I compiled this post with very mixed feelings. It recollects the fabulous time we had in Napa Valley just a couple of months ago, but my thoughts were first and foremost with those affected by the devastating wildfires that are sweeping through Sonoma and Napa counties, resulting in many casualties – they are deadliest in the history of California – destroyed homes and vineyards…
The Gentlemen’s Parlor (Napa)
While we were in Monterey Bay’s Aquarium, Chantal casually mentioned that I was starting to look like a walrus. She did refer to the fact that I hadn’t shaved for 2 weeks, and indeed my mustache did have a severe overhang. That evening I did an internet search to see if there were any barbershops in Napa. It seems that nowadays, barbershops are either hipster or 60+ (both the barbers and customers). I ended up at The Gentlemen’s Parlor (2758 Old Sonoma Road), a laid-back and nicely designed barbershop where Mario Montañez gave me an excellent shave and haircut.
Old Faithful Geyser of California (Calistoga)
Looking sharp again, we drove to Calistoga in the northern part of Napa Valley to see The Old Faithful Geyser of California (1299 Tubbs Lane). It is one of only 3 geysers in the world that erupt in a regular manner (the other 2 being the Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP and one in New Zealand). It’s not a big as the Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but with an interval of 20-55 minutes, we had 3-to-10-minute-long eruptions up to 80ft / 25m (all depending on the season of the year, but the cycles are always the same). They had made nice covered seating areas to be able to sit and await the next eruption – announced with a deep guttural rumble – in the shadows, which at 90℉/32℃ was very welcomed.
To kill time between the eruptions, there was a gift shop, a mini petting zoo (3 types of animals), a mini geology museum, and a tranquil garden.
Sterling Vineyards (Calistoga)
We had been warned that only a limited number of wineries are open for visits with kids, so we ended up at Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga) which had the added excitement that we had to take a cable car to visit the winery,
The “Silver Experience” we had chosen was USD 48 and consisted of 7 servings of limited-release wines. The kids got their own tasting kits with puzzles, crayons, and Gatorade and Cheese Cutz, and we had to pay admission only (USD 15) for them. The tasting tour started with a seated tasting and subsequently lead us throughout the entire premises and ended at a terrace. Together with a glass of our favorite white wines (the 2016 Sparkling Blanc de Blancs and the 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay), we enjoyed the delicious artisanal cheese & charcuterie pairing and admired the beautiful views over the northern part of Napa Valley.
Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena)
One of the must-do things in Napa Valley is Gott’s Roadside. Gott’s is a burger joint where everything is made-to-order using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. I would call it upscale rather than high-end as the prices were pretty reasonable (Burgers with Niman Ranch patties ranging from $8-13), but their execution and quality were excellent.
We visited their St. Helena location (933 Main St), but there is also one at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. The queue at 2pm says enough… You order at the cashiers, and once your order is ready, you can pick it up at the side of the diner where they also had a counter where you could also purchase additional beverages. No indoor seating, but there are plenty of picnic tables in the back if you are not on the go.
The options are plenty: besides an obvious selection of burgers, fries, and milkshakes, there are also hot dogs, fish taco’s as well as healthier options on the menu in the form of salads and soups. Also, all (12) burgers are available with vegetarian or turkey patties. With 8 beer on tap and a lovely wine assortment, many regular restaurants would be jealous!
Chantal opted for a cup of their Spicy Tomato Soup (House-made with chipotle chiles), a small Kale Salad (Kale and romaine lettuce tossed with parmesan cheese, focaccia croutons and balsamic vinaigrette) and the daily special of a grilled ear of corn, dusted with cheese. I had the fabulous Kimchi Burger (Fried egg, kimchi, American cheese, bacon & spicy gochujang mayo on a toasted egg bun) while the kids enjoyed a grilled cheese and a regular cheeseburger and vanilla and chocolate milkshakes. We benefitted from the Lagunitas Tap takeover as their IPA is one of the best!.
Heitz Cellar (St. Helena)
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Heitz Cellar (436 St Helena Hwy) for a quick tasting. They are famous for their icon Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but as their entry Cab is about $55, we bought some of their other entry-level wines, especially their Chardonnay and Grignolino are already delicious and at $20-25 reasonably affordable. Surprisingly, as the price level of wines in Napa was generally pretty high, the Heitz ones were pretty much at the same price level as I can get them in The Netherlands.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the swimming pool and had a late dinner at the Brazilian restaurant Galpaō (1990 Trower Ave), which we saw across from the hotel while poolside.
We had only had briefly looked at their website, so we hadn’t really paid attention that it was an all-you-can-eat grill restaurant. Chantal was initially quite excited (mainly about their extensive wine selection at the entrance 😅), but that subsided when she found out that after the salad buffet, there were no vegetarian options besides the standard side of Garlic Mashed Potatoes. It was perhaps to be expected for a Brazilian grill restaurant, but still. It was also one of our more expensive dinners ($60/30 per person), but the total of that night was mainly skewed by the excellent 2010 Eighty Four Petite Sirah I had picked from their wine-list 😇…
The main event was barbecued meat and fish: 17 different cuts (Picanha, Sirloin, Chicken Breast Wrapped in Bacon, Chicken Drumstick, Pork Chops with Parmesan Cheese, Grilled Salmon, Pork Loin, Beef Ribs, Rib Eye, Lamb Chops, Leg of Lamb, Spicy Picanha, Garlic Picanha, Filet Mignon, Pork Ribs, Beef Tenderloin Wrapped in Bacon and Brazilian-Style Sausages) that came straight from the grill and were served when ready.
A colour coded card indicated whether you were interested in more meat, so it was a non-stop parade of waiters between the tables seeking where they could offload their skewered meats. At first a somewhat restless dining experience, but you’ll soon get used to it. You just had to indicate how you preferred the meat cooked, and it was expertly cut from the skewers by the waiters. We already wondered why we got these tiny tongs next to the cutlery (we used them to take the bread from the baskets…), but they were meant to be used to pick the sliced meat from the skewers.
Whilst the kids and I feasted on the excellent meats, Chantal uttered many times: ‘This isn’t normal!!’ Our youngest replied to that: ‘Indeed, this isn’t normal; it’s fantastic!!’😂