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Small Town, Big Taste

Yountville Packs a Culinary Punch on Par with Any City In America

You could say I’m jaded. As bad as it sounds, I’ve found that life in San Francisco has spoiled me. I now expect greatness when I enter a restaurant (usually, anyway). Dining out is an expensive endeavor, and anything that falls short of living up to the end-of-the-night tab is unacceptable.

Before I’m exiled to Snob Island, I hasten that I am not alone. There are many like me in the Bay Area – those accustomed to life surrounded by ready access to fresh ingredients prepared by chefs who have come from far and wide to cook with them. We’re all spoiled here, but in Wine Country, we’re being spoiled rotten. While San Francisco – all 49 square miles of it – is well known for its culinary prowess, there is a town in Wine Country that gives the City By The Bay a run for its money.

Regular visitors to Yountville know what I’m talking about. The tiny town – basically one street – packs a bigger culinary punch that most any other town in the California. Yes, including San Francisco.

Okay, so, the fact that Yountville is home to one of the world’s best restaurants (depending on the survey and the year – the best) certainly brings the curve up a bit. But French Laundry not withstanding, there is more to please the picky palate in Yountville than in any other tucked-away corner of the earth.

Still, let’s start with French Laundry (6640 Washington St., 707-944-2380; www.frenchlaundry.com), where reservation are coveted and anticipated like an inheritance from a long-lost granny. Famed chef Thomas Keller is the star of the show, and his innovative cooking has had food scribes waxing poetic for more than a decade now. It’s really about the experience– one that serious foodies should enjoy at least once in their life. So make a point of signing up, planning the visit, and indulging in the rather exorbitant prix-fixe menu.

Once you’ve experienced the benchmark of Yountville, the rest is easy – though no less enjoyable. You must, however, travel more than a couple blocks to escape Kellar’s gravitational pull. Nearby is his charming and never-disappointing Bouchon (6534 Washington St.; 707-944-8037; www.bouchonbistro.com), which emits a lower wattage than The Laundry, but manages all its gastronomical satisfaction. In the style of a traditional bistro, the food is not fussy, the service is professionally brusque, and the steak frites are mandatory. Complete your Kellar trifecta the following morning with a flaky-good croissant and an eye-opening cup of French roast from Bouchon Bakery (www.bouchonbakery.com) just across the courtyard.

But Kellar isn’t the only star in the Yountville food universe. There are other names as ubiquitous, including Philippe Jeanty, whose Bistro Jeanty (6510 Washington St.; 707-944-0103; www.bistrojeanty.com) is a favorite among locals. The amiable Jeanty knows his way around French provincial preparations and this place drips with authenticity. More recently, he’s appealed to the carnivorous wine country diner with the excellent PJ Steak and Seafood (6772 Washington St.; 707-945-1000; www.pjsteak.com), which he opened to provide a forum for pairing the region’s best wines with top-quality well-aged meat.

Also in the Yountville orbit is Bob Hurley, a local celeb and food-lover’s favorite whose Hurley's Restaurant and Bar (6518 Washington St.; 707-944-2345; www.hurleysrestaurant.com) is a reliable outpost for inspired wine country fare in a lively come-as-you-are atmosphere. Hurley used to be in charge at Napa Valley Grille (6795 Washington St.; 707-944-8686; www.napavalleygrille.com) and he left the place in fine form. The Grille is still local favorite, and it epitomizes wine country dining, with hearty seasonal dishes and a dazzling wine list.

Another of Yountville’s destination restaurants is the beautiful Domaine Chandon (1 California Dr.; 707-944-2280; www.chandon.com), the winery and hard-to-get-into restaurant owned by Moët et Chandon, renowned for its tempting seasonal fare and its sparkling wine.
And of course no conversation about Yountville dining is complete without mentioning the well-known roadside restaurants, Brix (7377 St. Helena Hwy.; 707-944-2749; www.brix.com) and Mustard's Grill (7399 St. Helena Hwy.; 707-944-2424; www.mustardsgrill.com), two of the most popular restaurants in all of wine country and each worthy of the high regard.