Auberge du Soleil

Over the weekend I agreed to meet a new friend for lunch in the East Bay. I was thinking something innocuous and friendly, like Fat Burger or some other unknown local eatery. Joe picked me up a BART and had other ideas; Napa’s famed Auberge du Soleil. Wow. All the years I lived in Napa, I had only had an occasional glass of bubbly or attended some private, catered event at the institution. I had never eaten off their menu…

We were seated on the terrace overlooking the valley that had been my home for so many years. There was some debate on how many courses to order and Joe forged through with one of my favorite philosophies: Order whatever you want. What a joy! Thankfully, bites were shared across the board so I got a good sampling of a fairly extensive menu. Joe was very sweet in letting me order the wine and considering the lovely warm weather, I opted for a 2002 Dr. Loosen Riesling which was lightly sweet with delicate hints of a floral aroma and a perfect balance of acidity. Overall, it was a great wine to pair with our day’s offerings…

Joe started with Shrimp Tempura with pickled vegetables, crunchy scallop, and soy vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was creamy versus a classic oil-and-vinegar style and made a great accompaniment. The batter on the tempura was a bit thick and cakey for my taste, but the scallop was encased in shredded filo was delightfully light. Overall the Asian flavors were well-executed and the contrast of textures quite nice.

Sautéed foie gras with cherries and torchon with honey gelée served with brioche. The torchon was a fairly standard offering except that it was served on some powdered lemon verbena along with the gelée which made the offering light and refreshing. This juxtaposed with the perfectly seared foie and the scrumptious cherries which was a magnificent offering.

Poached lobster salad with bibb lettuce, almonds, haricots verts, and curry vinaigrette. This was a stunning concoction and was made most remarkable by the Loosen wine pairing. The lobster was perfectly prepared and not overly chewy with the curry being just spicy enough to entice. Great Sunday afternoon offering and I could have happily finished my meal right here.

Monterey Bay squid salad with chickpeas, roasted peppers, and Picholine olives. The squid were excellent and had nary a tendency towards the rubberiness that can be so prevalent with cooked squid. The saucing was nice with a bit of mustard grain in the vinaigrette. What did not work at all were the olives which I don’t believe were Picholine at all, but tasted like overly brined green Martini olives. They overwhelmed the delicacy of the squid.

Wild shrimp risotto with heirloom tomatoes, and a tarragon and basil emulsion. I believe by reading the description of the dish that a prevalence of shrimp might have existed. While minimal in actual bites, the overall flavor was delightful and elegant. The tarragon/basil ring which surrounded the creamy concoction provided a bright, complex juxtaposition against the richness of the rice.

Day Boat scallops, sweet white corn, wild mushrooms, Prosciutto nage. My main offering of the day was the scallops which were monstrously huge with a great crispy exterior and very tender, succulent interior. They were sitting atop bites of very fresh corn and earthy mushrooms. The Prosciutto nage made for a very rich dish and I was having difficulty finishing the bites. Happily, Joe helped out.

Weakness reigned when it came to order desserts. I was torn between and two and Joe was torn between two and with one overlap between our choices, Joe ordered all three much to my delight.

Crispy filo-wrapped chocolate dumplings with tarragon ice cream and Arbequina olive oil. What called to me about this dessert was the tarragon ice cream and it did not disappoint. The warm, crunchy pockets exuded rich, creamy warm chocolate that was so well complemented with the tarragon ice cream and occasional swath of olive oil. Delectable.

Fromage blanc cheesecake, blackberries, hush puppies, and bay leaf jus. This might have been the winner of the day just for the bay leaf jus under the macerated blackberries and startlingly inventive hush puppies. Honestly, I didn’t give a hoot about the cheesecake. We had a bit of a battle over who was getting the last berry and hush puppy. This dessert was inventive and with the addition of the herb was brilliant.

Blueberry peach tart with oatmeal streusel, verbena ice cream, and Banyuls gastrique. Of the three, this was to most pedestrian and uninspired, except for the verbena ice cream which heightened the dish. It was very well prepared with an excellent crust, but nothing ground breaking other than its comfort-food quality.

Overall, the offerings were fascinating and well-prepared, but it was the desserts where the envelope got pushed. For me, out of the savory dishes, my seared foie and curried lobster salad were the most memorable. A truly beautiful day and the beginning of a great friendship!
Auberge Du Soleil Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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