Dinner at the Dazzling Michelin Three-Star Restaurant at Meadowood

Guinea hen cooked in a salt crust -- at the Restaurant at Meadowood.

It’s not every day you get invited to dine as a guest at a Michelin three-star restaurant in the Bay Area.

It’s a rarity — especially because there are only two restaurants in the region that have attained that coveted honor, the highest ranking that the Michelin guide book bestows.

For years, there was just one — the French Laundry in Yountville, not surprisingly. But two years ago, it was joined by another establishment — the Restaurant at Meadowood, which not only achieved three stars but has managed to hang on to them, too, for the second year in a row in 2011.

When you have a chef as talented as Christopher Kostow, though, that’s little surprise.

After all, Kostow, who started cooking at age 14 in his hometown of Chicago, already had racked up two Michelin stars at his previous post at the charming Chez TJ in sleepy Mountain View. That’s no small achievement when you consider that it was his first head chef job on his own, too.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to enjoy his cooking four times, most recently in December 2011, just before the restaurant closed for renovations. It will reopen March 12.

Executive Chef Christopher Kostow (left) prepping for dinner service with one of his cooks.

Over the years, his food has become more refined and confident, and even playful in the most elegant of ways. It reflects the 35-year-old chef’s personality — tough in the kitchen, but full of humor all other times. As I snapped his picture that day, he fumbled with the prep apron worn over his chef’s jacket, joking that it was not very flattering. “You think they make Spanx for chefs?’ he asked with a chuckle.

You know you’re in for a special time when you head to this restaurant. After all, it’s located in the luxe Meadowood resort, a stunning 250-acre estate in the hills of St. Helena. As you drive up to the entrance, the guard at the gate will welcome you and point you up to the winding, tree-lined road that leads to the restaurant.

You pull open the heavy door and step inside an intimate dining room bathed in golden light.

The four-course seasonal tasting menu is $125 with wine pairings another $105. The chef’s tasting menu is $225 with wine pairings an additional $205. Your server will be kind enough to ask you if you’d like your own copy of the menu to take home with you, which will be presented at the end of the meal.

Kostow offered to just cook for us so that my husband and I didn’t have to make any choices. Naturally, when a Michelin three-star chef so kindly proposes to do that, you don’t even think of saying “no.”

Dinner started with half a dozen amuse bouches, including a “Pillow on a Pillow,” a tiny crisp square cracker that did indeed look like the world’s teeniest pillow. After one bite, that was replaced by a clear vessel with baby radishes and carrots from the restaurant’s garden peeking out of fluffy “vinaigrette snow” that you picked up and dipped into romaine cream.

Use your fingers to pick up baby carrots and radishes in "vinaigrette snow.''

Next, puffs of crisp kale that looked like seaweed undulating in an alabaster bowl with chorizo for a bit of surprising heat.

Crisp kale puffs with chorizo.

Beer-battered geoduck fritters as ethereal as Japanese tempura.

Beer-battered geoduck fritters with espelette were designed to mimic the taste of clam chowder and were just downright fun to eat.

Next, a teeny, golden crisp square with a dab of horseradish that tasted like the most sophisticated version ever of Chinese shrimp toast. That was followed by Kostow’s riff on a baked potato — only this was a little golden ball of dehydrated potato that oozed liquidy cheddar when you bit into it.

They taste astoudingly like cheesy baked potatoes.

A tangle of shiso hides goat's milk yogurt.

The final amuse was something I long to try to recreate at home — goat’s milk yogurt with amaranth grains and a tangle of shiso cut almost as finely as hair. It was like everyday yogurt with granola made into something far more special with sweetness, savoriness, tang, creaminess, crunch, nuttiness and an explosion of herbal minty-ness all in one bite.

And would you believe, after all of that, dinner, itself, had yet to start?

It began with “Fruits de Mer,” shellfish, sea beans and Osetra caviar with peppery cress hidden under frosty “ocean ice” that tasted cold and briny.

Caviar and shellfish -- it doesn't get more decadent.

Grilled octopus with hazelnuts with the texture of tender chickpeas.

Baby turnips and house-cured salmon roe. A dish almost too beautiful too beautiful to disturb.

Grilled octopus was smoky with a bit of chew to it. It also brought an unexpected preparation of hazelnuts, which were cooked like chickpeas so that they were soft and tender.

Next, a still-life of  baby turnips with puffed seeds and house-cured salmon roe that gave a burst of salinity.

Cabbage soup has never looked or tasted like Kostow’s “Cabbage Fondue” version. Made with cabbage juice and melted cabbage, it was a glorious taste of winter — creamy and subtly sweet with the bite of bright yellow mustard flowers and added earthy complexity from puffed, crisp rye shards.

Who says cabbage can't be luxurious?

A perfect, oozy poached egg is hidden underneath.

A white bowl filled with white froth and a large slice of black truffle followed. As you dug a spoon in, every bite was a surprise as you unearthed more and more — smoked cockscombs, bits of prune, creamy farina and an oozy poached egg — that came together to create pure sumptuousness.

Fleshy, delicate red snapper came signed, sealed and delivered in a delicate wrapper of impossibly thin potato slices that you could practically see through.

Red snapper sealed in translucent potato slices.

Guinea hen was baked in salt, leaving its flesh moist and its skin nearly as crisp as Chinese roast pork.

The final entree was Wagyu beef cheeks glazed in Perigord truffle that were slow-cooked until the rich meat barely needed a knife.

Cheese, anyone?

Of course, one needs bread to go with all that lovely cheese.

That was followed by the world’s fanciest looking cheese course. Four square plates arrived at once, holding impressive tastes of Colombier des Pigeons, Le Jeune Austise, Taleggio “en croute” and Abbaye de Belloc — each with their own accompaniments. Alongside was a most Zen-looking bread plate with crisps, puffs and rolls in an array of organic shapes.

A palate cleanser of buttermilk sorbet, banana puree and puffed cereal whimsically recalls your morning bowl of cereal.

It tastes exactly like your morning bowl of cereal. But it sure doesn't look like it.

If someone told you they were going to serve you hearts of palm in dessert, you might blanch. But it works — so much so that you’ll finish every spoonful. Little rings looking for all the world like cut hearts of palm arrive on an artsy plate with strawberry meringue, toasted caraway, dates and piloncilla sugar. Of course, you expect the rings to be crunchy like hearts of palm. Instead, they are springy and bouncy, having been made into a gelatinized custard with the delicate sweet, grassy flavor of hearts of palm. It’s pure genius.

Hearts of palm in dessert. How incredible is that?

Chocolate bon bons arrive in a small glass cloche along with an array of cookies cleverly arranged on real “Meadowood moss.”

A sweet ending of bonbons...

Cookies on a bed of real moss.

After a meal that soars to the stars and beyond, it’s a tacit reminder that you do have to come back down to terra firma when the last bite is gone.

More: My Q&A with Chef Christopher Kostow When He Won “Iron Chef America”

And: My Q&A with Chef Christopher Kostow Just After He Started at Meadowood

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  • Brilliant review and photos! Wish I lived closer, but will definitely mark this down on my list. I missed that Iron Chef show so Kostow is new to me and he shouldn’t be.
    Such presentations and perfection in flavors.
    Happy New Year!

  • Oh, what a gorgeous presentation! Each dish is a jewel.



  • Wow, what a meal! I’d be a happy girl after those fantastic amuse bouches (love the idea of a pillow on a pillow!), but each course sounds equally delectable. Using hearts of palm in a dessert is brilliant!

  • Beautiful dishes! You’re a lucky girl!

  • My hubby and I have been trying to get there, our availability and the restaurant’s never seem to match up. We are members of the Relais Chateau loyalty club and have had this on our hit list to try because every Relais Chateau resto we have eaten in has been stellar, the Michelin stars are convincing as well!

  • What a gastronomical feast! I made reservations last year at the restaurant but had to cancel because I ended up taking a last-minute trip. Definitely have to make reservations again this year!

  • What amazing and incredible food. It must take so many hours in the kitchen and so much effort to create dishes like that. I love how uniquely everything was presented in the enormous variety of serving dishes.

  • I love their cheese course. Nothing has beat their presentation. Their octopus dish is always amazing.

  • Carolyn, I’m green with envy! Lovely photos and great post!

  • Oh all od this food looks so amazing!!

  • WAW!!
    What an impressive menu!! What a fantastic post!
    An great review too! 🙂

    We have over here in Belgium, only 3 star michelin restaurants !!!

  • I’ve never been to a Michelin starred restaurant but I really want to make THIS the year I do! WHat a great menu this place has!

  • What a heavenly dinning experience this must have been! The dishes are amazing and the presentations is shear art…
    Happy New Year!

  • What a fantastic review! The dishes look simply amazing. I’ve been talking to my husband about going to Napa and have emailed Michael Chiarello about visiting his restaurant and the best places to stay while visiting. I’m not sure when we’ll actually get there but i will be sure to make note of this restaurant.

    Any other suggestions I can mark in my book for places to go while there?

    Great review. Thank you for sharing and Happy New Year!

  • Love this review! He is a great man, truly kind and giving.

  • That cheese plate, my kingdom for that cheese plate! A stellar review, if I make it to California again next year I’ll definitely put this restaurant on the list 🙂

  • Dear Carolyn,

    What a fantastic culinary experience to be able to review such a fine restaurant! That plate of still life of baby turnips and puff seeds look absolutely divine! Love the salty taste of salmon roe.

  • Thank you taking us in this fabulous restaurant. I’ve heard of it but never actually seen photos of the food. And congrats to them for getting the coveted 3 Michelin stars. Quite an impressive achievement.

  • Woo…look at the pictures. It’s so beautiful and artistic and so delicious. You are so lucky. Not everyone have this chance to eat in a Michelin three-star restaurant. I am wonder when I will have this chance. 🙂

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