Wednesday, March 26, 2014

étoile at Domaine Chandon.

Nestled on a ethereal hilltop in the heart of Yountville, Domaine Chandon sits regally amongst giant moss-covered boulders and aging oak trees, with vast sprawling lawns surrounding.  Vineyards cover most of the property, along with the winery, tasting rooms, and their prestigious Michelin starred restaurant, étoile.

"In 1973, Domaine Chandon became the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the United States. But Chandon’s beginnings date back to 1690 with the father of champagne. A Benedictine monk and cellar-master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, named Dom Pérignon, set out to unlock the secret of sparkling wine and ultimately developed the traditional champagne method."

We visit the property often, sometimes riding our bikes up the hill for a refreshing glass of their sparkling rosé, other times with family and friends as a way to begin our wine tasting adventures. It is a Napa Valley institution, one with a presence, favored by many locals and visitors alike. Perhaps that is the reason they are the only winery in the valley with a restaurant on-site... The allure of Chandon is so strong, they are able to highlight not just their wine, but the spectacular food of étoile as well.  We were most certainly in for a treat that day, and I was beyond thrilled to be graciously hosted at one of the finest restaurants in town.

After a short but sweet tour of the facilities and a relaxed, sit-down sampling of Domaine Chandon wines in the garden, the hubbs and meandered over to the restaurant itself and were greeted warmly by the staff.  We were both equally as excited to finally sample the dishes of Chef Perry Hoffman, a kind young man we were introduced to at a previous wine event and had fun chatting with extensively.

"After joining the culinary team at étoile Restaurant at Domaine Chandon in 2007, Hoffman was quickly appointed Chef. There he captured critical attention in 2010, as the youngest American chef to be awarded a Michelin Star at age 25. Since then, étoile has maintained one Michelin Star for three consecutive years, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Hoffman was also named a “Rising Star Chef” by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010, and was a James Beard Foundation Semifinalist for “Rising Star Chef of the Year” in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Hoffman was named one of Zagat’s “30 under 30,” and also received recognition from Food & Wine, as he was voted “The People’s Best New Chef: California.”

"étoile crafts its contemporary Californian menu around the wine experience and recommends pairings for every dish, both from the property's own label and beyond. The kitchen's accomplishments have a hint of French influence and a flair for originality worthy of its celestial name."

We were seated at one of their elegantly dressed tables with a serene view of the winery's oak grove and ponds and were introduced to our outstanding waiter, Scott. At étoile, service is intimate and very personalized, meaning every detail of the meal is thoughtful- it just so happens that Scott was training another member of staff that day, but her presence was subtle and professional with a cheerful smile.

The restaurant itself is sublime, decorated with modern accents, spacious windows and peekaboo views into the tasting room. When the weather improves, the seating will move outdoors, onto their expansive patio, complete with cafe lighting and a shade covered terrace that also overlooks the pond and gardens. Inside, beauty can be found in the floral arrangements by Kathy Hoffman, Chef Perry Hoffman's mother, also a local. She's well-known throughout the valley for her work in several different majorly influential restaurants for her use of color, texture, and visual wow. Succulents as far as the eye could see, along with fresh citrus of every kind, all grown on the property in étoile's gardens, orchids and tillandsia.


We began our meal with a dozen Beausoleil oysters, complimented by a bitter orange mignonette. The oyster were briny, yeasty and paired well with our Chandon champagne. We've both fallen in love with oysters in recent years, but have difficulty finding the freshest-of-fresh bivalves in the local area, much to our dismay. These oysters were certainly fresh and consistent, which was a delightful surprise, as we've been disappointed with different restaurants' standards in the past.

Next up, I chose the Dungeness Crab Salad with asparagus, sorrel, rhubarb and watercress sauce.  The crab tasted amazing- so fresh and sweet. The combination of vegetables garnished with beautiful edible flowers not only made my tastebuds happy, but the presentation brought a huge smile to my face.

The hubbs decided on the Chilled Spring Onion Soup with roasted sunchokes, preserved lemon creme fraiche and society garlic. A delicious introduction to Chef Hoffman's spring menu, bursting with flavor, practically tasting like the color green, as I've always imagined.

As a gift from the Chef, we were treated to this amazing dish of Sweetbreads with green garlic sauce, fried egg and dandelion. This was a surprisingly accessible way to enjoy sweetbreads- the green garlic and egg yolk made for a decadent burst of savory goodness. Again, the plating was impeccable.

Gift number two from Chef took both of our breaths away. Delivered on a plate of sea-blue glass, the Moroccan Spiced Octopus with page tangerines, petite radish, puffed quinoa and crystalline. As this dish was being delivered to us (thank you Chef!), other patrons in the restaurant turned their heads and whispered.  It was unbelievable. The octopus was cooked sous vide, making it incredibly tender. The Moroccan spice, mixed with tart tangerine and crispy radish was a delight on the palate. By far, one of my favorite dishes I've ever enjoyed in a restaurant. Period.

For our main courses, the hubbs went full throttle and chose the Pacific Sea Urchin Fettucini with fava leaves, black radish, yuzu and kumquats. A seriously luxurious pasta. I'm normally squeamish about sea urchin, but this sauce tasted as smooth as cream, buttery with hints of the ocean, sweet yuzu and crunchy radish.

I was utterly curious as to how Chef Hoffman would prepare a simple cut of fish, so my main course choice was the Scottish Salmon with heirloom beets, winter citrus, red orach and petite chervil. I was blown away by the crispiness of the salmon- achieved by using an extremely hot cast iron skillet. The hollandaise sauce was airy, almost puffy, and the beet puree blended well with the tangy citrus. 

Sweet, sweet dessert was a Dark Chocolate Torte with coffee ice cream and a chocolate bark dipped in gold dust powder. Like the name étoile (meaning "star" in french), the treat sparkled upon arrival and didn't last long on our plate.

The hubbs and I were absolutely taken aback by the quality, care, attention to detail and service at étoile. The careful craftsmanship that goes into Chef Perry Hoffman's food, combined with his presentation of superb dishes like the one's we were fortunate enough to relish, makes Domain Chandon's restaurant étoile universally celebrated destination. 

Many, many thanks to staff of Domaine Chandon and étoile for a truly memorable experience.