Thanks to the good people at Acura, I was provided with a very cool 2013 Acura ILX and told that I could take it for an extended test drive recently. Usually, I use my car for running errands around town and making batches of car-baked cookies in the summer when it is hot enough to turn a car into an oven. I wanted my test drive to be a little more fun and, since it isn’t the season for baking cookies in the car, anyway, I drove the car all the way from Los Angeles to Napa for a week-long road trip to eat good food, drink good wine (not before driving, though) and take lots of pictures.
What I Ate:
Eating was a big part of the trip. I generally ate a light breakfast at a place like Bouchon Bakery in Yountville or Sweetie Pie‘s in downtown Napa, with a hot cup of coffee to get me going. I’ve been to both places before, and you really can’t go wrong. I would say that Bouchon Bakery (their almond croissant is pictured above) is definitely worth at least one visit if you’ve never been to Napa before. One other good breakfast option are the English Muffins at Model Bakery, which are huge and freshly baked every day. For a slightly heavier breakfast – by which I mean a breakfast where the food is so tasty you will want to stuff yourself – I found myself at The Fremont Diner, which is between Napa and Sonoma. They do great milkshakes and a lot of great pork dishes if you come back later in the day, too.
There are plenty of lunch options in the Napa area, too. The Oxbow Public Market proved to be a great place to stop for a sandwich, with lots of vendors and many different food choices, from cheese and charcuterie to pizza. You could fill up at one merchant, or sample from a few different ones. Bistro Jeanty is a classic, especially if you like French Bistro food. Their Tomato Soup with Puff Pastry (above) is a local favorite and it is big enough to be a satisfying lunch on its own. Addendum is another Yountville outpost where you can pick up a box lunch of either Fried Chicken (below) or BBQ pork, two of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc‘s most popular dishes, and take them to-go on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.
As you drive up the Silverado Trail or Highway 29, you’ll also see quite a few little delis where you can stock up on some good sandwiches (and a bottle of wine, too). If you’re doing any wine tasting, you definitely won’t want to skip lunch, although you may want to keep it light so you’re not too full before heading to your next destination – after all, there is a lot of good food in Napa.
While I was up there, I dinner at Redd in Yountville. Looking back, I regret not taking my camera with me to dinner here because the food was outstanding, as was the service. It recently won a Michelin star, and when you taste the food it is easy to see why. The restaurant is also filled with locals on a nightly basis – and with as much restaurant competition as you get in Napa, a place that always keeps the locals coming in is a good bet any day. I also went back to Morimoto, where I ate on my last trip up to Napa. It’s another restaurant where everything on the menu sounds – and is – delicious. There is lots of fish on the menu – though my favorite dish so far is probably the pork chop – and an extensive sushi selection served up be some outstanding sushi chefs (and Morimoto himself can be seen in the kitchen regularly).
What I Drank:
You have no shortage of wineries and tasting rooms to visit in Napa, so you can find something for every taste. It is more likely, however, that you’ll find lots of different wines that you like when you’re visiting. On this trip, I visited Paraduxx Winery, Luna Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery and had wines that I really enjoyed at all three places.
Paraduxx is a fairly young brand that specializes in zinfandel blends. The tasting room feels very open and hip, and they have a lovely patio area outside when the weather is nice. They even offer a tasting where you can try your hand at blending your own wines.
Luna Vineyards focuses on Italian grape varietals and their pinot grigio is easily worth a stop, though their limited production reds may be even better. The winery building is a beautiful place to relax and feel like you’re on vacation in an Italian villa, too.
Robert Mondavi Winery is a Napa valley icon, and one of the most well-known brands in the valley. They have a fantastic tour of their winery and you can see the whole process of making wine, from growing the grapes to fermentation to aging on a visit. Their vineyards are also some of the oldest in the valley.
Other Places I Went:
In addition to all the eating and drinking, I stopped by some of my favorite kitchen stores in the Napa area while I was up there. Shackfords is on Main Street and is packed with more kitchen gadgets and goodies than you could find in most places. They have professional and home equipment, too, so there is a lot of variety. Dean and Deluca in St Helena was another stop, where I browsed all kinds of specialty cheeses, sweets, salts and wines. The only problem I have there is deciding what I want to take home with me!
I also paid a visit to Kollar Chocolates, a relatively new chocolate shop in Yountville, where I picked up some very good – and very good looking – bon bons before my drive home.
On the way out of town, I took the scenic route and headed down towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It was actually raining very hard the morning I left, and I encountered quite a few streets that were closed due to flooding, but I stuck with my plan to get to the bridge despite having to take a few detours along the way. I lucked out because, after going about 40 miles out of my way just to get there, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared away just after I reached the Golden Gate.
I took a few pictures from the lookout, then drove across the bridge and headed back towards Southern California.
The last thing I did on my road trip was to drive down to Carson, California, to watch the LA Galaxy vs the Houston Dynamo in the 2012 MLS Cup. I happen to be a big Galaxy fan and I was thrilled to be there as they won the Cup for the 2nd year in a row – beating Houston both this season and last season. It was also fan-favorite David Beckham’s last game with the club. In the picture below, for any soccer fans, are David Beckham, Mike Magee, Robbie Keane, Christian Wilhelmsson and team captain Landon Donovan.
The car itself isn’t something I would normally spend much time discussing here at Baking Bites, but since it was the inspiration for this road trip, it definitely merits a little discussion. After all, I drove more than 1000 miles and spent over 20 hours in this car over the course of the week in the name of fun and research!
The Acura ILX is a small sedan and Acura’s most attractively priced (read: least expensive) model. It’s billed as an “entry level luxury car,” which means that it has very nice trim and features at a reasonable price. The model I drove was a hybrid, so it got fantastic gas mileage. I got 40-41 mpg both city and highway, as you can see from the shot of my odometer above.
It was also very comfortable, even when I was driving for hours on end, with tons of room for all of my road trip gear, clothes, etc. The sat-nav system was accurate and easy to use, and I liked that it had both traffic and weather, since there was a lot of rain in Napa and even some road closures on smaller highways while I was there. I also thought that the car was quite stylish and sleek in the all-black color I drove. I’m not a car expert by any means, but it is definitely a fun (and practical, thanks to the hybrid) car to drive.
I hope that my next road trip is in as nice of a ride. I know I’ll be back up to Napa in the future, though, because there are still plenty of restaurants and wineries for me to visit the next time I head up.