There are so many fine restaurants in the Napa Valley that it was a difficult choice to make when my wife asked me where I wanted to eat dinner to celebrate my sixty-fourth birthday. After a moment of reflection, however, I eagerly suggested The Farmstead Restaurant in the quaint town of St. Helena, which is about 17 miles north of the city of Napa, and right in the heart of wine country.
I had eaten at Farmstead once before and from that moment on, owing to the casual atmosphere, attentive service and, I must confess, to having experienced the finest bowl of chili I’ve ever tasted, I knew that I must return. The chili, I should explain, is not an entrée; it is a first course and is decidedly not your run-of-the-mill, everyday chili. What it is, however, is a delicious reflection of all of the things that make Farmstead exceptional: their ingredients are local, farm-fresh, and organic; and their dishes are unique and creative. The chili, for example, is made from Long Meadow Ranch’s exceptionally tender, all natural grass-fed beef, locally grown rancho gordo pinquito beans and vella cheddar.
My decision to eat again at Farmstead also had much to do with the ambiance. Farmstead is located in a converted nursery barn, which lends a rustic feel to those who opt to be seated inside at a booth or a table where they can see and even smell the fragrant offerings of Executive Chef Stephen Barber from the centrally located, open kitchen. On warm nights, however, it is also enjoyable to dine al fresco under a canopy and at tables surrounded by meticulously groomed gardens alive with fresh produce, sunflowers, and graceful trees.
We were a party of six and were seated at a spacious table in the gardens near a row of apple trees which, somehow, had been trained to grow like grape vines. Immediately upon being seated, our waiter, Seth Chapin, greeted us warmly, discovered that we’d all like to start with a glass of white wine, and suggested that we try a bottle of the 2011 Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc from Farmstead’s own winery, which has vineyards in nearby Rutherford.
I must comment here that I have seldom, if ever, had faster and better service than was provided by Seth. In no time, he was filling our wine glasses with a wine that turned out to be superb. All of us agreed that the crisp, straw-colored wine smelled and tasted of pear. After pouring our wine, Seth suggested some starters for the table. And, as it turned out, his suggestions were perfect.
As we studied the menus, Seth placed before us a small frying pan of cheddar biscuits with honey butter;
a plate of grilled Frog’s Leap peaches with Bellwether ricotta, speck (a type of prosciutto), basil and Long Meadow Ranch honey;
and a plate of wood grilled Castroville jumbo artichokes with sauce gribiche and lemon. Each and every one of these dishes was savory and a wonderful complement to the Sauvignon Blanc.
After eating the appetizers, it really wasn’t necessary to order a first course, but I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of the chili, and once again, I was amazed by its subtle flavors and tender quality. My wife ordered a salad of arugula with strawberries, almonds, Redwood Hills feta with citrus vinaigrette, which we shared along with the chili. Another of my dinner companions ordered the caramelized beets with Sky Hill goat cheese crema, greens and chimichurri, which, she assured us, was “to die for.”
For entrées, we each ordered something different. I chose the heritage St. Louis ribs which were tender and tangy and came with a creamy coleslaw made with Point Reyes blue cheese.
My wife ordered the California arborio rice with Brentwood corn, wood roasted gypsy peppers, basil, and parmesan cheese artistically topped with a fried, locally-produced organic egg.
Although I didn’t taste everyone’s entrée, the grilled California rainbow trout with wild mushrooms, fennel, toasted almonds and warm bacon vinaigrette was something that looked so good, I’m determined to order it the next time I travel to St. Helena. And my son’s Long Meadow Ranch cheeseburger on a potato bun with California cheddar, arugula and herb fried potatoes was, in his words, “the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had.”
Another of my dinner companions ordered the specialty of the house, a Long Meadow Ranch steak made from grass-fed highland beef which looked lean, and was, by all accounts, extremely tender and delicious.
With our entrées, we enjoyed a bottle of one of Napa Valley’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons, which we brought in, and Farmstead decanted and poured for a modest corkage charge of $2.00, which they donate to local not-for-profit community-serving organizations.
In sum, our dinner at Farmstead was a wonderful experience. The food was creative, delicious and attractively served, the service was beyond compare, and the setting was completely idyllic.
Open Daily at 11:30 AM
Photos: Philip Michaels