Monday, April 29, 2019

Where to Eat: A Three-Course MICHELIN Easter Brunch @ La Toque Napa Valley (Review)

The Eats: High end French cuisine served in multiple courses, with wine pairings available, too

The Location: Napa

The Vibes: Warm, classy, elegantly understated

Good for: Alone, Dates, Small Groups

When-To-Go: Daily dinner seatings, between 5:30 - 9:30 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Dinner, $120+ 

People Behind the Scenes: Executive Chef/Owner Ken Frank, Chef de Cuisine Scot Livingston, Pastry Chef Hayes Pickett and Sommelier Beki Miller

The 4-1-1: Once located in Los Angeles, La Toque has now been in Napa for over a decade and has received a MICHELIN rating each year for the past 12 consecutive years

Parking Situation: Complimentary valet parking 

I’ll Be Back…: For the mille feuille dessert!

My family and I are quite the brunchers. Whether it’s for a traditional holiday like Mother’s Day or simply another weekend, we’ll always find time for brunch.

So for this past Easter Sunday, I decided we must check out the special brunch at La Toque, a MICHELIN-rated French restaurant, in Napa Valley. I specifically chose this restaurant for two reasons: 1) it sounded absolutely wonderful to take a scenic drive into Napa and 2) it seemed like a steal to snag a three-course meal — for $48 — from a high end establishment where the multi-course dinners typically average $120 - $220. Bonus points as neither my mom or grandmother had ever visited Napa.

Located in The Westin, La Toque was nothing like I’d imagine a MICHELIN-rated restaurant. I was expecting a super stuffy, super extravagant ambiance, yet in reality, it's pretty modest. Yes, the one-room dining area is quite classy — with a beautiful oversized floral arrangement and softly bathed in muted browns, tans and whites — however, I’d say the decor overall is elegantly understated.

What’s not understated though, is the impeccable — and I do mean impeccable — service. You notice it right from the start, when offered piping hot towels to wipe your hands. You sense it in the delightful way menu options are explained, and you feel it throughout, like how your water glass never seems to get less than half full and how two servers silently make eye contact and nod before gracefully whisking away your plate. Executive Chef/Owner Ken Frank even stopped by to say hello, see how we were doing and patiently answer our thousands of questions we had. It's a rarity to see such attentiveness and effort in the little details in many other places, and La Toque remains memorable for that aspect, if nothing more.

But of course, there’s more! And that would be the food...

As shared, La Toque is MICHELIN-rated, which basically means that it’s received one of the most prestigious, globally renowned recognitions within the culinary world. There are three tiers — or stars — any given restaurant can receive. One star is like an entry level point and three is the most prestigious. Each year, a MICHELIN-rated restaurant may be judged unannounced by an incognito inspector, to determine if it will keep or lose its star, or even gain more. The criteria to receive a star comprises a variety of considerations, from quality to a chef's personality. You can read all about the MICHELIN assessment process here.

While La Toque typically offers multi-course meals, for two holidays in particular — Easter and Mother’s Day — it features what’s like an introduction into its course approach: a three-course meal with an optional wine pairing for an additional $24.

Here’s a peak of what was on the Easter menu.

To our pleasant surprise, we were treated to a traditional Easter dish: hot cross buns! Served warmed, this sweet bread is filled with raisins and currents. Our server shared that Pastry Chef Hayes Pickett had been perfecting the recipe for the past two years. I’d definitely say she got it right! 

First course
We had four appetizers to choose from: a Bibb lettuce salad, Dungeness Crab Cakes, Beet Cured Salmon and Asparagus. I appreciated our server for being honest that the Bibb salad was really an option for the less adventurous eaters, and the Beet Cured Salmon sounded like a fun trip on the wild side. I went for the Crab Cake, which was OK. I wish there had been more crab meat and less of the fried coating encasing it. Especially after having really tasty jumbo crab cakes the precious day, I was left wanting. An added nuance were pickled green strawberries and hints of dill.

Second Course
For the main course, there were five selections: Alaskan Halibut, a Grilled Hangar Steak, Tortellini filled with Spring Peas, a Lobster Omelet and Rancho Llano Seco Pork Cutlet Milanese. It was the pork's first time making an appearance on the menu and my choice. Pounded into a thin cut and then lightly fried, it came on a bed of Capperi di Pantelleria pasta that had been lightly tossed in brown butter. Lemon capers dressed in this same brown butter sauce was drizzled on top of everything. I enjoyed this tremendously, as it was bursting in flavors. I also sampled a bit of the omelet, pictured below, which is always featured on the Easter menu. It was indulgently rich, filled with hearty chunks of lobster, fontina cheese and soft breakfast potatoes. 

Third course
Last but certainly not least was dessert. We could pick between three: a blackberry ricotta crepe cake, a raspberry coconut mille feuille with toasted almond wafers and finally, a jar filled with layers of dark chocolate, milk chocolate for baking called CARAM√ČLIA and blood orange, all topped with toasted almonds. I opted for the mille feuille, pictured below, which was sooo delicious. Dollops of coconut cream were wedged between slightly sweet crispy wafers, with ripe raspberries added on the top. 

All in all, La Toque provided a fabulous over-the-top dining experience, a big part due to its spectacular service that exceeds expectations and also of course, because of the nuanced approach to fine dining. If you’re ever interested in exploring a multi-course meal, I say check out this Napa gem.

See you there soon!

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