop.  When we sat down we were informed that they were doing wine tastings, but no food.  Okay, so we enjoyed an afternoon of tasting, when I spotted a 1946 bottle of an interesting fortified wine on their list for tasting – 1946!  Bottled in 2014, that’s 68 years in the cask.  We sprung for a taste, and it was heavenly.  The man next to us, who was born in ’46 apparently, also heard and decided to give it a try.  We were chatting with him a bit, and found that while they didn’t have any bottles of the 46 left for sale, there were two bottles of the ’45… but as we were discussing purchasing one the gentleman we were talking to bought them both.  Helped make the decision easier, right?  We start to close out our check and leave, but then he asks the person behind the counter to draw out two glasses from one, one for him and one for us.  He gave us a full glass of this very interesting and pretty rare wine!  More talking to find out that he was the CFO of LaToque, a Michelin starred restaurant in town, so on his advice we made Wednesday night reservations there – and it was completely worth it.  Their wine pairing with dinner was the best I have ever encountered, though Club 33 came damn close.

The main driving force for the visit was to get the French Laundry off my bucket list, we had reservations for Thursday night, a hard won opportunity.  Because of the power outages, staffing concerns (needless to say people had other things to deal with that kept them away from work, understandably so), and other issues, Thursday afternoon we got the cancellation notice. Alright, I am not to be deterred – Thomas Keller lured me to the valley so I was going to eat at a Keller Group restaurant!  Because Ad Hoc was supposed to open that night, I made reservations there.  Then my phone rings with a local number and my stomach dropped.  Turns out, in order to have enough staff and such, they were merging Ad Hoc and Bouchon (the third Keller Group restaurant in Yountville) and our reservations were transferred to Bouchon.  Okay!

Interestingly enough, halfway through our dinner a group was sat at the table behind my husband, and as I look over I see a very familiar face.  I make the spouse check for me, because I couldn’t quite believe it, but sure enough it was Chef Keller himself!  Clearly, the man eats at his own restaurants.  Because of the stress and such, we didn’t bug him at all, but it was just kind of surreal and awe inspiring to have dinner next to Thomas Keller.  All the staff treated him with respect, but also as one of the crew.  Various people from other tables dropped by to have a quick hello with “Chef” and we came to realize we may have been the only tourists in the house that night – everyone else interacted with each other as a local member of a relatively small community.

After our five days in Napa we went to San Francisco for the weekend – I never thought I would exclaim how good the air quality was in that town!  Over all a series of surreal events and a hazy half-closed town, we still had some great moments even though the plan certainly didn’t survive first contact.

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