Less than 90 minutes from Sacramento is the Napa Valley, home of not only world class wine but also some world class food. If you like the concept of an upscale French bistro then I think you should check out Bouchon in Yountville, CA. I’ve made it there in as little as 65 minutes and it is totally worth it.
When you walk in you’ll notice the high ceiling and the cool jazz music. The atmosphere is slightly noisy and fun. They have a bar that sits against the side wall toward the front of the restaurant, and even a magazine rack for anyone just stopping for a quick, high end lunch while seated at the bar. They also have a raw/seafood bar that i thought was pretty cool. It featured different types of oysters, some clams and even a lobster on display. I found the service to be friendly and attentive but not ‘in your face’. They make you feel welcome and offer some nice tips as well.
After you place your order you are served the signature Epi baguette, slightly warm with the tantalizing crusty edge that I’ve always loved and the soft center. For lunch we had the Croque Madame and Steak Frites. My mouth is still watering from the memory. The steak was a flat iron steak that was cooked exactly as ordered – medium and it was both juicy and tender. Often a flat iron steak can have some chewy edges due to not being properly trimmed but this steak was perfect. They kicked it up by topping it with some diced carmelized onions that offered a nice texture contrast to that wonder grilled edge of the steak. If that wasn’t enough they placed a nice pat of herb butter on top. Every bite was heaven! The side dish was, of course, fries and they were perfectly crispy but not that hard crunch that sometimes happens…no, they knocked these fries out of the park. A fry that is crispy yet soft in the middle and actually tastes like potato. The Croque Madame is a knife and fork sandwich to be sure. Ham and cheese on brioche bread that is soft but not soggy. They topped this with a mornay sauce that had a creamy and perfectly even texture and an easy up egg. I must say that the sandwich was executed perfectly, but if I can be completely honest, the highlight of the entire meal was the side dish of the macaroni gratin. Ok, let’s call it what it really is…Mac n Cheese, but this isn’t your mom’s mac n cheese (thank goodness), NO! They feature 2 different types of Gruyere Cheese that gives this dish a kick. The slightly assertive nature of the cheese paired with the creamy texture of the noodles that sits under the wonderful crispy baked top edge of this little cast iron vessel is something you’ll talk about on your way home. They provide you with an exciting contrast of texture that is only topped by the complex flavors.