As a warm August sun slipped behind the mountains in St. Helena, we left the main road and drove into our journey. Deeper into this fantasy forest, trees soared alongside both sides of our car. We had travelled down this road before, it seemed. Our honeymoon, eleven months earlier, brought us high into the remote mountains near Porto Ercole, Italy, where we discovered the enchanted Hotel Il Pellicano. That same unknown quiet existed here, magnetically inviting us deeper in.
Lit cottage windows peaked through the darkness. Then, a guard gate.
“We’re here for dinner. The Restaurant at Meadowood.”
A handwritten card waited at our table: “Happy 1st Anniversary! Wishing you joy and happiness on your special day. Cheers, Nathaniel Dorn.” Nathaniel’s role at Meadowood might otherwise be considered a manager, but he is known as the director, and the title suits the experience. Actions by staff were carefully choreographed with deliberate timing, but to us, nothing felt disingenuous. Doug and I are natural-born chatters with whoever will engage. Our waiter, Christopher, never rushed our questions or comments, willingly discussing everything from food preparation, to the handcrafted pottery complementing each dish, to our lives in New York City.
Chef Christopher Kostow may perfect his craft a far distance from New York City, and an even farther distance from the Tuscan Coast, but his food rivaled our most memorable star-rated meals in both places. An eleven-course tasting opened with memorable extras: black olive infused merengue cups with dollops of whipped olive oil, and crisp kale chips, perched like statues, served on the open pages of a vintage book.
We traveled from the farm, to the sea, and back to land, with balance and purpose. Spot prawns brushed with prawn butter brought decadence to the table early on. It seemed as though most ingredients only made it onto the plate to push the proteins to their greatest natural ability. Take the perfectly cooked square of salmon. Using some sort of vegetable ash, Chef Kostow and his team simulated a charred, crispy skin on top, tricking our minds. Poussin arrived in two courses: first, a rich broth enveloping our mouths, and then, poussin baked in sourdough bread, presented first with loaf intact, then sliced and served with said bread, the best I’ve ever tasted.
Dessert was simple but magical. Coconut borage, like a snowball sorbet, parted ways for an unlikely companion: a rich pool of olive oil.
The night could have ended on our final bites, but it didn’t. Christopher asked if we wanted to tour the kitchen, to which I replied, “absolutely, without question, yes.” Watching the integral players of this operation at work could have been awkward, but they were warm and welcoming, just like everyone else. If every single diner received that same invitation to go behind the curtain, I would feel no less special.
During the course of our two-and-a-half-hour meal, we disappeared. We were no longer in Napa, about to pack up our hotel room for a weekend in San Francisco. Nor were we back in Manhattan at one of the Daniels of the world, although the food was just as good. The closest we were to anywhere was Porto Ercole, on our honeymoon, an unadultered journey where nothing else mattered but him, me, and the experience.