Restaurant Review July 29, 2005 - Joanne

Press - St. Helena

587 S. St. Helena Highway
St. Helena, CA


With a welcoming faint whiff of wood smoke - we were shown immediately to our corner table right beside the wait station. It actually wasn’t too bad – not too distracting as it first seemed it might be.

The decor is pleasing shades of chocolate walnut, chartreuse and cream, with pillow backed banquets, leather chairs and white linens. There are about 70 seats. The menu is in binder form and contains a cocktail card, menu, dessert menu, purveyor list and wine list.

As the menu points out (it has an entire page devoted to its purveyors) the restaurant is focused on sourcing the best quality seasonal ingredients. Located adjacent to the Dean & DeLuca store in St. Helena, they don't have to go far to get a fantastic selection of cheese, among other things. It is no coincidence that Dean & DeLuca and Press are both co-owned by Leslie Rudd, Napa Valley entrepreneur and winery owner. The restaurant is loosely based on the idea of a famous Parisian Rotisserie. The chef Keith Luce has a stellar resume and has put together an interesting and changing menu.

Breads - four types: House made Roll filled with Caramelized Onions & Onion Jam; a Salt and herbed flatbread; as well as Bouchon Epi; and Bouchon Olive Bread.

Straus Family Organic Butter & Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Edge Hill Winery, St. Helena

Amuse Bouche:
Avocado and Mascarpone Cream topped with tiny Red Carmelized Onion on Thin Olive toast

Yum! Beautifully Balanced and Fresh. The toast was the perfect foil adding a wonderful crunch to the creaminess of the avocado cream.

By the Glass
2004 Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley $9/glass
Minerally. Surprisingly crisp.
2004 Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc $9/glass
Fruity and with a definite sweetness. Enjoyable. It paired well with the Oysters. (We were told that Crossroads is the second label of Rudd.)

To Start:
Other starters ($9-14) offered include: Jonah Crab Louie, Limestone Bibb and Butter Lettuces Salad, Goat Cheese Gratin, Hand-chopped Steak Tartare and Creamy Seafood and Fennel Soup. We chose...

Rainbow Scallops served in the Shell $19
Fresh Scallops served in Lemon Butter Sauce along with the roe, garnished with a tiny piece of grapefruit on top. The scallops were delicious. The sauce was perfect a match with the scallops, although a little less sauce would have been ideal. The scallops really didn’t need any sauce.

Grilled “Sweet Water” Oysters with Crème Fraîche & Leeks $12
The oysters were really fresh tasting. Shells a little flakey making eating tricky. Too much sauce for the oyster made it lose it’s delicacy. The sauce was well made and tasty – just too much of it and impossible to remove. If I ordered again I would ask for “Easy on the sauce.”

2001 TOR West Block Cabernet Sauvignon $93.00
Wow. While a bit heavy on the oak, this wine is delicious and enjoyable now (decanted for an hour). It was great with the steak and all the accompaniments. It’s just a really pleasurable wine to drink.

Corkage is $20 unless you order another bottle from the wine list and then one bottle is free. They also extend courtesy to Napa winemakers who bring in their own wine to dine with.

The Main Course:
Entrees do not include accompianments - side dishes to be shared are covered below. Main course options included Salmon, Duck (Grimaud), Line caught Halibut and Lamb, as well as other steak cuts and a whole chicken carved tableside. The steaks are grilled over an oak fire - while the roasted items are from the almond and cherry wood-fired rotisserie. We chose:

Heritage Berkshire Pork Chop with Stone Fruit Relish $24
Berkridge Farms, Berkshire Heritage Pork, Iowa

This pork chop was tough. It had good flavor - if anything was at fault – perhaps it might be a little less cooked – but really it was the chop itself that I suspect was tough – not the chef’s fault at all. The waiter immediately offered to bring something else - Jack’s alternate choice:

Certified Black Angus & Hereford NY Strip from Brunner Beef, Kansas - $32 for a 10oz steak. The steak was excellent according to Jack – and a much better choice.

All-Natural Certified Black Angus USDA Prime Hand-Cut Tenderloin 12oz $42
all natural, dry-aged prime beef from America’s heartland certified black angus from Creekstone Farms, Kansas
My steak was perfectly cooked. A nice crust and a warm pinkish cooler center (medium rare) - Served with Watercress, Sausalito Springs, California and roasted garlic.

My watercress was over-dressed with too much vinaigrette and too much salt – you couldn’t taste watercress at all. Jack’s however, was much more balanced.

Four Sauces are available “on the house” to complement the main courses – the waiter offered to bring all four (the other 2 are a mint jelly and a freshly grated horseradish) – we chose:

Béarnaise Aioli
It’s like béarnaise-light. Good flavor, well made but doesn’t win my vote – it might be great on chicken or fish. Even though Frites and béarnaise are usually a match made in heaven – the steak sauce is much better with them!

Cabernet Sauvignon “Steak Sauce”
Wow this is the best ketchup ever – it’s fresh and light and has deep flavor but isn’t dark and rich like normal steak sauce. It has a slight tang to it – Tamarind? It’s great with the frites – and the steak too – although the steak doesn’t really need anything.

Side Dishes $9 to $14.
Side dishes are served in Staub cast iron containers to keep them warm. No baked potatoes in sight - offerings included a Potato and Garlic cake, thinly sliced buttermilk battered red onions called "Cotton" Onion rings, Blue Lake beans with onions and a casserole of squash, eggplant etc. We chose:

Chioggia Beets with Truffled Pecorino & Purslane
These were baby chioggia beets. The sauce was heavy handed and the smell of pecorino lingered over the table for the whole dinner. The sauce was good but completely obscured the perfectly cooked beets. I didn’t see pPurslane in our version.

Hand-Cut Kennebec “Frites”
These are the best fries we’ve had in Napa. They are served crisp and warm. They are not very flavorful on their own – but great with the cabernet steak sauce. The waiter let us know that they were fried in peanut oil – in case of an allergy.

Rainbow Scallops

Sweetwater Oysters

12-oz Hand-Cut Filet

Heritage Pork Chop

Frites under wraps

Kennebec Frites unveiled

We skipped dessert but there was an attractive cheese plate (changes frequently) offering the Spanish Pata de Mulo and Sweetgrass Dairy's Greenhill.

The actual dessert list offers an exciting Baked Alaska which served 2-6 (I almost threw caution to the wind until the waiter said it would easily feed 8) and Chocolate Souffle made to order, as well as a Fruit Crisp, and a selection of Ice Creams & Sorbets to choose from. All desserts, including the cheese plate, are $10 except for the Baked Alaska ($20).

Pellegrino or Panna. We were not charged – but perhaps that is an oversight?

The Service
The service from the main waiter was exemplary early on, but he forgot about us after the main dish was re-served and we had far too long to linger over the remnants of our food before one of the floor staff (a non-waiter/bus person) inquired if we were finished. Everything else came promptly.

The waiter was well trained and was very informed on the food - lacking a bit on the wine (he didn't know for sure if any of the three Sauvignon Blancs, available by the glass, had not seen oak). Still, for wine country, this was way above average service.

Probably not a very kid-friendly restaurant. There were no children dining with their parents during our visit. Portions are large and there is no children's menu in sight.

$254 plus tip for two is a hefty bill - but not in wine country or at top level steakhouse.

Press is a very welcome addition to the Napa Wine Country dining scene and we look forward to returning soon. (Perhaps wearing dark sunglasses, as there were so many male diners wearing Tommy Bahama shirts, you would have thought we were in Hawaii! - Jack)

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