SAN FRANCISCO, MAY 2 — I laughed last week when I received a “coupon” for dinner for two with wine pairings at the Restaurant at Meadowood for $635.
I mean we’d already eaten at the budget busting French Laundry so could Michelin three star chef Christopher Kostow’s meal really be that expensive?
Of course it could be. (Kostow [@CKostow] and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry share the distinction of being the only three starred Michelin chefs in California.)
Doing a little Internet research showed me that Kostow’s St. Helena restaurant now boasts the most expensive meal in California. Bloomberg reported that patrons can order a meal that includes up to 20 courses and costs $500 per person not including wine. With wine, the reporter estimated that a couple would walk out the door after paying a $2,000 bill.
I gulped a little bit because I’d already booked us a table last Friday night for dinner but I allayed my fears when I realized there was a more economical and less filling option that didn’t cost $500 or include 20 courses.
And I figured we could economize a bit more by bringing our own bottle of wine for a corkage fee of $50 with a maximum of two bottles of wine. We brought an amazing 2008 Gemstone with us. (We never drank this though at the last minute we opted to truly celebrate the year and get the wine pairings.)
The Restaurant at Meadowood is housed in an exclusive resort —Meadowood — where you are waved in by a guard.
We’d experienced the beauty of the place a few weeks before when we ate at the delicious Grill at Meadowood for the bargain Napa Valley price tag of $50 per person plus $25 for wine pairing. NOTE: Even though it’s directly underneath the restaurant, the grill is independent.
Wanting to enjoy wine with our food, we arrived by a private car that had been arranged for us by a kindly desk clerk. This had the pleasant side effect of having a far cheaper price tag than a taxi, which would have cost us at least $60 each way — an eyebrow raising sum for a 10 minute drive. Our driver charged us $25 per way and we traveled in the back of a beautifully appointed Jaguar.
Also in the money saving category, we stayed at a far cheaper hotel after I got us a last minute deal in downtown St. Helena for $150 a night. This included a continental breakfast.
OK, sorry I don’t mean to get so sidetracked but I guess I just want to let you know there are ways to economize when visiting Napa Valley.
Back to dinner.
We arrived at the newly renovated restaurant slightly early. Our reservation wasn’t until 8:45 p.m. — so late to be stuffing in so much food — but we’d been told if we arrived early for a drink at the bar, there was the possibility that we could be seated early. (The dress at Kostow’s Meadowood was far more relaxed than that of the French Laundry. And while Keller’s restaurant felt like a pilgrimage to me, Meadowood just seemed like an exceptional meal made by a brilliant chef. I am sure Kostow is well on his way to acquiring a culinary deity status like Keller’s.)
The bar area is super small with soaring ceilings and a large fireplace. For whatever reason the decor for the entire restaurant and bar make me think of a cozy place in Nantucket — maybe it was the beams and white paint.
A nice side note on the bar is you can arrive there without a reservation and eat dinner. (While reservations at the Restaurant at Meadowood are not as hard to come by as The French Laundry. The only caveat for bar dining is that it is first-come, first-serve and I’d hate to be there and end up waiting while someone ate their 20 courses.
I’d just been served a slow bubbling rose champagne when our table was announced. We happily decamped to a beautiful spot in the 44 seat dining room right next to a window.
And then it all began.
Our waiter asked our dietary restrictions and our likes and dislikes. He presented us with an enormous wine list that also included a description of our choices. (The restaurant is owned by exclusive winery owners — H William Harlan of Harlan Estate and Stan Kroenke owner of Screaming Eagle . Consequently guests benefit with exclusive offerings from these wineries and Harlan’s winery, BOND Estates .)
There was no set menu for the night and while I’m not sure if each table received a different dish. I did see similar plates being brought out to other tables throughout the course of the night, including to the four next to us that arrived at least an hour after us and ordered the 20 dish tasting menu. (Oh the pain the kitchen staff must have been feeling when that order came in.)
So now the food, which by the way was served on beautiful ceramic plates that each qualified as a piece of art. (My photos stink. Yes, I know. My companion wasn’t too excited about my desire to take photos with my iPhone especially after someone dropped a glass two seconds after I took one.)
Kostow sent out four gorgeous amuse bouches — I’m unsure which was my favorite but I loved the pillow on a pillow, which was a small square of dough topped with a flower and a tiny frond of fennel that contained fromage blanc.
That was our first taste, a lovely blend of anise-like flavor that came with a surprising shock of cold smooth cheese.
Now on to the real meal.
The dishes of our nine course tasting menu were so inventive, often surprising and always stunning.
Kostow sent out plates that were amazing balanced and had such a variety of texture. Throughout the night we also enjoyed such sensational wine pairings from wine director Michael Ireland. They were tremendous. (Here is a link to the menu with a special thanks to Meadowood for sending it to us. My mother was so excited to receive it.)
And I know my editor is dying to know the price of this wonderful night. The tasting menu was $225 per person with an additional $225 per person for the wine pairing.
If I had to choose my favorites from the night, it would be extremely hard.
I began feeling like I was truly eating something unforgettable when I was served the tuna. The fish was served with venison carpaccio, pickled kohlrabi, Ossetra caviar and sorrels. The tenderness of the tuna and venison coupled with the salty pop of the caviar with the crunch of the kohlrabi. I can only wish my description would do the impeccable flavors justice. That came with a lovely glass of 2008 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Viognier from the Santa Rita Hills.
Now moving on to where I embarrassed myself.
Kostow continuously came out of the kitchen to greet tables and talk to guests — including delivering a birthday cake wrapped in paper with a bow to the table next to us. He told the diner that he’d heard it was his birthday and to unwrap the plain yet elegantly wrapped package carefully. When the man did he found a gorgeous cake inside.
Back to where I embarrassed myself.
So we’d been served cod — a fish of which I’m not ordinarily fond — that came with tuber roots and I was just popping some in my mouth and making exclamations of delight because it tasted amazing when Kostow came by.
When he walked over, I think I was saying something witty like “Oh my God. Oh my God.” He quickly walked away saying something along the lines of that’s all he could ask for in a reaction. But I really had a dozen different questions I’d wanted to ask about his food.
Perhaps one day I’ll have a real conversation with a chef. Sigh.
With the cod, we were served a lovely 2008 School House Chardonnay from Spring Mountain.
I adored the coal roasted sturgeon — the crisp crust on the fish and the soft tangy spring taste of multiple types of onions set against the backdrop of a lovely creamy sauce. That came with the 2008 Remelluri Blanco Rioja from Spain.
And finally my favorite dish of the night was this amazing piece of Kobe beef steak that sliced as smoothly as butter and was served with a madrone sauce — a delicious fortified red wine. This was accompanied by the most lovely morel mushroom that had been rehydrated using brown butter. It was so rich and flavorful.
It was here that I questioned Ireland’s wisdom. (I know ridiculous considering this guy has passed the advanced sommelier exam. Do you know a bit about the sommelier tests? Unimaginably hard and yes, I know I’m obsessed with it. Learn more here at the Court of Master Sommeliers.)
We’d been poured a 1997 Whitehall Lane Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The age of the wine gave it this earthy flavor that I didn’t enjoy by itself. However, coupled with the dish the wine was sublime.
Far too quickly we’d reached dessert and our final wine pairing. It was a truly exceptional meal.
At the end of our dinner, I rudely asked if we could see the newly remodeled 3,000 square foot kitchen. (I’m getting a little out of hand with this blog.) But our waiter kindly took us back and with great pride described the recent renovations that had doubled the size of the kitchen to Kostow’s specifications.
Feeling a bit awkward about invading his kitchen, we were thrilled to get to talk to Kostow for a short time.
We had a nice but brief chat. He did say that there are a few projects that he’s working on and came over and shook hands before going back to work.
A few minutes later our driver arrived and this culinary adventure was over.
(You can find a link to Sarah’s story about San Francisco’s Ferry Building here.
Restaurant at Meadowood
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena, California 94574
Welcome to Sarah’s life of wine, travel, food and child. Sarah Abruzzese is a former Washington D.C., reporter, living in southern California. She’s working on launching 7 SUNDAYS CLOTHING (www.7SundaysClothing.com), a UPF 50+ sun protective clothing company for children. Beside working on the clothing line, she spends her days running after a toddler and then if there is time left over, eating well, visiting wine country and exploring the West Coast. Follow her travels on twitter #sabruzzese.