It was the H who introduced me to travelling without much of an itinerary. In my natural state, I am the sort of person who, before leaving on a holiday, would want to know where we would be putting up each night, what we would be doing each day, and where (preferably even what) we would be having each meal. But that first 6-week-long back-packing trip across Europe with him all those years back changed things somewhat. It was then that I got my first taste of being able to wake up in the morning and deciding there and then to catch a train to another country just because I’d had enough of a place.
We were in Amsterdam. Pretty as it all was, I was limping about because of a torn ligament, an injury I sustained from jumping off a cliff into a waterfall while canyoning in Interlaken some days earlier. Our accommodation left much to be desired, with a bed that was way too small for the both of us, and a breakfast room where we shared a table with a young American couple – the girl wouldn’t stop whining to her boyfriend about how the eggs weren’t the way she liked it. So as you can imagine, I was not in the best of spirits. One morning I woke up and decided on a whim we should just leave. I didn’t care that we hadn’t seen a single windmill yet. And so we got on a train and left.
Of course, when travelling with the kids, we don’t just pack a few suitcases and catch a flight somewhere with no accommodation waiting for us at our destination. In fact, when the kids were younger, there was actually a lot of planning and preparation needed (I can’t express adequately how glad I am that we are past that). Anyway, now we always book accommodation at the very least before we get on the plane. And while I don’t plan our itinerary until we actually get to the place, I still do enough research beforehand to know what we might like to do while we’re there. But I generally like to keep our program flexible and relaxed. A lot does depend on the weather and how we feel each day.
I was on holiday with the family in June. By no means was it a culinary tour of any sort, but since we were going to be eating out at every meal for 3 weeks, we thought we should at least make some of those inevitable extra calories count for something. After all, we were in California.
Now please know that waxing lyrical about food is not something I do very well. In that sense, I’m not much of a food reviewer. I’m much better at enjoying it than I am at describing how I much I enjoyed it.
So there were a couple of memorable meals we had, but let me start with REDD.
Yountville, Napa Valley, California
We drove from San Francisco to Napa Valley on a Monday morning and after visiting some wineries, made our way to Yountville for lunch. We had a lunch reservation at Redd, but were a little concerned by some reviews which suggested that kids might not be entirely welcome. However, our experience was nothing like that.
I liked the simple, modern interior with big windows which let in lots of natural light. The atmosphere was casual and cheerful. Servers were young and friendly, chatty yet professional. And while I wouldn’t exactly call it a family-friendly restaurant, not for a moment were our kids made to feel unwelcome. Plus the food was excellent.
We started with the Cold trio of Foie Gras. Although I’m generally not very big on foie gras, I thought this was incredible. My favourite was the pistachio-crusted one, which was so smooth, creamy yet delicate. (But now that California has put a ban on foie gras effective 1 July – see article here – I’m assuming it would no longer be on the menu).
We also had the Glazed Pork Belly, which was cooked in soya sauce and therefore had a very Asian flavour. It reminded me of the char shu pork we get at Japanese Ramen restaurants (think Tampopo Black Pork Char Shu or the Char Shu Pork Belly from Ippudo or Marutama), but in thicker slices. Caramelised and braised till very soft, and fat melt in the mouth. Served with an apple puree which was very pleasant.
The daughter’s Roasted Chicken was juicy and tender. I liked how it was served atop a succotash, which is essentially a vegetable stew comprising corn, beans and other vegetables, giving it somewhat of a home-style feel. Pretty amazing, just as our server had promised.
The H ordered the Duck Confit with Foie Gras Meatballs. I thought it was pretty good, though not awesome. It could also have been because we weren’t so hungry anymore by the time we tucked into this, that we didn’t enjoy it as much as we’d hoped to.
The son still tends to favour familiar flavours over anything new or exotic. We got him the Steamed Pork Buns because it sounded like a take on Kong Bak Bao, which is one of his current favourite foods. We weren’t wrong about that. The difference was that the pork belly was diced and roasted, caramelised but still firm. Buns were done very nicely. Fluffy and yet with some oil on the outside so the skins were a little golden. The texture of the buns were more melt-in-the-mouth than your usual bao (steamed buns) or mantou. However, the son’s initial interest in his main course quickly waned once he realised the pork wasn’t melt-in-the-mouth the way it is with good kong bak, nor were the buns quite the same as his favourite bao. I suppose we were setting ourselves up for disappointment, because it’s really hard to be satisfied with anything else if you’re comparing it to Kong Bak Bao.
Now the star of this meal had to be the Caramelized Diver Scallops. The scallops were seared perfectly on one side almost to a golden crust. Each was juicy and bursting with flavour. We couldn’t get enough. The scallops came served with a cauliflower puree, cauliflower florets, almonds and a balsamic reduction. And who knew that something like cauliflower puree and florets could taste so heavenly? So. Amazing. So much so that after we’d had this as a starter, I couldn’t resist ordering the same thing in a bigger portion as a main.
It’s a pity that by the time we were done with the mains, we had no more room for dessert. Even then, REDD was one of our most pleasant dining experiences in California this time round.