The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil failed to romance us on this dinner visit in November. The view at another time of day (or year) could be wonderful. The restaurant is set high up on the hills to the east of Rutherford and the balcony is suspended from the hillside, giving it a feeling of being up in the air. It could be a romantic dinner, as the tables are tucked in corners and alcoves and arranged for intimacy. Tablecloths on our visit were a sunny gold which warmed the environment up a bit, paired with the wicker armchairs on the balcony.
However we found that the tables were close enough to overhear conversations and the overall atmosphere lacked warmth to make it romantic. The tables close to the railing are at diamonds and are close enough together that waiters are apt to knock chairs when maneuvering. This annoyed Jack so much we had to move the table. The music seemed aimed for the over 60 crowd but there wasn't anyone in the restaurant over the age of 55 the night we dined. Cigarette smoke from patio below wafted up for a while during our arrival and then again during dessert. Tiny flatware for two courses made us feel we were eating with the kid-sized flatware rather than the salad and dessert set.
Overall, the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleilmakes a pleasant dining environment and might be wonderful in the early afternoon or morning. Dining at night on the balcony is much like dining outside in the dark. The view is of sparkling of lights in the distance and a lot of black; no reason to have two only two seats at a table facing in that direction.
Let's get to the food! The standard menu was $95/person for 4 courses. With a bottle and a 1/2 of lesser wines from the menu and one bottle of water the total for dinner was around $400 for two. We found the food to be not up to the cost. In fact the unevenness of the food on this visit was unpleasant (especially in the case of the risotto and cheese). There are other restaurant choices that are better value and more memorable.
Amuse:Smoked Salmon and White bean on Toast
A nice appetizer but not inspired or novel. It was served to the table requiring that it was taken with fingers and eaten immediately as a passed hors d'oeuvres would be.
Pan Seared Foie Gras, Poached Pears, Pain Perdu, Apple Cider Jus
I love the idea of french toast under foie. The foie gras was good but nothing in this presentation was standout. The pear was surprisingly lackluster. I still liked the pain perdu offered here with the foie. It could have been ethereal and tonight it was not.
Poached Maine Lobster, Avocado, Mango, Vanilla, Watercress
Really nicely done lobster. Really too bad that the beautiful lobster was paired with an overpowering sauce. The intensity of the vanilla and smoothness of the avocado, knocked out any subtleties. I really love vanilla and found it objectionable in this dish.
Chestnut Risotto with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Apple Emulsion
My first appraisal was on purely on presentation; the risotto looked gluey. Unfortunately, it also tasted gluey. I know chestnuts are a glutinous purée which I'm sure added to the difficulties here, but the risotto was also slightly underdone, which really made it not work. The apple essence was completely lost and there was no character at all to the chestnut risotto. Not worth eating.
Seared Ahi Tuna, Hearts of Palm, Glazed Pork Belly, Quail Egg
The tuna was good-to-very good with thick seared slices, but nothing spectacular. The pork was good (Jack considered it the best part of the dish) but I thought it could be more tender and succulent. With the choice again, Jack would order something else.
Paine Farm Squab, Figs, Haricots Verts, Arugula, Cumin, Carrot (from the Chef's Tasting Menu)
Wonderful. I loved the heavy lemon and salt (with cumin) seasoning. This would be a love or hate seasoning however (Jack did not like it). The squab was rare (as expected), tender and really good. Figs were nicely cooked and a nice foil. My only complaint (if any) would have been to ask for a slightly crisper skin. Really good.
Prime New York Beef, Wild Mushrooms, Boulangere, Caramelized Shallot Sauce
Not enough marbling made it firmer than the prime we are accustomed to. It was close to rare. It really needed a steak knife although we were not presented with one. Mushrooms were cooked beyond taste. The boulangeres were not crispy. The hand cut gaufrettes on top were slightly soggy where they touched the meat - so not en pointe. But the beef was enjoyable.
Interim Amuse Warm Apple Cider with Cinnamon Pearls
We were dutifully informed that the pearls were made of seaweed and completely edible. Served in a shot glass and gratefully so, as the best mode of attack was to consume in one swallow. A good palate refresher, as it was not too sweet and although cinnamon was strong element it seemed not to linger. The apple cider itself was weak on character. When we inquired as to the type of apple the waiter offered "Washington" as a response. It could have been a bit warmer to make the experience better.
Arkansas Black Apple Beignets, Calvados Caramel, Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream
The beignets were rings of cored apple, battered and fried. They tasted mainly of the fryer with a finish of cinnamon sugar. All apple nuances lost. The caramel (almost an afterthought) was smeared on the plate and there was virtually no way to integrate it into dish. The beignets were not too greasy but that is my positive comment on them. The cinnamon ice cream was the best part.
The Cheese Course: Pyrenees Brebis, Accapella, Bergkase Heublumen, Blu de Moncensio & Soumaintrain
It looked really great on paper - with good choices. The waitress was ahh-ing over the wonderful Soumaintrain. We found the Soumaintrain was ammoniated and overripe as to be inedible and it was served with rind under the dollop so as to make it impossible to eat without the rind. While the cheeses were well faced and obviously cut to order they just weren't on it. The accompaniments lacked flourish too - the spiced walnuts were bland. The grapes unripe. The bread lacking character and not a great cheese pairing. Another night this might be a great cheese course.
I know these take a lot of work but it's nice at least to offer one of each to each diner so they don't have to be cut in half. The four offered were a Gianduia truffle, tiny orange cake, chocolate fleur de sel caramel tartlet and a fruit paste.
2005 Nicholas Potel Clos de Vignes Franches Beaune 1er Cru (375ml)
Very young and would not open for us. This should not have been a choice on the wine list yet, it needs to be cellared. The nose makes great promises of exotic spice and deep red cherry but it is too young to drink. Try again in 15 years or so.
2005 Domaine Weinbach Muscat Reserve
Joanne usually doesn't like muscat but this one is an exception. It has a definite minerality and light citrus-y element which balances out the fruit and flowers to make it very elegant. It worked well with all the courses.
The wine list is massive but expensive. There are a few wine geek choices but also particularly weak on Italian. There is a good selection of German wine. The dessert wine list is great; easily one of the best in wine country.
Flat Service. Our questions were answered with flat responses on the few times we made inquiries as to sources or ingredients. There seemed to be little interest by the staff to interact with diners beyond straight service issues. Perhaps this is the training, but it leaves a flat, empty note to the dinner.
You may notice that we do not give out a lot of praise. Having been to so many high-quality restaurants, it's pretty tough to impress us.
Most of our reviews are based on just one visit. We neither have the time nor the money (or often, the inclination) to visit most restaurants multiple times. So, please keep in mind that a single-visit review is a snapshot - the restaurant may be "on it" that day - or not. If the meal has a calamity involved (foreign objects in the food, wine poured on us, etc.) we try not to let it shade the overall review.
We pay for the food and beverages; restaurants never comp us. We try to be discreet about taking photos so that the staff doesn't notice/get an idea we're going to do a review. We rarely take notes in the restaurant.
Like the rest of our website, we update our restaurant review pages based upon subsequent visits.