Category Archives: Thomas Keller/French Laundry/Et Al

Dining At Calistoga’s Only Michelin-Starred Restaurant

A5 Wagyu cap with caviar on a tiny oyster cracker -- one of the first bites at Auro.
A5 Wagyu cap with caviar on a tiny oyster cracker — one of the first bites at Auro.

It took only eight months after opening for Auro at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley to garner a Michelin star, making it the only Calistoga restaurant so honored.

It’s been a long time in coming for Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia, who was born in Mexico City and grew up in the Napa Valley. Last year, he returned to Wine Country to open this fine-dining restaurant after honing his skills at the such revered establishments as the original Cyrus in Healdsburg, the French Laundry in Yountville, Spruce in San Francisco, and Luce in San Francisco.

This marks the first star he’s earned.

And what a triumph it has been, as evidenced by the superlative meal I experienced when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant earlier this month.

Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia stands underneath his first Michelin star.
Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia stands underneath his first Michelin star.

Pull up to the roundabout driveway of the country-chic resort, and you’ll find the restaurant off to the right. Auro shares the same pristine kitchen as the resort’s casual restaurant, Truss.

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Dining Outside In the Napa Valley at Press

Swordfish gets smoked so it's silky and reminiscent in taste of pastrami -- at Press.
Swordfish gets smoked so it’s silky and reminiscent in taste of pastrami — at Press.

Last week, I drove to the Napa Valley, which may not seem remarkable in and of itself until you realize it was my first trip there in 16 months.

Visiting Wine Country has always felt as soothing as a vacation — even when I was there for work. Now, after being cooped up for days on end during a pandemic, it seems even more exhilarating.

It was also my first time in as long dining at a fine-dining restaurant — albeit outdoors. I couldn’t have picked a better place than Press, where I had been invited in as a guest to check out the new offerings by an impressive new team now in place at this venerable dining destination owned by the influential Rudd family.

Executive Chef Philip Tessier oversaw a kitchen remodel and transitioned the restaurant away from a steakhouse to more nuanced modern American fare with lighter, brighter, seasonal flair. If his name is familiar, it’s likely from his time in the kitchens at The French Laundry in Yountville and Per Se in New York, as well as for his headline-making turn as the first American chef to reach the podium at the Bocuse d’Or international competition, garnering a silver medal.

Dine in or out at Press.
Dine in or out at Press.

Tessier has recruited two fellow Thomas Keller restaurant alums: Chef de Cuisine Darryl Bell, former executive sous chef at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, who also has his own line of barbecue sauces and rubs at Stateline Road BBQ; and Master Sommelier Vincent Morrow, whose impressive experience stretches from The French Laundry to Gary Danko, Benu, and One65, all in San Francisco. The front of the house is manned by General Manager Cole Mathers, formerly of Gary Danko restaurant.

If you need any affirmation that people are flocking to Wine Country again, consider the fact that during the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Press served more than 350 diners.

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For Your Reading Pleasure

“An Onion In My Pocket”

You might think a memoir by the founding chef of San Francisco’s pioneering vegetarian restaurant, Greens, might be too didactic or preachy to take if you’re an avowed meat eater.

The surprise is that it’s not in the least. “An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables” (Alfred A. Knopf) by Deborah Madison is a delightful read with evocative prose that envelopes all the senses.

When it comes to what you eat and cook, Madison is far from rigid. In fact, she has eaten meat — and still does — occasionally. It’s just that she most often finds vegetables more interesting.

She came to develop a vegetable-centric palate after becoming enthralled listening to a radio program on Buddhism while growing up. It led to her fascinating journey in becoming an ordained Buddhist priest, and to forming the foundation for arguably the first significant vegetarian restaurant in the country. She set the bar early, eschewing the drab and flavorless vegetarian cooking of the time such as lentil loaves in favor of bold and beautiful dishes of her own creation. In the process, she introduced the world to what vegetarian cooking could and ought to be.

“The French Laundry, Per Se”

Let me just state from the get-go: It’s good bet that I’ll never cook anything from the new “The French Laundry, Per Se” (Artisan). Not when the forward in this book even states that the recipes are even more challenging and complex than those in “The French Laundry Cookbook,” which came out in 1999.

But just because you won’t necessarily be tempted to recreate one of the more than 70 recipes doesn’t mean you won’t find this latest book by chef-proprietor Thomas Keller deeply fascinating.

As the name implies, this lavish coffee-table-sized book showcases the synergy between his two Michelin three-starred restaurants, The French Laundry in Yountville, and Per Se in Manhattan.

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La Calenda Proves Naysayers Wrong

Pork jowl in mole verde at La Calenda.

Pork jowl in mole verde at La Calenda.


When Thomas Keller first let wind that he was going to open a Mexican restaurant in Yountville, the response was immediate: lots of eye rolling and sarcastic remarks.

But like Rick Bayless in Chicago, Keller soon proved this gringo knew exactly what he was doing. Keller may not have made exhaustive trips to Mexico to immerse himself in the intricacies of the cuisine. But he did the next best thing; he hired a chef de cuisine with impeccable credentials and know-how, Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, who was raised in Oaxaca by his mother, Susana Trilling, the noted culinary teacher who owns the cooking school, Seasons of My Heart in Mexico.

As a result, Keller’s La Calenda, which opened in January, is a triumph.

I finally had a chance to check it out a month ago, when I dined at lunch, paying my own tab at the end.

Housed in the former Hurley's.

Housed in the former Hurley’s.

La Calenda is mere steps away on Washington Street from Keller’s other establishments: The French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc, Ad Hoc Addendum, and the group’s lush culinary garden.

The former Hurley’s has been transformed into an airy, colorful space reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda.

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First Look At the Hotly Anticipated Protege

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.


After more than a year of permitting and construction delays, Protege, arguably the most highly anticipated restaurant around, finally opened its doors to the public on Tuesday.

Passersby have been peeking in the windows for months, streaking them with hand prints and even nose prints, so eager to experience this restaurant by French Laundry alums, Executive Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly. They are joined by Pastry Chef Eddie Lopez, who also hails from the French Laundry, as well as Grace in Chicago and Vintage Cave in Honolulu.

With that kind of culinary star-wattage, is it any wonder that the night this California Avenue restaurant quietly debuted, there were already half a dozen people anxiously waiting outside half an hour beforehand to be one of the very first inside?

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

The kitchen on opening night.

The kitchen on opening night.

I was one of them, along with two friends, snagging seats at the chic, back-lighted bar, and paying our tab at the end. There are purse hooks underneath, of course, along with some of the most comfy nappa leather bar stools I’ve ever sat in.

Sit on the stools closest to the kitchen and you can peer in at all the activity as Secviar calls out the orders, and the cooks all respond in unison, “Oui, Chef!”

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