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The High-End Napa and Silicon Valley Restaurants You Need to Visit

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Notes from editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt's California road trip

manresa Amanda Kludt

This post originally appeared in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of her favorite food and restaurant stories — both on and off Eater — each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

Notes From the Road

Every year or so, my boss Lockhart and I take a road trip to talk Eater strategy away from the office and check out what’s going on outside of New York in the world of food. This year, motivated by some business in San Francisco and a few glaring holes in my dining resume, we chose an obnoxiously high-end Napa and Silicon Valley itinerary: The French Laundry, Meadowood, and Manresa, with some other lower-end highlights in between. I could write at length about all of the bullet points below but I’ll keep it brief. Hit me up ( if you want some elaboration. Some notes from the road:

  • Perfect Napa/Sonoma spots that should never ever change and I pray I get to go to them again before I die: The Fremont Diner, El Molino Central, Gott’s Roadside, Scribe Winery. Please go to them. You will be so so so happy if you do.
  • The most outstanding meal of our visit, aside from the straight-from-the-airport lamb barbacoa tacos at El Molino Central, took place at Meadowood. They absolutely crushed it, from the amuses (asparagus from the garden poached in cultured butter!) to the cheese candle to the mignardises. I don't think anything merits a $275/person before wine, tax, and tip price tag, but this comes the closest for me.
  • Manresa is also very delicious! Uniquely talented, wildly creative chef David Kinch has built a special restaurant in a weird town. I especially enjoyed interacting with his sommelier Pier, who was exceedingly helpful in choosing wines and didn’t aggressively over-pour to push us to drink faster than we needed to.
  • Another fun fact: David Kinch served a lamb course on a Jeff Koons ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’ plate. If there’s no whimsy in your tasting menu, what’s the point?
  • The cornets and oysters and pearls remain perfection, but in general The French Laundry — specifically the richness of the food, the number of courses, the staid nature of the dining room — is not for me.
  • TK’s brand-new kitchen is pretty rad, though (and carbon neutral), so I am very happy for him and his hardworking chefs.
  • Our CEO demanded we visit Chef Chu’s — an unassuming, 50-year-old Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto — while we were in town, and I'm so glad we did. Owner Larry Chu is a total character who’s cooked for Gorbachev and Justin Bieber, and he’ll gladly talk your ear off about immigrating from Taiwan, his early days at Trader Vic’s, and all his tips for surviving in a notoriously brutal industry. If you go, get the lamb chops, the lettuce cups, and the pickled sugar plum tomatoes.
  • Total swag collected on the four-day trip: jar of jam, baller af pen, box of chocolates, box of cookies in a tin with an embossed clothespin logo, Finesse magazine (The French Laundry, gratis), The Fremont Diner T-shirt ($20), Gott's Roadside T-shirt ($20), Meadowood cookbook (signed, $50), small box of granola, 9" round (and over-the-top delicious) kouign amann, loaf of bread (Manresa, gratis), Chef Chu’s cookbook (signed, gratis), four-pack of canned rosé (Scribe Winery, gratis). El Molino Central was, devastatingly, out of T-shirts.

After all this I’ll be revisiting Contra in NYC this week to test my hypothesis that < $100, < 2-hour, super streamlined tasting menu experiences are my (everyone’s?) preferred method of upscale dining. (And then I go on a diet.)

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