Friday, February 4, 2011

Bouchon Bakery, V Marketplace, and Napa Style

Hopping off the southbound 10 bus in Yountville has always proven to be a pleasant experience so far (it certainly helps that I don't have to pay the >$200/night it costs to stay here as a visitor!), so I decided to do it again.

I had been to Bouchon Bistro -- the local (and now interstate chain) restaurant of local celeb chef Thomas Keller (of the Michelin-rated French Laundry just up the street)... and let me tell you, I was less than impressed. I actually felt bad that this was the restaurant I took my parents to in their first visit to Napa Valley, but I didn't know any better at the time. The food was overpriced, way oversalted, and not memorable; the space was loud and cramped and the servers were impersonal and embittered. My mother's "trumpet mushroom salad" had one (yes, one) microscopic sliver of mushroom. How does that make a mushroom salad??

However, I had never stopped into the popular Bouchon Bakery next door to the restaurant. I had seen some of their (pricey but tasty-looking) baked goods in Las Vegas -- which is also home to a Bouchon Bistro -- but I was craving some good bread today and figured, why not from here?

It was doing a brisk business... not packed, but there was a line. I'm sure the 70-something-and-sunny weather we've been having didn't hurt. The bakery is small, with a variety of tempting-looking baked goods; my eye was first drawn to the colorful macarons, but quickly distracted by the nearby bread pudding cups (I love bread pudding), but I ended up getting a pistachio and citrus brioche. Which was good, but perhaps a little stale from sitting out for a while. Should've gone with the moist and glistening bread pudding. These items (the specialty baked snacks) are all about $3 each.

Meanwhile, the prices of coffee and bread loaves are a lot more reasonable -- coffee is about the same you'd pay at Peet's or Starbucks or elsewhere, and the loaves of bread are about $3.25 for a normal-sized loaf. I debated between the hearth-style "pain rustico" and the nearby loaf of sourdough; both looked good, and Sarah and I love sourdough, but it's also one that is very hit or miss. Some people don't make it sour enough (in true Boudain/San Francisco style) and other times it is just not dense or moist enough. I went with the pain rustico and when I got home and tore off some pieces to dip in olive oil and herbs, I knew that I had made the right choice: the outside was firm and tasted like a wood oven, the inside was soft and spongy and a little bit moist; overall the bread was very good for the price (which is just about the same -- or possibly even less -- than you'd pay for artisan bread like this at most grocery store bakeries)

I still had time left before the next bus arrived, so I wandered across the street to check out the "V Marketplace" which I had never seen. This place is a strange duck. You walk inside, and it's an eclectic (and sparsely populated) shopping mall of sorts, done up in a pseudo-villa style. The shops seem nearly unanimous in their decision to appeal to older wome. Some have names like "Sisters, the Ultimate Girly-Girl Boutique" and "i*elle" and "Tay & Grace: Playclothes for Women"; others are art galleries featuring plenty of colorful, flower-and-vine-filled rustic scenes.
I explored the whole place but so few people were there that I didn't want to wander into any shops for fear that the shopkeeps would either swoop on me like vampires or sigh in disappointment that I'm not a wealthy menopausal lady.

Popping out the back door, I emerged by Michael Chiarello's "Napa Style" storefront, and went inside to check out the assortment of cookery goods and gourmet foodstuffs -- olive oil and vinegar "caviar", Himalayan sea salt, extra virgin olive oils -- many of which had samples available. Some of the goods are certainly tasty (for the mouth and sometimes for the eyes) but the prices match the decadent indulgence of the goods. For things like sauces, spices, and vinegars and olive oils, a better bet would be to stop in St. Helena up the road where you can try plenty of wonderful oils, vinegars, dressings, sauces, and rubs at St. Helena Olive Oil Co. (These gourmet shops are also pricey, but still about 30% less expensive than Napa Style)

Time was about up for my hour in town... I went to the bus stop (right outside the V Marketplace) and sure enough the next southbound 10 arrived within about 5 minutes.

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