There is no better place to do absolutely nothing but eat and drink. Boasting more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the United States, Napa Valley is a serious culinary destination. Food-minded visitors should come prepared to sip and savor all that the region has to offer. With so many lauded, well-known culinary havens, the hardest part may be choosing where to indulge in a memorable, multi-course experience.
Without question, Yountville is the culinary center of Napa Valley. Washington Street, which runs down the center of town, feels a bit like a foodie Disneyland in a wonderful, star-struck kind of way. Often touted as one of the best restaurants in the world, Thomas Keller's French Laundry is a reason in itself to come to Northern California.
The unassuming facade gives way to Thomas Keller's meticulousness. Known for his precision and perfectionism, each daily chef's tasting menu is carefully constructed to showcase the day's or season's best ingredients, many of which are grown in the garden across the street.
Leeks growing in the French Laundry garden — Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Cellars, Napa Valley
While the quality of the food and the experience is taken quite seriously, many of the dishes at French Laundry are whimsical and playful. With dishes like "Oysters and Pearls," "PB&J" with foie gras and concord grape gelée, and "Coffee and Donuts," the most perfect beignets served with a cool espresso semifreddo, Keller wants his diners to finish each course of the nine-course tasting menu surprised, delighted, and wanting one more bite. Additionally, the restaurant's wine list runs over a hundred pages.
Tartare of Korege Beef — Photo courtesy of arnold inuyaki
While the French Laundry may be the most well known of the valley's restaurants, it's certainly not alone. Farther north in St. Helena, the Restaurant at Meadowood has also deliciously earned three stars in both 2011 and 2012. Their philosophy and approach to food is more open and creative - each guest has a menu created for them based on a conversation with the server and what sort of experience they would like to have at the restaurant.
Chef Christopher Kostow then turns out a nine or ten course tasting menu with an optional wine pairing. This emphasis on fluidity in the kitchen and a singular dining experience for every guest makes a meal here quite unique and extraordinary.
The team at the Restaurant at Meadowood — Photo courtesy of Meadowood
While less personal than the restaurant at Meadowood, Auberge du Soleil was one of the first fine dining destinations in Napa Valley, and the restaurant there still offers a beautiful setting for a luxurious meal either ordered a la carte, or as part of a six course tasting menu with optional wine pairings. Studded with Osetra caviar and crescendoing with orange-glazed suckling pig, indulgent meals are complimented by the breathtaking views.
The view at Auberge du Soleil — Photo courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
At a similarly luxurious culinary level, Keller's Bouchon has also earned one Michelin star (order the perfect roast chicken in this charmingly classic French bistro), as did Richard Reddington's restaurant, Redd - a wonderful place to take part in a decadent five course meal with wine pairings.
It's easy to move from one extraordinary eating experience in Napa to the next, and a few of the valley's restaurants are truly transcendental, offering culinary experiences that cannot be had in other places. Pairing the incredible ingredients that are so carefully cultivated there with the various chef's imaginations and techniques produces some truly memorable meals.