It’s a beautiful Friday in San Francisco. The skies are clear, and the sun is high and strong. This can only mean that the the sky is bluer and the sun stronger in Napa, where the weather is always ten times better than that of SF. What better day than a weekday to zip up north, before weekend traffic hits and draws gently curved lines of cars into the verdant landscape.
If only the landscape were verdant. One of the first things I notice on our drive is the apparent brownness of the hills. California is currently enduring the driest rainy season on record and is now in its fourth consecutive year of exceptional drought. I feel melancholy for the hills, for the farms, for ours and a hefty percentage of our country’s produce. We stop at a country fruit stand on the way to St. Helena, and I have a scary thought: what if California ceases to be the salad bowl of the country? What if my state can no longer replenish our fruit bowls? What if the next generation grows up clueless as to the virtuousity of California produce and its bountifulness? I once was sitting on the patio of Real Foods in my neighborhood when I smelled the unmistakable fresh, sweet scent of a just-peeled orange. I asked the man at the table next to me which variety he bought from the store. “Oh this? I picked it from a tree in the south bay this morning.” What if that doesn’t happen anymore?!
For now, there are still fruit stands and functioning farms, and so one of the culinary epicenters of the world thrives on. The restaurants in Napa County are all so handsomely designed, the food staggeringly impressive yet so simple and fresh. I adore St. Helena for its picture-perfect-ness, not a rose out of place, not a shop I don’t like. I fall particularly hard for Napa Vintage, where I pick up every Provencal dish and dream about my future wine country kitchen, strategizing on how to mix Italian and French dinnerware. It is a puzzle for another day. Certainly I will shop at Dean & Deluca, which has a very different location here in my new city than my former neighborhood Dean & Deluca in SoHo. Here, I can get my California fresh salad to go and eat it on the adjacent lawn overlooking the company’s own vineyards. This is very agreeable to me.
Another Class-A picnic spot is at the French Laundry’s private herb garden. Imagine watching white-coated chefs step out of the kitchen, cross the street, and carefully pick strawberries, placing them gently in a small bowl or basket. They cross the ‘garden’ and enter the greenhouse. We spend a few moments frolicking in the French Laundry’s herbs before we walk back to town.
In Yountville, another movie-set village, we poke into the contemporary Bardessono Hotel. We vow to return for a spa treatment and an afternoon at their second-level pool. In the evening, after a few hours at the pool, we would most certainly mosey down to Redd, where I would likely order one of everything on the ever-changing menu. If I were to crave a little bit of action, a little bit of everything in one place, I would drive farther south to Oxbow Market, where my senses bounce off the walls and I feel just a tad bit nostalgic for Mercato Centrale in Firenze. Luckily there is a small Pasticceria stand as well as Ca’ Momi. There is also a fresh produce section, fabulous sushi, The Fatted Calf, a Hog Island outpost, Ritual Coffee, and more spices than I will need in a lifetime. It’s the perfect spot to stop for a little dinner on the way back to the city. We zip right back to San Francisco with no traffic, whilst on the other side of the road, the aforementioned line of cars is drawing a line through the vineyards like something out of Harold and his Purple Crayon.