Come Quickly, I'm Tasting 3 Michelin Stars...but It Feels Like 2
Come take a trip with me as I revisit my meal at The Restaurant at Meadowood...
My husband planned a lavish weekend in Napa Valley, CA to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was over-the-top. Full of farm-to-table cuisine, elaborate wine tastings, hiking Lake Berryessa, lounging at the pool at Bardessono and even dining at my very first three Michelin star rated restaurant, which was going to be the icing on the cake.
Being awarded Michelin stars is one of, if not the, highest distinctions for a restaurant. This is both a huge honor to the chef and entire team working there, as well as a helpful guide for foodies searching for the best food and wine experiences currently available. The Restaurant at Meadowood has maintained its three Michelin star status since 2011, and we were beyond excited for the culinary adventure when the night arrived.
The truth is, we were "eh" not thrilled with the experience. It was good, but not great, and here's why...
1.) WTW... What The Wine?
Upon being greeting at our table, we were asked about dietary restrictions, told the format for the evening, and asked if we wanted the wine pairings to accompany the chef tasting menu. We definitely wanted to try the wines but have had wine pairing experiences previously that just end up being too much wine by the end. We discussed the dilemma with the server¹. He assured us the pairing was "just right" - great wines, thoughtfully paired, but not a glass per dish and spaced well so you feel like you get your money's worth but just the right amount for one person. Ok, two please. Off to a good start.
Sitting next to us, like right next to us, is a friendly British lady "on holiday", who we quickly befriend. She too got the wine pairings and we were approximately on the same course, so we got to "ooh and ahh" together in excitement and anticipation as each item came out.
Our second wine pairing was a German Riesling Spätlese. Round mouth feel, ripe fruit from citrus to stone fruit (Meyer lemon, white peach) with nice acidity and subtle petrol and asphalt minerality peeking through... As I'm swirling and plunging my nose into the glass, I cannot help but get distracted as I overhear the server presenting the wine next to us. Wait a minute...our friend just got poured a different wine for the same course. Specifically I picked up on the term "Auslese", which is a higher #Prädikatswein in Germany. It has to do with the ripeness of the grapes when they get picked (extended version at the end, for those who dare) ².
When I inquired with the server, he was totally caught off guard and fumbled, as his face flushed red, with a lousy attempt to explain that sometimes they pour a different pairing with higher quality wines but slightly less wine overall. Huh? Remember the beginning when we had a conversation about wine pairings and are super into wine but do not want to overdo it. I instinctively ask our new friend if she's a wine maker or food critic. No. She has no clue, she just ordered the wine pairings and doesn't even know what she's drinking³. WTW?
Producer: Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm
Country of Origin: Germany
Region of Origin: Mosel
Prädikat (Quality) Category: Spätlese
Avg. Price⁴: $43
Producer: Weingut Emrich-Schönleber
Country of Origin: Germany
Region of Origin: Nahe
Prädikat (Quality) Category: Auslese
Avg. Price⁴: $84
Yummy. Interesting. Innovative. Beautifully presented. My favorite was the mouth-coating masterpiece with bee's wax (pictured in the center). Excellent meal on the food front⁵.
The people we interacted with were business-like, knowledgeable, and not overly talkative. We were surprised they didn't have a Sommelier. They definitely got the job done but we didn't make any besties (except for our table neighbor) or get on a first-name basis with anyone, which can be a nice bonus if you're settling in for a 3 or 4 hour dining extravaganza.
4.) (WARNING: Sit down for this one) The Bill
For dinner and wine pairings for two people, our check was $1,367.55⁶. Yes, just two people. No, the decimal isn't misplaced. One thousand three hundred sixty seven dollars and fifty five cents. Now, one might be able to justify a meal that expensive for a very special occasion if it is THE BEST. The best everything. The best food. The perfect wine pairings. Top service from the nicest and most knowledgeable people you have ever met. But, our overall experience at The Restaurant at Meadowood left us wanting more, which leads me to the conclusion that it's just not a good value.
The biggest question... would I go here again? Probably not. And I couldn't recommend it to a friend. It's good, very good in some areas, but not stand-up outstanding all around. The wine experience was so baffling and ultimately disappointing. You just don't get the bang for your buck. I'd venture south and hit up #AtelierCrenn again instead (who just earned a third star for the 2019 Michelin Guide!).
¹ They did not have a Sommelier at the time of our visit (Labor Day 2018). We asked who oversaw the wine program, and were told that they all have a say in the selections.
² Prädikatswein or wine quality classifications... this is a fascinating world and complex. Just looking at the two wines above from Germany for simplicity, here's a basic overview:
Spätlese means late harvest, and the grapes are picked at least a week after the normal harvest. With our wine example above, for Riesling labeled Spätlese in the Mosel region, the minimum must weight required is 76 degrees Oechsle. Think of this as the level of ripeness when it gets picked. This is sugar level in the berry which gets converted into alcohol during fermentation, so does not directly translate to final sweetness level of the wine.
Auslese means select harvest. These wines are made from even riper grapes that have been hand-selected in the vineyard. By law, Riesling grapes have a minimum must weight of 83-100 degrees Oechsle for Auslese wines. Higher sugar level and riper grapes than Spätlese, which can translate to arguably more concentrated flavors in the wine.
³ She was dining solo without a wedding ring and as we got to talking, was, in fact, single. Is it possible the server was pouring her better wines trying to hit on her?
⁴ Average price from #winesearcher at time of post.
⁵ This does not capture every dish from our meal.
⁶ That included their automatic gratuity. Merriam-Webster defines gratuity as "something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service". If you automatically add gratuity to the bill, why don't you just make the actual price higher?