Dusk on the terrace at Cairdean Estate. All photos: © tablehopper.com.
The Countess of Carrak.
Smoked duck wings.
You game for some game pie?
Humphrey’s squab and lobster salad.
Communal table seating at The Farmer & The Fox. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
A Wine Country visit and review by Marcia Gagliardi.
The next time you’re heading to St. Helena or Calistoga, you should think about stopping off at the newly opened Cairdean Estate on the St. Helena Highway, just at the base of Spring Mountain. The owners, winemaker Stacia and Edwin Williams, have done a good job transforming the former outlet center into a food-and-wine destination (which will be taking shape even more in coming months with a sensory tasting experience and mercantile).
There’s a tasting room where you can try their extensive lineup (they have two estate vineyards, one in the Coombsville AVA of Napa Valley and the other in the Russian River Valley AVA), which includes an unoaked chardonnay, rosé (made from cab, merlot, and syrah), Russian River pinot, sangiovese, cabernet franc, and more. The tasting room has a gorg view of the valley at sunset, and here’s one more bonus: it’s open until 8pm nightly. There is also a very stylish private room for club members for events and parties, with its own bar and fireplace.
What I recommend is visiting the tasting room for a pre-dinner aperitif, and then saunter over to The Farmer & the Fox for dinner. The chef is Joseph Humphrey, who has a long legacy in Wine Country and San Francisco—the talented Florida-born chef got his start in New Orleans, and then came west to open the Restaurant at Meadowood. He was also the executive chef at Auberge du Soleil, Murray Circle, and then opened his own place, Dixie, in SF. Now he’s back in the 707, creating a modern, Napa-style version of a British gastropub.
Start with a cocktail from bar manager James Kendall, who blew our collective minds with his creative and balanced concoctions. The Countess of Carrak is one of the most unique drinks I have had all year, with Krogstad aquavit, egg white, beet juice, lemon juice, and a dusting of fennel pollen (and the Cairdean logo stenciled on top). Kendall hails from Bouchon and Ad Hoc, and his handcrafted cocktails are destination-worthy in and of themselves.
You’ll want to quickly order the cured salmon ($15) that comes on beer bread with curls of butter, spring onions, purslane, and herbs to keep the Countess good company. You should also make sure the smoked duck wings ($9) make their way over, a fun spin on buffalo wings (they come with crumbled Pt. Reyes blue cheese and finely diced celery), and of course the Scotch egg ($8) needs to be on the table—it’s spicy, with shaved horseradish and a watercress pistou. Humphrey’s team also shucks some fantastic Shigoku oysters (they come with a Mendocino seaweed mignonette).
Heartier choices include a game pie ($15) made with boar, venison, squab, quail, and duck (I know, whoa!), its density and richness cut by a big scoop of whole-grain mustard and crème fraîche on the plate. The flavor-forward lamb tartare ($12) comes with thick-cut, curry oil-brushed brioche, but we also loved piling it into the warm popovers ($9), baked every half hour. (I really enjoyed the texture from the fried shallots in the tartare as well.)
Of course there’s a burger ($16), with grass-fed beef, cheddar, and chips that get a clever dusting of vinegar powder. On the elegant side is a simple grilled fish ($21) with béarnaise, and check out that amazing price again. Bonus: it comes with rumbledethumps (!!), battered and golden little potato, cabbage, and onion croquettes. Say it: rumpledethumps! You can really dial in the luxe with the Paine Farm squab (cooked like a dream) and lobster salad ($32), with a stunning jus made from the two, balanced by the prickly heat of a baby mustard salad on the side.
All the dishes have Humphrey’s refined touch, mad culinary technique, and soigné plating, with such well-sourced ingredients. Unfortunately the desserts looked impressive but didn’t particularly stand out for various reasons (we tried the butterscotch mousse cake, roasted peach rice pudding, and ginger ice cream cake). But the after-dinner drinks, like the Spanish coffee (Kahlúa, Combier, coffee, whipped cream, and burnt sugar rim) ended things on a high note.
The restaurant doesn’t charge a corkage, which is pretty notable. Our server was friendly and well schooled on the menu, but our meal took a long time, with lags in service that I would have understood with a busier restaurant. It’s a location that doesn’t have food traffic—people will need to know about it before heading over—so I imagine biz will pick up in time. It’s still relatively fresh and new. But as the word spreads about Humphrey’s hearty-yet-elegant cuisine, the killer cocktails, and the stylish dining room that’s well designed for groups (there are plenty of booths), people should start filling it up. There were a bunch of fun residential design details, from the homey plates on the oak-paneled walls to the Welsh blankets and leather wingback chairs. It’s the kind of design that makes you instantly comfortable (although they could turn the overhead lights down a touch—then again, it made for some excellent food photography lighting, ha-ha).
If you’re around during the daytime, pay a visit to Butterscots Bakery, Deli, and Culinary Market (open daily from 7am-5pm). You can get your morning coffee and a house-baked croissant or a scone if you’re on the run, or sit on the fab patio for a nice lunch or afternoon snack (there are also picnic tables, plus an outdoor fire pit for evening chillaxing with a glass of wine). You can choose from a pretty significant array of salads (great to go as well), sandwiches, unique breads (including seaweed, curry brioche, and Scottish beer bread), cookies, and pastries. Oh yeah, and puddings!
3111 St. Helena Hwy. at Ehlers Ln., St. Helena. Restaurant: 707-302-5101.