Thursday, July 26, 2012

Daytrip Napa Valley- Part Two.

My second stop on my drive up valley was at the new St. Helena Restaurant, French Blue.  I was hungry for breakfast and this seemed like a good option, as I've been wanting to try it for a while.   Located right off of Main Street, French Blue "is a welcoming all-day neighborhood restaurant located in the heart of downtown St. Helena, serving Napa Valley home cooking from Chef Philip Wang."  I'd like to start by saying, first and foremost, the food is wonderful.  Wang hails from some of the most respected and well known restaurants in the bay area, with a resume that includes local haunts such as Jardiniere, Rubicon, Charlie Trotter, Hilltop @ The Carneros Inn and Fog City Diner- the man clearly knows his food.

"The menu features rustic, wood-fired cooking, seasonally inspired from Rudd Farms’ local gardens – the best ingredients, simply prepared. The food is matched by a carefully edited selection of Northern California wines and handcrafted cocktails."

The restaurant itself is absolutely beautiful. elegant, well decorated in a sophisticated bistro style.  The theme is decidedly cream colored, with, of course, French Blue detailing in the form of pinstripes, linens and fine details.  Cool brushed aluminum lines the bookcases, bar and counter tops giving it a refined farmstead feel.  The main dining room looks as though it could be someones living room, or the lobby of an incredibly chic hotel with squishy armchairs and buckets full of freshly cut flowers adorning the tables.  When I walked indoors, it literally took my breath away with it's ambiance. 

The outdoor patio is small, but cozy with a rustic feel.  Plump banquette benches with built in heaters near your feet line the outer walls of the patio, accompanied by dainty bistro style tables and chairs.  Thankfully, there is a white linen awning to protect patrons from the intense summer sunlight, a successful attempt at shielding while still letting light in.  There are fresh herbs in pot gardens and fresh cut greens resting on the tables, giving the patio a well-loved look. 

*At first, I was completely happy with my choice of sitting outside that day, feeling comfortable and satisfied with my arrangements.  I quickly learned of my mistake.  I blame the awkward weather changes, shifting constantly between hot and cold temperatures on a daily basis this year, for the excessive (and I do mean excessive) amount of flies on the patio.  Not just one or two, try in the double digits, and that's only counting the insects at my table.  I overheard displeasure coming from three other outdoor dining patrons in the 45 minutes I was seated for breakfast.  One woman even requested to be moved inside mid-meal.  Completely understandable.  While the environment is lovely, the flies are not.  One of the waitress's kindly explained to another customer that they were aware of the problem and in the midst of finding a solution.  To French Blue's credit- here in the East Bay, the flies have been obscene, once again due to climate changes.  I trust the restaurant is working on the little issue and will hopefully resolve it soon.*

Moving on...  Breakfast!  Service at French Blue has the feeling of "newbie" about it.  A restaurant working out the kinks of having only been open a couple of months.  While the waitress was friendly and courteous, I found the overall experience a little cold.  She kept things very clear and concise, without much to add and I was left alone to contemplate the menu.  I ordered one of their Pink Mimosa's, a blend of grapefruit juice and champagne, to start out with.  It tasted exactly like it sounds.  Refreshing and light.  I'd be curious to know what champagne they use in their mimosa, because at $10 a glass, that's only $2 less than my entire meal that morning.

To fill my tummy, I chose the Fresh Chorizo & Baked Farm Eggs with soft polenta and sauteed swiss chard.  This was an excellent dish.  The eggs were baked perfectly, colliding with the smooth polenta, a combo that quickly became a new favorite of mine.  The chard was savory, soft and incredibly fresh tasting.  The chorizo was clearly homemade and had a taste all it's own, spicy and rich with a nutty flavor.  The levain toast was to die for, smothered in hand churned butter.  Delicious.  The whole plate cost $12 and arrived on a piping hot Staub skillet, complete with oak barrel charger underneath.  Love the presentation, loved the food even more. 

About halfway through my meal the waitress brought me my check, a move I admit made me feel a little rushed.  Seating at the restaurant is first come, first serve (no reservations) I understand, but that morning was pretty slow, without a wait.  I graciously placed an adequate amount of cash on the clipboard right away, more so because I needed change.  Much to my dismay, the waitress returned the clipboard to me without exact change (coins).  Example:  Bill was $37.17, I gave $60 expecting smaller bills for tipping and random loose change.  No change was received.  I was brought back $22.  I understand the need to eliminate change jangling about, but shouldn't that be left up to the customer?  Am I to assume that the change counts towards the tip?  That's eighty-three cents, almost an entire dollar, that the restaurant claimed.  Myself, not knowing quite how to react, left a normal 20% tip in fear that I would look like I shorted the waitress, even though my eighty three cents was held from me.  I should have accounted for it while totalling up the bill, but I was embarrassed and puzzled.  The women seated next to me exclaimed, "so, they didn't bring you change either?  I think that's just weird!"  I smiled politely, folded my napkin and walked back to my car.

Overall, my experience at French Blue was "good".  Some would probably call it "ok" but I'm sticking with "good" because I feel that like many other new restaurants, they're just working through the kinks of being being freshly opened to the public.  I'll most certainly give them a second chance, hopefully for dinner next time- I'd love to sample the entrees and see the main dining area lit up at night.  I think that once they find their groove, this restaurant will be a top notch destination for locals and tourists alike.  The potential is definitely there for it to be a "great" place to dine, enjoy the company of friends and soak in the St. Helena vibe.  Best wishes to French Blue.

Visit French Blue at 1429 Main Street • St. Helena, California • {707} 968-9200

Coming up next, a visit to the renowned Dean & Deluca, with photos galore...

Eat well, be well,

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