Tag Archives: #StHelena

Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch: Reliably wonderful Napa Valley farm to table

You know you’ve found a favorite restaurant when you can eat there twice within a week, and the second meal is even better than the first. That’s how I feel about Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch, a Napa Valley restaurant that is a must for anyone traveling through the area, no matter how short your stay.


Longmeadow Ranch, like so many other winery-centric businesses in the Napa Valley, many businesses in one: tasting room, general store showcasing local products, casual eatery, fine restaurant, and private event venue. While all are well done here, it’s the restaurant, Farmstead, that takes center stage.


Having first tried Farmstead at the behest of a foodie friend last summer, it was an instant hit with me. Its shareable burrata appetizer and an addictive butterscotch pudding – so good our party of four ordered one and decimated it so quickly we ordered two more! – won me over. Alas, I was too slow to blog about it then. But two more recent visits later, and here I am, telling you that YOU. MUST. EAT. HERE. Fresh, local, and creative. Longmeadow Ranch takes your favorite food trends and innovates them – enough that they are recognizable but unique and great enough to be memorable.


Let’s talk about that Burrata, for example. Cool, creamy, oozy burrata is so good on its own, why mess with that? Longmeadow Ranch hears it. The result is basically mozzarella fondue, and it works beautifully. Try it alone, with its crackling olive-oil crostini, with a clove of accompanying roast garlic squeezed on top, with a dose of pickled onions or gherkins on top, or the marinated, pickled beets – or a little of all of the above. While part of me would like a sweet element to offset the saltiness and richness of the cheese, the different bites of various savory flavors still manage to to bring out different aspects of the burrata itself. Who knew burrata could have such versatility?


Love cheddar biscuits? Farmstead serves theirs slightly caramelized in a cast iron skillet with honey butter. They are nowhere near your heavy Cracker Barrel biscuit, but if you’re a Yelp user, you’ll be delighted to find out that they can be yours, complimentary, should you choose to check in on Yelp.

Ok, let’s talk about this menu.
First, the drinks. Farmstead makes some great cocktails; if you don’t like wine, they have many great ones. Beers aren’t a strong suit, so pick the cocktails, mocktails, or wine. Tip: Try a tasting next door, purchase a bottle and drink it at the table for $5 corkage – you’ll save a bunch over ordering off the restaurant menu. I love their Sauvignon Blanc. It is crisp, clean and versatile. Perfect for a warm afternoon on the patio, surrounded by greenery. The rosé is also fantastic – light, dry, fruity and tangy with watermelon and strawberry notes.


The food: Their current summer menu has many great options for starters, entree salads, and main courses. On my recent visits I opted for their summery salad with mixed greens, strawberries, feta, and almonds with pulled chicken first; on the second visit, I chose two small plates: beets and meatballs.

Let me just tell you that the beets and meatballs were extraordinary. I’ve talked in this blog at length about a few of my favorite food trends of the decade, including beets, Brussels sprouts, and kale. As cliche as they all can be, the last 15 years have made vegetable side dishes so delicious that people like me order them as an integral part of the meal and not a simple afterthought. In that perspective, I can’t roll my eyes when I see yet another version of them on a menu. Because they’re still nutritious (well minus all the additives to help them along) and delicious.


I am a fan of a sweeter, cold, pickled beet, but Farmstead again takes the route less traveled by making them savory and caramelizing them. Beets’ dense and juicy texture doesn’t lend themselves naturally to caramelizing, but Farmstead has made me rethink that assumption. The caramelization created an umami smokiness that paired well with the smooth, mascarpone-like goat cheese presented with it.


The all-beef meatballs also came as a harmonic and hearty small plate. Served with a tomato jam – really, reduced sweet tomato sauce and collard greens that had been broiled with high heat for an almost kale chip-like consistency, I could have eaten this dish or the beets alone as a filling main course. Our server had recommended them together, and I am grateful for the recommendation, as the two dishes did contrast nicely with one another.


My friends on these visits ordered beef tartare, macaroni and cheese (both pictured above), the pulled pork panini (not pictured), a vegetarian arborio rice dish not called risotto (but essentially was risotto), and the capellini primavera. 


Each one was fantastic in its own right. The ricotta capellini primavera, had an interesting tang to it, hinting of yogurt. The mac and cheese is one of those dishes worth the calories.

My one caveat for Farmstead is its lack of restraint with salt. I happen to love salt, but if you have sensitivity to salt, simply ask them to go easy on the salt, as their flavors tend to concentrate anyway and don’t necessitate salt.


For dessert, their new pastry chef frequently rotates dishes. Homemade ice creams and sorbet are delicate and vary daily; flavors on our visits included peanut butter and jelly (yum!), cucumber, and lemon-raspberry. Sadly, the memorable butterscotch pudding (photo near the top of this post)was a creation of the previous pastry chef, but we hope it will be resurrected later this summer (!). Other tempting dishes include fruit pies and cobblers.


I can’t recommend Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch enthusiastically enough. You’ll leave with a new or renewed appreciation of Northern California’s local bounty and culinary talent.

TwoBirds/OneStone: When you want an amazing meal to go with your Napa wine tour

Today, I highlight the newest breakout in Napa’s wine country restaurant scene. Two Birds/OneStone, located on the property of St. Helena’s Freemark Abbey winery, is Japanese-Californian yakitori fusion at its best.

Part of Freemark Abbey Winery’s Grand Re-opening festivities

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to experience the Grand Reopening celebration for Freemark Abbey’s renovated winery and new tasting room facilities. The gorgeous integration of old and new – the historic winery building was gutted down to its frame, and as rebuilt it features both old/reclaimed materials from the original building and new – adds new energy to my favorite winery.

But just as exciting is the Freemark’s partnership with TwoBirds/OneStone. The result of a happy friendship between Master Top Chef TV show contestants Douglas Keane (Sonoma-based Michelin starred chef) and Sang Yoon (LA based Asian specialty chef), the restaurant has ambitious aims. Upscale Asian restaurants, while plentiful in San Francisco, are few and far between in the Euro-centric Napa Valley – much less the casual small plate cuisine (such as yakitori, which traditionally are skewers of meat, primarily chicken) of Japanese Izakaya. At first glance, wine – particularly Freemark Abbey’s bold Cabernet Sauvignons – doesn’t seem the best match for Asian fusion.

Yet my group of friends and I soon learned the genius in combining regional poultry and produce with perfect execution. The nuanced flavors somehow worked well with California wine.

Surprisingly, the restaurant’s wine list featured no Napa or Sonoma Ames, instead highlighting select international wines. Baffled, we realized the restaurant’s goal was not to sell Freemark or Napa wines (why, when you can just walk next door!) but to offer patrons something unique for the area. If local wine is your fancy, however, you can take advantage of its FREE(!) corkage on any Napa or Sonoma county wine. For a restaurant of this caliber, this policy wins my support (especially after paying $65 corkage for one bottle recently in San Francisco). We took advantage of it on our visit, enjoying both a bottle of (unnamed) Sauvignon blanc made in a friend of a friend’s garage and Freemark Abbey’s Bootleg Blend – a powerful, yet smooth Bordeaux Blend concocted by Ted Williams, Freemark’s head winemaker.

Ok, so let me get to the food. The food was simply outstanding. Our group of five each ordered two of the restaurant’s small plates, which included a smattering of both cold and hot, both meat and vegetable based dishes. Dishes arrive as they’re completed, which was like a parade of culinary gifts for the palate. Each bite was a new surprise.

 

Kimchi lotus root

 
The lotus root kimchi was a great palate cleanser, its marinade lighter and less salty than traditional varieties. 

 

the black kale salad – so good, we ordered two!

 
The black kale salad married interesting textures and delicate Asian flavor. I couldn’t stop eating it. 

  
 The spinach with sesame-rice dressing also was a nice departure from the often overbearing, standard sautéed spinach that graces many a restaurant menu.

 

tender scallops and turnips with pea puree

 
As for the meat dishes, poultry, seafood, and beef each were outstanding. We sampled the night’s special – a raw scallop and radish concoction. Its subtle flavors and freshness were ideal for an appetizer, yet something about it (floral note?) reminded me of my grandmother’s house somehow.

  
 The rare salmon met my picky standards with zero fishiness that I usually pick up upon instantly.

 

duck breast, almost indescribably delicious

 
While these dishes were amazing, I much preferred the duck and chicken meatballs. I cannot do either dish justice in words. The duck was tender, its tamarind and cherry-based glaze the perfect, intensely sweet match for the meat. 

 

The humble meatball is as good as it gets at Two Birds/OneStone

 
The chicken meatballs were light, almost weightlessly melting in one’s mouth amidst a base of hoisin sauce. In fact, the chicken meatballs, deceptively humble, were the most memorable dish of the night. 

 

tender wagyu

 
Lest I neglect it, the crispy-on-the-outside, softly marbled inside Waygu beef short ribs also were about as good as wagyu gets.

   

kikori whiskey and chocolate custard, topped wirh cherry compote.


 We couldn’t skip dessert after such a great meal. We all shared the matcha (green tea) soft serve, as well as the kikori whisky and chocolate custard. The latter earned high praise from me. I could have eaten three orders of it single-handed. Like our savory dishes, it managed to be satisfyingly intense yet light. 

 

matcha green tea soft seeve with ginger crumbles

 
The matcha soft serve fit well with the restaurant’s theme, and the flavors were interesting, but it felt a little too much like eating sushi for dessert.

Unanimously, our group felt our dinner was a complete success. We managed to enjoy every bite and sip, along with great company, in a lovely, spacious winery setting. We also were happy that a meal at this level did not break our wallets – less than the equivalent of a bottle of Napa wine per person. I can’t wait to return.