Yountville Day #2: Oppa Napastyle While I Dream of (Bistro) Jeanty

On my last day in Napa Valley I wanted to go back to Yountville one more time to once again experience it’s quaint beauty, not to mention the fact I was offered transportation in a small red convertible which made me feel like the numerous washed up yuppies back home I see driving around in their open top Chrysler LeBarons.  It is a very picturesque drive up highway 29 and the feeling of the fresh wind in my face trumped the sun scaling the top of my head (which is the main reason I have always found convertibles less than enjoyable).

This time I wanted to explore the V marketplace which houses a number of small shops and boutiques. I did a quick tour of a wine shop which offered a wide range of bottles at different types and prices. Not surprisingly, there was some ass hat walking around with his buddy pointing out every wine he has had in the place.  I normally wouldn’t care but there  was a pompous tone in his voice as opposed to a authentic and  organic bliss. In other words, it was more important for him to flaunt his status as a self-declared sommelier than a true wine enthusiast.

The highlight of the market was Napastyle, the Michael Chiarello market which offers a wide range of foodie friendly articles including various foodstuffs, kitchen equipment and knickknacks to enhance any home’s decor and entertaining potential.  They had a series of condiments available for tasting which were divine, especially the smoked and spicy olive oils and the fruit vinegar (especially the peach one from what I recall).  At this point,  we regretted out decision to have traveled with carry on luggage and sucked back a bit more oil before we left.

It was on the tail end of the lunch hour, so we decided to hunt out a place to eat.  I would be remiss if I didn’t try and add another star in my Michelin sky, so we decided on Bistro Jeanty, the French cafe in the heart of Yountville.  It was quite busy and the patio was full but we were able to secure a table inside.  I assume the decor was meant to be a recreation of a rustic and modest eatery in Paris as opposed to the clean and crisp feel of a place like Redd down the street.  The waitress arrived very quickly and happily explained the menu.  She was polite and courteous in a way that couldn’t be taught and I quickly felt quite welcome.

We decided to split a meal starting with Langue d’Agneau (warm lamb tongue and potato salad) for $15. This dish was a bit of a concession for me but I was curious to see if lamb tongue had the same distinct taste as the rest of the animal.  It did.  It was as tender as the potatoes and was well complimented by the acidic dressing and bitter greens. The fact that this rather heavy dish was listed on the “lighter side” of the menu was  a clear foreshadowing of our upcoming experience.

salad $15
Langue d’Agneau $15

Dish two was the Quenelles de Brochet  (pike dumplings with lobster sauce) for $15. The dumplings were as light and  fluffy as cumulus clouds in an atmosphere as thick as that of Venus (ok..this is the astronomy geek in me…Venus’ atmosphere is 90 times more massive than earth’s….and so was this sauce).   Taste wise what can I say.  It’s butter, cream and lobster.  Collectively, I enjoyed the contrast of the light dumpling against the heavy sauce and thought this dish was quite good.

Cassoulet (baked beans, duck confit, toulouse sausage and apple smoked bacon) for $26  was the final dish. Cassoulet is a bit of a generic term used to describe a bean based stew.  In fact, it is named after the dish the stew is served in more than a summary of the ingredients in it.  I equate it to pork and beans, the North American staple that involves a frantic search through the beans in search of the tiny sliver of bacon strategically placed in each can.  Instead with this cassoulet, the fruits of such labour included whole sausage and a duck leg. It was nicely seasoned and did bring back memories of a gold old can of Libby’s.  Once again, the dish was very rich and after a few bites, I threw in my serviette and called it  day. In fact, I didn’t even think about food for a number of hours afterwards despite walking around in the epicentre of culinary temptation.

Dump $15 and cross $26
Quenelles de Brochet $15 and Cassoulet  $26

My Take

Day one in Yountville featured fresh California fare at Redd whereas day 2 was in stark contrast with the rich French food at Bistro Jeanty.  The service at Jeanty was incredible. Despite the use of sauces as thick as the atmosphere of Venus, I wouldn’t call the food astronomical although stellar would still be an adequate description. The V marketplace, specifically Napastyle,  is well worth a visit even if to only indulge on a few olive oil and vinegar samples.  I the end, I envision coming back to Yountville since I haven’t even scratched the surface of culinary options in this small town.  There is Redd Wood, Bottaga, Bouchon, Ad Hoc and, of course, the Michelin star mecca which is the French Laundry.  This gives me an idea; I could transport a suitcase of money down to the Napa Valley, dump it on French Laundry’s porch in exchange for dinner and then use it to transport back a arsenal of of olive oil.  I guess that means I’d need to check a bag though.

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A Noodle Face in the Crowd not as Pretty as Dirk Benedict or Bradley Cooper

There are a number of references to famous faces (and maybe not so many) I have come across in my travels:

• Two-face is a notorious villain in the Batman franchise.

• Faceman (the Face), played by Dirk Benedict and later Bradley Cooper, was a member of the quartet which made up the A-team.

• My Brave Face was Paul McCartney’s attempt to import and adapt his immense musical talent into the mundane late 80’s pop scene

• Furnace Face was a 90’s Canadian Indy band who put out such songs as “We Love you, Tipper Gore” with an anti-censorship theme and “She Thinks She’s Fat” which addresses the body image image which plagues to this day.

The newest addition to the list is Noodle Face, the recently opened Chinese restaurant in Baldwin Village.  Like many of it’s neighbours, it’s a no frills eatery with relatively inexpensive meal choices served with the ethnic flare of the far east. The hand-drawn sign is almost invisible among the other makeshift ones lining the street. Inside is no different.  Concrete brick walls on one side and a hand drawn mural on the other, plywood counters and a large, messy blackboard highlight the 40 seat interior.  I arrived around lunch and managed to get a seat by the window (in fact probably the only seat by the window). I was offered a tea which was served in an aged enamel cup as a ratty menu was presented containing all sorts of traditional Chinese noodles and soups as opposed to the more common ramen and pho.  There is also a list of signature and specialty dishes ranging from pancakes to perfect chicken legs and secret buns you have to drop in and try.

Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Tea at Noodle Face
Tea at Noodle Face

The “Chef Q handmade dumplings” is a broth soup made with seaweed,  scallions, a few glass noodles and the aforementioned dumplings.  It was very different from the ramen and pho  in that the broth was predominately sour versus salty. It was a bit of an acquired taste that got rather pleasant as you ate more of it.  When you ate something else and went back, however, you were caught off guard again because of the sourness.  The soup dumplings were thick and tasty and  filled with flavourful, seasoned pork. The plentiful onions added a nice bite.

Chef Q Dumpling Soup
Chef Q Handmade Dumpling Soup $6

 

The dummy salad came with a choice of green beans or broccoli with no description other than that. I had no idea what a dummy salad was so I ordered it. Basically it was a plate of cold beans dressed lightly and topped with sesame seeds.  The beans were not the freshest I have had but the dressing was subtle and refreshing.  Otherwise, it was rather unremarkable.

Dummy Salad (Green Beans)  $4
Dummy Salad (Green Beans) $4

The menu is in no way modest.  Case and point is the Rou-Jai-Mo, which is described as follows:  “Is mo a bread? Bun? Bao or Nann? Figure it out yourself for our top-rated small food.”  Intrigued, I ordered one. I expected a soft pork bun but instead got something that I would describe as a cross between a crunchy english muffin and a tea biscuit. It was  stuffed with meat which resembled canned flakes of ham seasoned with cilantro in both appearance and taste.  It wasn’t unpleasant but it  a was secret that wasn’t as juicy as anticipated.

Rou-Jai-Mo
Rou-Jai-Mo $3

 

My Take

Noodle face co. is a new joint with a no frills appearance that fits well with the Baldwin Street scene.  Instead of duplicating the numerous ramen and pho houses, it offers unique fare more indicative of China than Korea or Japan. The menu is diverse and cryptic which either offers no description of items or very detailed warnings, precautions and promises.  Although nothing blew my mind, I wasn’t too disappointed.  If anything, the food is unique and the price point reasonable.   Noodle Face isn’t pretty like Templeton Peck.  It doesn’t aim to conform to the popularity of everybody else like at a late eighties Paul McCartney song. If anything, it’s kind of like Furnaceface; refreshingly unpredictable while making  bold statements on a budget…but not for everybody.

 

 

Noodle Face Co on Urbanspoon

Day 2: Husking and Busking in Nashville

My alarm went off the Sunday morning after we sprung the clocks  forward the night before.  It was 630 am and I  was just outside Detroit with the ultimate destination of making  a 515pm  reservation at Husk in Nashville with a lunch stop in-between. Keep in mind I had my two teenage daughters with me and it was part of a nearly week long tour of Tennessee and Kentucky but it seemed an exciting task to try and make a reservation 8 hours away in time.  According to the reviews, Husk may be worth the drive considering it was voted the number 6 best new restaurant in the USA  by GQ magazine.  I was a bit torn since I have longed pledged my allegiance to Anthony Bourdain and felt a slight sense of betrayal since I’m sure Anthony would respect my adventurous nature but would hardly approve of my destination given the fact he refers to GQ’s food critic Alan Richman as a “douchebag” in his book Medium Raw, partly because he insists that celebrity chefs should hang in their restaurants.

Driving in both Kentucky and Tennessee is quite refreshing.  The roads tend not to get congested, the drivers are fast and the roads and scenery are nice.  As a result, there was little issue getting to Nashville on time, especially given the unexpected time change which occurs somewhere in Kentucky.  After checking into the hotel, we jaunted a bit off the beaten path to the restaurant  and arrived  just in time for our reservation.

Husk is an extension of the original in Charleston, South Carolina which has the same name and under the eye of executive chef Sean Brock.  Of some irony is the fact that the original was slammed by Richman.  Nashville’s version promises upscale southern food using only ingredients which can be attained within a small radius of the restaurant itself.  The menu is published daily and features a wide selection of starters and mains. I was there on a Sunday and was somewhat dismayed to discover that the wings voted one of the best in America by website Epicurious were not on the evening menu.

We were seated on the bottom level of the nicely designed restaurant.  It was modern yet rustic.  The walls were filled with pictures of an array of  things including those of Nashville past.  The staff were smartly dressed, looking as if they came straight from a restaurant wars challenge on Top Chef. The crowd was a mix of young and old and included hipsters that looked mighty similar to those I see in Toronto.

The drink menu consisted of a decent variety of wine, local beer (primarily from Yazoo) and signature cocktails ranging from low alcohol choices celebrating (if that’s the right word) prohibition to modern interpretations of some modern favorites.  My choice was the Barrel Aged Seelbach which was bourbon based and laced with fun things like curacao and bitters for $13.  I suppose this is no cheaper than the heavily taxed cocktails I’m accustomed to in Canada, busting the myth that America is a haven for cheap booze and watered down beer and cocktails. I quite enjoy bourbon based cocktails and this was no exception.  The sweet bourbon was nicely contrasted by the bitters and the drink tasted better with every sip.

Husk Cocktail $13
Barrel Aged Seelbach $13

 

They also had a wide array of Bourbon which ranging from $7 to around $40 which included some high proof, reserve and aged choices.

Reviews of this place have criticized the lack of southern hospitality offered by the waitstaff.  I have to agree to some extent.  Our waitress was pleasant but the friendliness was somewhat guarded and seemed to be infused with some pretension, perhaps to justify charging $26 for a piece of chicken. Service was prompt although there is a fair lag between the starters and mains.  For the starters, I opted for the Husk Shrimp and Grits “A Tribute to Bill Neal”.  I’m not sure who Bill Neal is but I’m sure he’s pleased to know this dish bears his name.  The grits were heavenly creamy, creating that perfect mouth-feel that reminded me of relishing Cream of Wheat as a kid.  The shrimp were delicately cooked and seasoned and even managed to convince my generally seafood-phobic daughter.

Grits
Shrimp and Grits “A Tribute to Bill Neal”  $11

The BBQ Pork Ribs with Charred Scallion Sauce ($14) were a upscale interpretation of this southern classic.  They were quite meaty but don’t expect the deep flavor and tenderness synonymous with hours in a smoker. The sauce, however, was delicious; a perfect blend between BBQ sweet and vinegary sour.

Husk Ribs
BBQ Pork Ribs with Charred Scallion Sauce $14

The last “first” was A Plate of Bob Woods’ 24-Month Country Ham, Soft Rolls, Mustard, HUSK pickles for $13.  The ham was pungently wonderful and tasted almost like a prosciutto.  The remaining ingredients were great compliments to a dish which screamed comfort.  The buns were fresh and pickled cauliflower was vibrant and a nice contrast to the sweet and fatty ham.

Ham
A Plate of Bob Woods’ 24 Month Ham, Mustard, Husk Pickles $13

Although a main for each of us was suggested, we decided on the Tanglewood Farms chicken, grilled over hickory embers, potato dumplings and carrots for $26.  Much like ribs, when I envision chicken and dumplings I think of comfort food which includes tender chicken, fluffy biscuits and hearty portions of root veggies.  Husk’s modernized twist  kept the chicken intact but omitted the chunks of dough and carrots, replacing them with bite size gnudi and pureed carrot kisses. My daughters looked a little perplexed.  The poultry was tender and seasoned wonderfully. Although the dumplings and carrots were swimming in a small puddle of sauce, it would have been grand to have a little more to complement the chicken and remind me that this in fact is a comfort food.

Chicken
Tangle Wood Farms Chicken with Sides Below $26
"Dumplings and Carrots"
“Potato Dumplings and Carrots”

The most anticipated part of the dinner was the plate of southern vegetables for $25.  There were three reasons for this. First, I was curious to see how you could justify a plate of veggies for $25. Next, it is arguably the most talked about dish at Husk. Finally, I’m tickled that a place would equate a mosaic of plant-based concepts with menu staples like beef, pork and catfish.

On this night, the southern plate consisted of:

a)  Gourd soup with pistachio and chives- Served warm, it had great base flavour which was complemented by some crunch and cream.

b) Tomato and grits topped with a farm fresh poached egg-  The acid of the tomato was terrific with the sweet corn.  A perfectly cooked egg just makes anything better.

c) Soy Glazed Broccoli- Simple but the best part of the dish according to my daughters.  Perfect saltiness and heat surrounded the crunchy vegetable.

d) Roasted Turnips- After eating these, the turnip bottoms may replace  of the tops as the go-to part of the plant for southern feasts.

e) Farro and Lima Bean Salad- Also a salad I have seen north of the border, it was earthy and well balanced with a great touch of acid and sweetness in the dressing.

A Plate of Southern Vegetables $25
A Plate of Southern Vegetables $25

The after dinner offerings paid homage to the classic desserts of the south but also had a refined twist to them.  Chess pie, butterscotch pudding and strawberry shortcake highlighted the sweets menu.  I opted for the latter two.  The pudding was laced with bourbon and served with a pastry offering a hint of apple flavour.  Collectively it was quite delicious.  The shortcake composed of soft serve and strawberries which were divine, especially for a Canadian who is only exposed to the albino grocery store berries until May or June.

 

Pudding
Butterscotch Bourbon Pudding Cup $7
Strawberry
Strawberry Shortcake Soft Serve $7

My Take

Husk has found a niche offering high end southern food, a stark contrast from popular places such as Arnold’s Country Kitchen and other iconic Nashville eateries.  The dishes are refined, pretty and pricey.  The execution is near flawless.  I can’t comment on whether this is the 6th best new restaurant in the whole of America but it has all the elements of success; a strong endorsement by a leading food critic, a terrific concept featuring farm to table food with no compromise, a modern and comfortable environment and a whole lot of buzz. The grits were fantastic and the plate of southern vegetables is well worth the price.  The chicken was let down by the somewhat dismal sides.  The desserts and cocktails were sinful and true to the region.

Afterwards, we took a walk down Broadway to find a slew of drunk tourists, neon lights and a guy who was high, very interested in the odd appearance of Canadian money and sung us a Jason Aldean and an Allman brothers song in exchange for a five dollar bill.   Despite this fact, I walked away singing the Tragically Hip’s It can’t be Nashville every night:

He said, ‘we are what we lack’
and this guy’s the autodidact
stares into the glare of them TV lights
It can’t be Nashville every night

with it’s la la oh oh ohs,
whoa-ohs and yeahs.

Yep, so far so good.  An eight hour drive husking and busking in Nashville brought on a degree of la la oh oh ohs and I hadn’t even hit Arnold’s yet. I promised myself I’d go hardcore Bourdain style in Nashville  on day three to make amends for my temporary allegiance to Mr. Richman, arguably one of America’s most well known autodidacts.  PS. Alan.  I don’t think Sean Brock was in the house.  Are we good now, Tony?

Husk on Urbanspoon