This is part 4 of the Napa Valley Adventures series. Other posts in this series: Ad Hoc, Bottega Ristorante, Joseph Phelps Winery, and Etoile.
Usually, I don't pay much attention to the people dining around me at restaurants. Occasionally I may glance at other diners' dishes for inspiration, or perhaps I'll overhear a funny conversation. In general, however, I'm pretty oblivious to my surroundings (hello inner Myers Briggs "N" personality type).
But then there was that dinner at Terra in St. Helena, Napa Valley.
An older couple, probably in their seventies, was enjoying a meal right across the (small) room from us.
I think we were struck by how sweet they were to each other. Throughout the night, the man referred to promises he had made to his wife, and how he intended on keeping them.
Bryan quietly pulled our waiter aside.
"We'd like to treat them to their drinks. Whatever they are drinking, just put it on our tab."
Bryan turned to me.
"Fifty years is a long time!"
I briefly had a flashback. Probably 15 years ago, a year after we started dating, Bryan had given me a card. It had a picture of a really old couple, riding bikes, holding hands.
"I look forward to growing old together with you."
What better place than Terra to celebrate such a momentous occasion. We absolutely loved this restaurant. The ambiance is really romantic, the service is excellent, and the food is top notch.
Chilled Capellini with American Sturgeon Caviar, Virgin Olive Oil, and Chive
Chef Hiro Sone and his wife pastry chef Lissa Doumani have had this Napa Valley institution for over twenty years. The couple originally met while working at Spago in Los Angeles. Before that, Chef Sone trained in a number of places, including École Technique Hôtelière Tsuji, where he studied under the likes of French greats like Joel Robuchon, Paul Bocuse, and Pierre Troisgros. He also learned from many other chefs from Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, and China.
In January 2011, the couple decided to renovate and "reinvigorate" their 20+ year old restaurant. After obtaining a liquor license, they made several changes.
The restaurant, which used to have two separate rooms, has now become two separate parts. One side is a more casual bar (Bar Terra), with "inspired drinks and lighter fare." The other side is Terra, the fine dining restaurant that holds one Michelin Star.
Tuna Sashimi with Radish Salad, Hijiki Seaweed, and Yuzu Pepper Vinaigrette
They've changed the menu format at Terra as well. I love this new format, in fact.
The menu is a long list of smaller-sized "tastes." Essentially, you get to create your own tasting menu.
You can get four courses for $66, five courses for $81, or six courses for $92. The omakase (Chef’s choice tasting menu), consists of seven or more courses. There is also a special daily set menu of 3 courses for $57.
Polenta Soup with Fontina Cheese, Slow Cooked Jidori Egg, and Winter Truffles
We absolutely loved the food. Although Chef Sone is Japanese, his food expresses influence from all over the world. His diverse training is evident throughout the menu. We certainly experienced Japanese-inspired dishes, but we also tasted aspects of France, Greece, Italy, and China.
Handmade Cavatelli Pasta with Oxtail Sugo and Braised Winter Greens
My favorite part was the flexibility of the menu. Bryan and I both decided to go for the smallest tasting (4-course for $66), yet we ordered eight completely different dishes. What resulted felt like an 8-course tasting for only $66, which is quite a bargain when you consider the quality of the food.
Fois Gras Tortelloni in Game Sauce with Cipollini, Shimeji Mushrooms, and Shaved Chestnuts
I liked how we weren't forced into a normal style tasting menu, where you have to start with a light (often raw) dish and end on some heavy, buttery steak or other red meat.
Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumpling in Shiso Broth
Instead, I had the option of ordering whatever I wanted in whatever order I fancied (though they will make suggestions). Notice how we have no red meat in our tasting, instead ending with fish and duck.
Grilled Liberty Farm Duck Breast with Chestnut Yam Puree and Huckleberry Duck Sauce
I also liked how they had less expensive options for wine. Bryan and I shared a house red, served in an Erlenmeyer flask! (See top picture - I was quite thrilled). Our celebrating "friends" sitting across from us ordered something similar.
Fig Compote with Labne, Mt. Shasta Wild Flower Honey and Pistachio Burma
The dessert from pastry chef Lissa Doumani was excellent. The burma was perfectly executed in all its flaky, crispy, and messy-to-eat glory (sorry Bryan!). Similarly, the figs and labne, both very classic Middle Eastern components, worked perfectly with the dish.
I would highly recommend coming here. The combination of the friendly price point, flexibility of choice, and the fantastic food (not to mention the Japanese influence), makes this one of my favorite restaurants in Napa Valley thus far.
At the end of the night, when the couple found out we had paid for their drinks, they came over to thank us. Turns out they have three children and loads of grandchildren. They grew up in this area and absolutely love it. The woman is an extremely talented artist with an education from Stanford University (can you imagine being a woman at such a top notch university that many years ago? wow.)
The man chuckled and jokingly remarked "we lasted this long because we both knew that if one of us left the other, we'd be stuck alone raising three kids."
All joking aside, it was clear that this couple had been partners for a very long time and cared deeply for one another. We were thrilled to be able to share this wonderful day with them.
We said our good-bys, exchanged cards, and went along on our merry way.
Definitely a dinner I won't forget.
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