Greetings from Napa Valley, California!
If’ you’ve been following my posts on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, then you know what a crazy experience these past two days have been previewing the Hilton HHonors Your Ticket to Paradise – Ticket to Dine Sweepstakes. I cannot wait to return to the area someday with Ben, although we do need to find some good craft beers around here for the man. Do those exist? Is that sacrilege?!
Anyways, the other bloggers and I are staying at The Embassy Suites near downtown Napa. It’s a 5 minute drive from not only the restaurants and nightlife downtown, but also the start of over 400 vineyards in Napa Valley.
The hotel has a boutique-y, Mediterranean feel, which is very different than any other ES I’ve ever stayed at and fits in well with Napa’s laid-back style.
Better yet, they have free breakfast every morning and a free “Manager’s Reception” every night, where you can sit outside on their numerous outdoor patios and enjoy the swan pond and, cough, sculptures, with free wine and apps.
After we all checked in yesterday afternoon, and got to chat over a glass of vino – locally made Sauvignon Blanc, natch – we headed out for a river cruise with Napa Valley Adventure Tours.
The 2.5 hour cruise down the Napa Valley River explores the surrounding wetlands and passes through downtown and some ridiculous river “neighborhoods.”
I had no clue there was a river in Napa, but apparently it is a hot spot for sailors coming up and down the coast (you can get all the way inland from the bay) looking for a spot to anchor, as well as visiting wildlife like these Canadian geese we stopped to feed. As soon as they saw we had food, the entire flock came over to check it out!
By the way, I think that’s the Napa Valley Wine Train in the background, which I hear is a great activity for visitors!
The breeze off the water was ridiculously refreshing as we sailed past downtown Napa (adorable) while munching on a yummy meat & cheese platter that’s included in the price of the cruise.
The river cruise was really low key, which was great after a crazy day of travel. It was also just neat to see another side of Napa that you don’t often/ever think of.
After cleaning up at the hotel, we headed to downtown Napa for dinner at Oenotri.
Oenotori is a seriously cool Italian restaurant, which feels swank yet cozy from the exposed brick, and warm lights.
The menu changes daily and is driven by local, fresh, and in-season ingredients. They make fresh pasta daily, and cook their wood-fired pizzas in an oven imported from Naples. Our meal here was absolutely unforgettable!
Before chowing down, we cheers’d to the weekend with a cold, crisp glass of bubbly. Remind me to drink this stuff more often, mmkay?
Afterwards we took our seats where a menu specially selected by Oenotori’s head chef had been laid out.
One of the main focal points of the “Ticket to Dine” sweepstakes package in Napa is checking out the local restaurants and if you win, which I hope you do, I highly recommend every dish I tasted last night.
Starting with the Housemade Saulmi. Each whisper-thin and salty bite of salami flavored with everything from pepper, to sundried tomato, garlic, lemon, and ginger was melt in your mouth delicious. Knowing my weakness for all things salami (I know) I devoured my fair share.
Some of those aforementioned wood-fired pizzas were next. Our end of the table started with this Margherita Pizza, which seeeeriously tasted like the pizza we had in Roma, but what I really went crazy for was the pizza with fingerling potatoes, fontina cheese, and cream that was eventually passed down from the other end. TO DIE!
The salad course was next, which included a Mixed Lettuce Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The other bloggers thought it was too salty, but I loved it. Look at that cheese!!
Following the salads was the PASTA course, aka my favorite course. The Fidei al Pomodoro with Parmesan & Breadcrumbs, was good and the addition of crunchy bread crumbs on top was brilliant…
but the Strozzapreti with Willis Farms Ragu was incredible. We’re talking hamburger helper on crack. And I mean that in the best way possible. It might have been my favorite dish of the night!
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, the beef tongue came out. HA! No. I will eat a lot of things, but the thought of tongue on tongue (well beef tongue on tongue) just doesn’t do it for me.
What I did make room for was the Rosa Biancao Eggplant in Agro Dolce that came out with it, which almost tasted like candied eggplant. Sweet yet savory, I loved the firm, jelly-like texture of the eggplant, and I’m dying to know how the chefs did it!
Just when I REALLY thought I couldn’t eat another bite…
Lemon Verbana Panna Cotto with Arctic Glo Nectarines and Croccante Dolce, translation – lemon panna cotta (cream + sugar + gelatin) with shaved nectarines, and a sweet, crunchy sprinkle – came to the table!
I mean…!!! Each bite positively melted in my mouth. Sweet, creamy, and over the top decadent. Like I said, what a meal!
And what a way to end our first day in Napa! Can’t wait to tell you about our trip to 2,200 feet, and wine tasting at three classic, yet really unique wineries out here.
Do I have to go home tomorrow?!
Hope you’re having a great weekend, guys!