Two Birds One Stone — And A Whole Lot Of Good Eats
When celebrated chefs and best buds Doug Keane and Sang Yoon joined forces to open a new restaurant in St. Helena this summer, they wanted to do something no one else was yet doing in the Napa Valley.
They wanted to shatter the mold of the usual Mediterranean-inspired fare or Cabernet Sauvignon-favored food so readily found in this region.
It wasn’t just their free-flowing banter that made them hit it off, but also their love for Asian-inspired cuisine with punchy flavors and plenty of acidity.
I had a chance to check out the menu recently, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. It’s a California-style yakitori, taking liberties with traditional Japanese food to reinvent it with flair, yet still preserving its soul.
The redone space is breathtaking. A huge skylight lets in an enormous amount of light through a wood-planked, curved ceiling with industrial accents. It’s an expansive dining room with lots of hard surfaces, but because it’s been insulated so well, you can still hold a conversation easily.
You can bring in Napa and Sonoma wines without a corkage fee — up to one bottle per person, which is just unheard of. But you won’t want to skip the wines by the glass program. The chefs have sweet-talked local vintners into giving them their best small-production creations. Because of that, you’ll be able to enjoy wines on tap that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
If you’re in the mood for something non-alcoholic, there’s a house-made passion fruit spritzer that tastes like your favorite lazy Sunday brunch. A 500ml bottle is $15, and it’s plenty for two or three to share.
Yoon and Keane both have a hand in the menu. Some dishes were created by one or the other; others have input from both chefs.
You may have had the classic French tradition of radishes and butter a million times before. But never like it’s prepared here. The radishes ($6) are compressed with dashi, leaving them still crunchy but umami-bombs in flavor. Underneath them is a thick smear of goat’s milk butter whipped with nori. Drag a radish through it — and do so generously, because the butter is just that delicious. It’s like butter from the sea — briny, milky sweet, and a little tangy.
Four fried chicken wings ($9) are battered, fried till golden and glazed with chili-yuzu sauce. The sauce is sticky, sweet and with a little heat. You’ll wish you could eat these every Sunday while watching football on TV.
Brussels sprouts are blistered until blackened on the edges, then tossed in a chili vinaigrette that’s intensely savory and salty tasting. It’s one of those stand-at-attention dishes that announces itself from the first bite. My husband would have loved a bowl of steamed rice with it.
“Ham and Eggs” ($16) is the two chefs’ take on chawanmushi. The quivering, eggy, warm custard arrives in a heavy, small ceramic bowl. A soft-poached Jidori egg is gently laid over the top. Yes, egg on egg. And it just makes the dish that much more luxurious as you puncture the egg, releasing its orange, runny yolk into the soft, spoonable custard. A few slices of smoked duck “ham” give the dish even more body.
The savory Japanese pancake ($16) or okonomiyaki is adorned with a flourish of bonito flakes and sambal mayo. It’s a more compact version that’s also one of the crispiest I’ve ever had. Inside, it’s nearly custardy, it’s so creamy.
From the grill, we enjoyed the juicy, 21-age dry-aged duck ($17) accented with spicy tamarind, figs and turnips. The aging intensifies the rich flavor of the duck, giving an almost wild note to it.
The Iberico de bellota pork ($19) is not to be missed. Yes, it’s from pigs that feed on acorns, making their flesh even more marbled and nutty tasting. It was like eating a rib eye that was somehow pork not beef. That’s how marvelously juicy, fatty and tender it was. Spiced Vietnamese caramel was brushed over it, and kimchi, spicy and fresh tasting, garnished the plate along with a sweet grilled scallion.
For dessert, the passion fruit panna cotta ($7) boasts a thick, creamy texture and a tropical tang. A layer of crunchies over the top almost taste a little corn-like.
The black sesame soft serve ($7) comes crowned with roasted plum compote. The server described it as a “grown-up PB&J.” And it really is. The black sesame gives this thick soft-serve a granite hue and plenty of flavor, almost as if it were made of nut paste — that’s how intense it tastes. The roasted plum is like a more sophisticated grape jelly. It’s a winning combo of flavors that I hope never goes off the menu.
Two Birds One Stone definitely sets itself apart. Take a taste and prepare to get addicted.