Friday, May 1, 2009

Bistro Jeanty, Yountville CA

I will fully admit that I am I glutton when I travel. I additionally admit that while I often ask for opinions from locals I frequently do not follow them. Sorry – I’m a bit pig-headed at times. After a long morning that already included Dotties, a walk to and across the GG Bridge, Pizza Orgasmica, and Kara’s cupcakes I next hopped into my rental (bear in mind the only reason I even rented was for my excursions to Los Gatos and Yountville) and made my way north for reservations at Redd for a 2:00pm lunch. Aside from the previously mentioned ::ahem:: ticket, the drive was nice-but-rainy, similar to my TFL trip in February, but the vines were growing and the landscape beautiful. Arriving at Redd 25 minutes early I sat down and perused the menu – only to realize it was 100% different from the online version and literally had nothing that sounded great (actually, not much sounded better than average) – the worst bait-and-switch ever…where once stood foie gras, sweet breads, and a duck egg now remained burgers and frites, hangar steaks, and calamari. The server told me this was due to “seasonal availability.” I promptly walked out as apparently the season at Redd was different from that at….well, every other restaurant I went to on the trip.

Setting my GPS to find Ubuntu I suddenly realized the time and figured I should look closer – I mean, I was in Yountville, there is certainly no lack of good food nearby. Having strongly debated Bistro Jeanty vs. Bouchon on my previous visit to Napa (choosing Bouchon to let my mother experience Keller’s food first-hand) yet somewhat concerned with Bauer’s scathing review I figured “what the hell” and found a parking spot just in front. Walking in I was greeted by a pleasant hostess and a very friendly/homey looking bar that made me smile – it reminded me of a college sports bar…that served French food…and everyone inside seemed to know everyone, like in Cheers. I was told the wait would be 10 minutes unless I wanted to sit at the bar. Normally not a “bar” sitter, I liked the feel of the place and realized that the bar had a clear view of the kitchen so I said sure.

Taking a seat at the bar I was greeted very pleasantly by the exuberant bartender (Jessica) and got to witness a really adorable interaction between a very elderly local sitting at the bar next to me as the servers helped him off his stool and to his walker, everyone in the restaurant wishing “Ralph” a farewell – again, the place just felt friendly, especially on a rainy day. Handed my menu, a glass of lemony water, and some warm bread and butter I made my selections – selections that were awesome but that I would come to regret when my stomach nearly burst later. (one additional comment before going on – the restrooms at Jeanty are hilarious – almost an afterthought and while immaculately clean, almost too small to be functional!)

Course one was a no brainer – it had to be the famous Crème de Tomate en Croute – a tomato soup served in a puffed pastry. While I’m not a huge tomato soup guy, I am someone who tastes a signature dish when given the chance and I must admit this soup was amazing. Rich and satisfying, buttery yet tart, and with a beautiful bronzed pastry dome I rather wish I’d have thought out my meal a little better (or had read the recipe online) because after finishing this dish alone I was wondering what I’d got myself into. With each serving featuring literally 3/4 cup of cream and 1/2 stick of butter make no mistake, it is good, but damn is it filling!

Dish two of the afternoon was an equally tantalizing choice to the soup and completed a “Soup and Salad” combo like no other. Salade aux Lardons et Oeuf Mollet, featuring wonderfully fresh frissee, cracked black pepper, house made garlic croutons, a poached egg, and bacon vinaigrette was simple in its preparation yet dynamic in its execution and another great vegetable dish on a trip that featured many. A creamy and fresh egg with the yolk approximately half done, the wonderfully crispy outside/soft inside croutons, and the most savory dressing ever with flavors of pepper and salty bacon. Another heavy choice I opted not to finish this dish (in retrospect a really good idea) but would definitely order again – vastly better than the similar salad I ordered at Chez Panisse Café during my previous trip.

My “main” as it were was yet another heavy, but obvious for me, choice – the Croutons de Foie Blond, or Foie Gras Mousse served on toast over a port poached pear. Aside from the beautiful presentation with a deep purple pear beneath crispy bread and smooth Foie, what struck me most about this dish was the incredible portion for the price. Literally the best “bang for your buck” Foie preparation I’ve ever had, the flavor was also remarkable and likely in my top 5 behind TFL, La Folie, BoMA, and Aqua. There really isn’t enough to be said about the pear which was perfectly poached yet still retained its texture and while the foie was airy and not a dense terrine, the texture/mouth-feel was very delicate and lacked any gaminess. If I had to utter one complaint it would be that the toasts were a tad small for the ample foie – I guess one can get spoiled when fresh/warm brioche is served repeatedly with their foie.

By this point in the meal I was already quite full and had planned to skip dessert and either swing by Bouchon Bakery or Oxbow Market if I felt hungry again before dinner, but Jessica (and another patron who I’d been talking to – a very large man who loved my selections and was amazed I could eat so much) created other plans. Telling me of a decadent “Strawberry Crepe Brule” that sounded amazing, I inquired “Sounds good, but I’m really full – what else do you have – maybe and ice cream or gelato?” To this she responed “well, there is the Bourbon Brioche Bread Pudding with Rum Raisin Ice Cream.” Damnit - my weakness. Already knowing Jeanty’s portion sizes I knew there was no way I could do the dish justice and I declined – that is, until the man said “Ah, go ahead and get it for him Jess, put it on my tab!”

While waiting for the dish I conversed with my acquaintance and he jokingly told me that the bread pudding was coma-inducing, that it is almost a requirement to take a nap afterwards. Laughing I told him of the time I did two bread puddings at two Emeril’s restaurants in Orlando within two hours. Shortly thereafter the dish was delivered – and oh what a dish it was. Layer upon layer of warm and buttery brioche with the most subtle hints of bourbon, golden raisins and layers of custard throughout, and an absurdly creamy raisin icecream that rivaled Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast in its texture and potency – magnificent and an absolute must order – I almost shed a tear when I had to send the last 3-4 bites back because I was so full.

Leaving Bistro Jeanty I bid farewell to the people at the bar and felt like I was walking out of a familiar place back home – absolutely stuffed and into the pouring rain. With a total bill that was well below the quality of the food or the service I can say my meal at Bistro Jeanty was one of the best “bargain” dining experiences in recent memory and I’d certainly return – but on an empty stomach. Perhaps I caught them on a good day or perhaps I just ordered well, but I’d recommend it over Bouchon for French Bistro food any day of the week – and the bread pudding – best in the Bay Area. For those who want to know, yes, the man at the bar was right – after the meal I went back to my car, reclined the seat, turned on some My Morning Jacket and slept for 45 minutes.

No comments: