St. Helena Bang Bang

So, I had to go to Santa Rosa this past weekend for work. It was bittersweet, due to the aftermath of the fires. The persistent aroma of burnt wood mixed with the extemporaneous goodwill of the community’s residents made for a touching visit. And since I don’t get up to that part of the world very often, I contacted the Restaurant at Meadowood to see if they were open for business. They were and I booked the three course bar menu through Tock (spoiler alert: I had a second dinner at Two Birds/One Stone afterwards).

Suffice it to say, the Meadowood property is gorgeous and upon reaching the door, I was whisked onto a bar seat by a brigade of service staff. It is a very warm and inviting room with good natured bartender who got me started.

The meal started with a flight of amuses:

This was some sort of pea thing “from the garden” (this would be an ongoing chant throughout the meal) that was wrapped in some sort of pea thing. Predictably, it tasted like a snow pea.

This was a squash blossom with some creme fraiche and some other stuff. Tasty, like a fancy chip and dip situation.

This was a sunchoke filled with sunchoke that did not taste like a sunchoke.

This was an oyster with mignonette. No complaints here.

This was smoked eel with beef tongue wrapped in a nori made with something other than seaweed that did not taste of either eel, tongue, nor nori.

Bartender asked me if I was ready to get started. Of course - let’s go!

Behold, the foie-vocado. Served with some really amazing bread (apparently, “Chef” has been riffing on this bread for years). This is so pretty and the technicality is beyond impressive. Fat with fat to smear on bread is like a win-win. But the fats sort of cancelled each other out. Mind you, I would have had seconds of this, but the wow was more in the form than in the flavor. Zero acid to cut the fat.

Sunflower pasta filled with spot prawn puree with mushrooms and other parts of the sunflower sprinkled about. This was probably my favorite dish, but I would be hard pressed to sense the presence or the relative benefit of the sunflower components. They were just really beautiful agnolotti filled with great quality seafood. I could have had seconds of this as well.

I made it a point to not fuss with the staff and declare openly my dislike of eggs. Lo and behold, an egg yolk reared its ugly head! But I was willing to give it a shot. Having said that, I don’t think I would have liked this even if I loved eggs. It was a piece of bread with some slippery and grey pieces of chicken thigh stuffed inside, alongside a cup with an egg yolk and soy. The instructions were to dip the bread/chicken thing in the soy/yolk mixture. This was so akward as the chicken easily fell outside its little passage inside the bread and the dipping sauce really did it no favors. This was just an odd experience and seemed to lack the refinement that the previous dishes were aspiring towards.

This is a piece of wagyu beef from somewhere in the midwest that was smoked in a box that they brought to my seat. It was taken from the box and placed on a dish. Then, the server took out the world’s tiniest garlic press and took out a similarly tiny piece of black garlic. Upon pressing this garlic, he then took what looked like a demitasse spoon and daintily scraped off a barely perceptible amount into a cup of jus. I was told that the jus had been cooking for two days, along with some oxtail and other things I cannot remember. The takeaway is that it tasted like a pretty normal (not very well marbled) piece of beef with some stock reduction. None of the pomp was really evident upon taking a bite. It was good, but you would think that my consciousness would have been raised after all of the brouhaha I was served.

At the beginning of the meal, I confirmed that I do not drink and that I request no raw alcohol. The bartender told me that there was a dessert that had some alcohol that would be burned off and if that were acceptable. I said I was, if that be the case. What you see before you is eggplant foster, flambeed with rye. It has been a really long time since I have even considered the concept of a flambé, so I took the staff’s assurance at heart and went forth. Still a bit cautious, I took a tiny little taste. And my mouth lit up like it was on fire. This was so fucking boozy that I just paused and guzzled down the glass of water in front of me. I told one of the staff that there was too much alcohol content for my taste and that I could not finish it. In a very matter of fact manner, the dish was taken away. I did say that I was alright and that nothing needed to be done about it. And true to my word, nothing was done (I’ll get to that in a bit)

This is a very cute box of petit fours, that had a lot of explanation to go along with it: “Each the peach beignet first”; “That’s cherry nori”). All very good candies and a good antidote to the aftertaste of the eggplant dessert.

I payed my bill was invited to come into the kitchen. It appears that this is a routine part of every diner’s experience as one of the chefs came to my side and gave me a pretty standard overview of the rather impressively large kitchen. Of note, the Chef’s Counter looked kind of uncomfortable, sitting up close to one of the kitchen walls with all of the cacophony of chef’s sounds about. I was escorted to the door, diverted to the restroom (which was very cozy), and walked back to my car.

Mind you, I could have easily gone back to my hotel…but I really wanted to try this Douglass Keene/Sang Yoon thing while I was in the neighborhood. And it was just up the road…

The place is cavernous! At least it felt that way. Business was likley down due to the presence of the fires. But no, it is a very large space with very high ceilings. The relative calm of the dining room was contrasted with a rather large birthday party taking place in a very large private dining area (I feel like I am writing a children’s book right now)

Started with a dish of tai sashimi. Very tasty and kind of a warm welcome from the austerity of the Meadowood expereince. The flavors popped (there was oyster leaf and some other components that I cannot recall. Super tiny portion, but delicious.

A proportionately larger dish of Japanese eggplant. The server kept saying something to the effect of “Who would think to put garlic and eggplant together?!?!?!?” I thought the question was more odd than his amazement (I wanted to declare “I can! I can imagine!”). This had good flavor as well, but a bit much for me, volume wise. I stopped about half way through as the bites became redundant.

Scallops that had reportedly been cooked over bintochan with some edamame puree, beets, and compressed melon. I sort of liked each of the components on their own, but they didn’t really harmonize well in concert. And I highly doubt if those scallops were really grazed by the heat of that super hot charcoal. They were room temperature, at best. They tasted good and I finished the plate. Everything on that plate are things I enjoy. They just didn’t seem to get along as well as they might have under different circumstances.

“coconut milk panna cotta, passion fruit curd, green tea rice pearls” is the menu description and it delivered on its promise. They green pebbles on the top were rather odd texturally and didn’t really add any flavor. Truth be told, the coconut milk panna cotta itself would have been just fine without the adornments.

And I will take Lukshon any day. Any day.

By this time, I am quite full and my curiosity sated. I finally head back to my hotel for a good night’s rest.

Friends have been asking me about Meadowood and I can easily declare that the bar menu was an absolute value for that level of dining. Despite the fact that the food in sum did not really sing to me, there was a lot of care and technique involved in the preparation and the staff and environment were welcoming.

I might be out of line, but a post-meal conversation with a fellow food enthusiast had me thinking about my desert experience. I don’t see the same sort of verbiage on their website as I had seen a while back that alluded to Meadowood providing a bespoke experience based on conversations with the guests (I had read previous reviews as well that stated that observations had sort of refuted this - most everyone gets everything the same in the dining room, conceit or not). Despite my dietary restriction, the bartender really sold this eggplant foster as a “safe” choice on the front end of the meal. And despite my insistence that nothing needed to be done about it after I expressed my displeasure with the dish, nothing was done, not even a discussion. At this level of restaurant, there might be an expectation that the kitchen will at least attempt to go above what might be normally expected to please their guests. An assumption (which was provided by my friend) is that they probably didn’t have anything else to offer. Which is fine, I suppose. It hearkens back to my recent experience at Maude for their “greatest hits” menu (I should probably post more about that on the LA board, as it truly didn’t deliver on its promise). At Maude, it became very clear to me that they don’t make any modifications because they are unable to - the menu is programmed to within an inch of its life without the allowance of any flexibility from the kitchen. And I got the same feeling a bit from Meadowood. Again, not a bad meal - but kind of an odd one. I went in with low expectations, but also sort of hoping that there would be moments where my eyes would roll into the back of my head with amazement.

If you were wondering and happened to be in the neighborhood, the bar menu might indeed be a great way to have the experience. If I had payed $300 and sat through a three hour degustation, I might have become quite irritated. But zero regrets. And zero desire to have eggplant in my dessert for now.


“Eggplant Foster.” Hmm.