Twenty four hours ago I was ordering dessert in Napa Valley at Bistro Jeanty. I decided it would be my last meal in Napa Valley and so I perched myself at the bar at around 7:00 and settled in for one last taste of amazing food before I headed for home. I knew it would be a good night as soon as I walked in the door. I put myself in the hands of Bob the bartender, who poured me some Chimay that was on tap, and told him that I wanted to have the best on the menu and eat things that I could never find back home.
I was thinking about trying the pork belly with foie gras and a lentil ragout or a salad of smoked salmon. He steered me towards the pork belly telling me that if for any reason I didn't like it, he would buy it and eat it for dinner himself.
He could tell by the smile that lit up my face when I took my first bite that he wouldn't need to be buying. I savored every bite, lapping up the juices in the bottom of the bowl with slices of baguette. Bob and I talked a little bit--he was the perfect bartender, talking when he sensed I was chatty and letting me enjoy my meal in peace while I was eating. When you have a good waiter or bartender you realize that they are hard to come by and Bob was great--and he was from Kalamazoo too. He moved out to California after several years in Chicago to get away from the cold and hasn't looked back.
I struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to me who were up for the week from San Francisco house sitting for some friends. They had been to the Bistro several times and made some suggestions for the main course. I decided on trying something that most people probably wouldn't find appealing. I had read about it so much and since it was on the menu, I just needed to try it: bone marrow. (Yum, right?) The French bistro's history stems from farmhouse cooking in France where anything that could be cooked was never wasted, like bone marrow or pig's feet. That was another option on the menu that I couldn't bring myself to try this time around, but maybe next year.
The bone marrow is slow roasted and you spoon it out onto little pieces of baguette toasts, dipping everything in au jus (that was the best I've ever tasted!). It was a decadently rich meal, though I don't think I'll have it again. I needed to try it and since it was available I pulled the trigger. I had it with some spinach beurre blanc that was fantastic--nothing like spinach from the Jolly Green Giant!
By this time the couple next to me and I had been enjoying some good conversation. Since they only needed to walk home, they were feeling pretty happy. I was content with my two Chimay beers, but I was ready for dessert. Looking at the menu I decided I would try the Tarte Tatin, served with creme fraiche on the side.
I had looked with envy at the Calvados selection at Bouchon a year ago as well as at Dean & Deluca this year, and so I decided that some good French apple brandy would be the perfect accompaniment to the Tarte Tatin and I was right--it was fantastic, and better than the Calvados I get here at home. I think next year I'll stock up and bring a bottle home with me instead of wine.
I finished dessert almost exactly 24 hours ago. It's quarter to 12 here and at 9:00 last night I had paid my bill, said farewell to my new friends and headed for home with a full stomach.
Napa does something for me--it injects me with a renewed passion for food and ideas about pursuing a career in food. It shows me the possibilities for excellence that exist and it gives me the awareness that few people pursue the kind of level that exists in Napa. After a brief nap tonight, I found myself lying awake thinking about my trip and about all kinds of possibilities. I go to Napa to eat, to try great food, great chocolate, great pastries and bread of all kinds and to learn about wine. I eat at the kind of restaurants that don't exist anywhere near where I live--one needs to go to Chicago to eat this kind of food. The best meal I've had here doesn't compare by any stretch of the imagination to what I've had in Napa.
When I touched down in Detroit I saw that there was a chocolate company from Royal Oak that has a shop in the airport. I tried their chocolate. I had sampled chocolate a few times from Woodhouse Chocolates in Napa while I was there. How can I describe the difference most effectively? It's like Madam Tussaud's version of history--it's Epcot Center's version of France. The chocolates I had in Detroit were certainly tasty, but most people haven't had the opportunity to try GREAT chocolates, so they don't know what's possible. And here's the thing: this person has a career making chocolates that are certainly good, but not anywhere near great.
I keep thinking about the Farmer's Market. I think if I were to open a stall there sometime, as I've thought about doing, I believe I'd do well. I think most people don't know what is possible, and they don't expect anything above what's readily available, simply because they don't know. And because of the way I'm wired, I wouldn't sell anything that I didn't think was the best I could do and I'd love to hand them a sample and say, "Here--try this."
Over time, I've discovered that I enjoy the pursuit of perfection and excellence. I don't enjoy the background stuff of working on a house remodel, but give me spackling compound and sandpaper and I'll work for hours making something look perfect. I believe it's how I was made. I think I could do well at food, but the problem for me would be all of the background stuff--the bare bones structure that makes a business flourish. All I know is that I think that if I were to actually buckle down and pursue something in the food field, I'd flourish and enjoy making people happy by giving them great food.
I don't really know what to do with this passion or this belief, but what I do know is that I want to do something with it. I love pursuing perfection, and Napa is all about that, and I'd love to do that here.
Even though I'm tired from my trip, my brain's in over drive. I think it's going to have to be an Ambien night.