Would you book an entire vacation around one meal? Well, foodies, you might want to consider making your dining reservations before you book that flight.
Every time I visit Northern California, I realize the power of the celebrity chef. Even though many of these culinary rockstars also have restaurants in New York or Las Vegas, they have created quite a stir in Napa and Sonoma. See, the wine industry likes to eat out and has very high expectations. And visitors to this region are often looking for an unparalleled sensory experience. In response, iconic chefs have created culinary experiences truly worth flying across the country for.
While top Vegas casinos have relied on celebrity-chef-studded dining experiences to lure luxury travelers, there’s probably no place more appropriate than the country’s top wine regions for these chefs to create dining experiences like no other. But reservations don’t come easy, especially at prime times like weekends, so you need to have a game plan. Even concierges at top hotels have a hard time snagging a table at gustatory hot spots like The French Laundry. So for the discerning foodie, I have one piece of advice: Make your dinner reservations, and then worry about the airline and hotel.
Here are some of the chefs that have created experiences that go beyond fine dining and have built iconic destinations in their own right, giving new meaning to why people visit (and how they experience) wine country:
Chef Charlie Palmer, Dry Creek Kitchen in Sonoma
Palmer has opened 13 notable restaurants around the country including Aureole in New York and Las Vegas. He opened Dry Creek Kitchen in 2001, bringing fine dining to the luxurious Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma.
Chef Michael Chiarello, Bottega in Yountville
Probably best known as the host of Food Network’s Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello, Chiarello is a long-time resident of Napa and a fixture in the region’s fine dining. He opened Tra Vigne in 1996, and acted as Executive Chef/Partner for Tra Vigne and seven other restaurants until 2000. He then left to create NapaStyle and Chiarello Family Vineyards. In 2008, Chiarello opened Bottega Napa Valley restaurant in Yountville. Any of these spots are well worth a visit.
Chef Tyler Florence, Rotisserie & Wine in Napa
Tyler Florence is a Food Network veteran, with more than 14 years in front of the camera with shows like Food 911 and Tyler’s Ultimate. In addition to Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco and a gastropub called El Paseo in Mill Valley, CA, Florence opened his third Bay Area restaurant, Rotisserie & Wine next to Morimoto Napa on Napa’s Riverfront in 2010.
Chef Morimoto Masaharu, Morimoto in Napa
Chef Morimoto, known to millions as the star of Iron Chef, is the executive chef at restaurants that carry his name in Philadelphia, New York, India and Florida. In 2010, he opened his first West Coast Restaurant, Morimoto Napa. This is a real outpost of fine dining, and even as a New Yorker, I believe this is an important stop for experiencing his work.
Chef Thomas Keller, French Laundry in Yountville
Of course, the hardest reservation to get is still The French Laundry. Be prepared to call exactly two months prior to when you want to dine, and exactly at 10am Pacific. Dial a few minutes early to get in the queue. I’ve spoken to Napa’s top concierges who say there is no magic trick to getting a reservation here, but they use several phones to call at this precise time. There’ a reason these reservations are in such high demand, and if you’re able to book a reservation, that’s the time to start planning — if this isn’t an experience worth flying across the country for, I don’t know what is.
Thomas Keller opened The French Laundry in 1994, followed by a second restaurant four years later called Bouchon and then Bouchon Bakery, all in Yountville, CA. In 2004 he opened Per Se in New York. He now has eight restaurants and two bakeries in the United States, including his home-style restaurant Ad Hoc also located in Yountville, and outposts of Bouchon Bakery in Las Vegas, New York and Beverly Hills.