900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 94574, United States

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Editor's note. On Sunday 27th September 2020 the property burned down. It is unclear at this point when it will reopen.

Meadowood is a sprawling 250 acre resort in the Californian wine country. Rooms are set separately out along a hillside, and the guide to the property in our room gave a helpful reminder that you are firmly in the country.  The room guide notes that you may encounter within the estate some wildlife, including mule deer (cute), skunks (less cute) and mountain lions (you what now?), as well as giving practical advice on what steps to take (slow ones) if bitten by a rattlesnake.  The main Meadowood dining room is near the hotel reception.

Chef Christopher Kostow trained at Georges at the Cove in San Diego, Jardins des Sens in Montpelier and worked as sous chef under Daniel Humm at Campton Place in San Francisco (Daniel is now head chef of Eleven Madison Park in New York), before becoming head chef at Chez TJ in California prior to his move to Meadowood in 2008. The menu is $115 for four courses, or $225 for the tasting menu. The style of the food is contemporary, rather than classical, French cooking. The dining room is one floor up, an airy room with high ceiling and with big picture windows giving a pretty view over the golf course and the hills beyond. Tables were large and laid out impeccably, with perfectly ironed tablecloths.

The wine list stretched over 51 closely typed pages, and is understandably strong on Californian wines, but the list also ventures further afield, with wines from lesser-known corners of the wine world, such as a wine from Santorini that was part of the wine pairing. California and France are where the list is deep, while coverage of some countries is more cursory e.g. just three red wines from Spain were listed. Mark-ups were relatively kind by London standards, many of the wines being around twice the retail price. Examples included Heitz Chardonnay 2007 at $49 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for $23, Newton Unfiltered 2007 at $105 compared to a shop price of $46, and Kistler Les Noisetier 1998 at $140 for a wine that retails at $64. There were wines as low as $29 but also plenty of prestige choices, such as Ravenau Clos 2002 at $1,650 for a wine you can find for $629, Leflaive Cheavlier Montrachet 1996 at $2,700 for a wine that retails at $2,064 and Romanee Conti La Tache 1991 at $5,000 for a wine you can buy for $3,000.

Our meal began a series of nibbles. Fromage blanc "pillow" with edible flowers inside a pastry case was a pleasant light introductory course, with good pastry (17/20). Next was an interesting dish of baby carrots and radishes (grown on the property) in "snow", the vegetables having very good taste, though whether they tasted any better for being in the cold snow was unclear (18/20). Next was twice-baked potato with cheese and chives, served warm. This was a comforting, rich dish, nicely seasoned (18/20). I was impressed by clam fritters with lettuce and lemon, the clams tender and the citrus element from the lemon very precisely judged (19/20). A fritter of hominy with house-made chorizo and cilantro (coriander) was also superb, the chorizo adding a hint of spice (19/20). Yoghurt custard shiso (perilla) was very interesting, the yoghurt custard having wonderful flavour, the shiso balancing its richness really well (19/20, bordering 20/20). Overall I though these were an impressive array of amuse-bouches.

Razor clams were smoked and grilled over grape wood, served with whipped avocado, compressed grape and shaved green almonds, garnished with osetra caviar, served cold. This was pleasant but less exciting than some of the other nibbles (17/20). It was served with a glass of 2010 Gargiula Vineyards Rosato di Sangiovese from Money Road Ranch in Napa, which for me was about the only mis-step in the wine pairing, as although I can see the logic of it I just didn't think it was a very good wine. At this point the first of several breads arrived, a good milk bread roll (17/20).

The first formal part of the tasting menu was foie gras encased in liquorice, with wild fennel, glazed cherries, black Armenian walnuts and moscavato sugar. I found the liquorice taste simply too dominant, and although the dish had some balance from the cherries providing acidity, and the walnuts a texture contrast, the main element of the dish, the foie gras, seemed buried by the liquorice (16/20). The dish was accompanied by the superb 2000 Takaji Azsu 6 Puttonyos from Grof Degenfeld - nectar in a glass.

A little sourdough roll appeared now on the side, topped with a little salt; this was served warm and was very well made (19/20). At this point a dish of vegetables with black summer truffles from Umbria appeared: whipped brie in whole wheat agnolotti with toasted barley and assorted tiny vegetables; unfortunately the truffles lacked much flavour and the dish was under-seasoned, so it tasted very bland (16/20). This came with a glass of Domaine Sigalas Assyrtika 2009 from Santorini, an excellent Greek wine.

The meal got back on track with a seared scallop from Maine with a pair of crayfish and asparagus, with poached chicken quenelles, sauce mousseline and tarragon. This was a well-executed dish with good ingredients and coherent flavours, and in this case was well-seasoned (19/20). As an aside, the menu noted that the scallop was "live", not when served of course but when it was delivered to the restaurant, which is quite revealing - the notion of a Michelin starred restaurant in France serving scallops that had been delivered other than live would be almost unimaginable, but clearly that is not the case here (nor, sadly, in the UK). The dish was served with 2008 Hestan Vineyards Chardonnay from San Francisco Bay, a rich glass of wine that went well with the dish.

Chermoula (a north African spice blend) rubbed duck was served with raw rhubarb, mustard and celery leaf. The duck had good flavour and was carefully cooked, and the mustard gave some punch to the dish (18/20). This was served with a pleasant glass of Thomas Fogerty Pinot Noir "Rapley Trail Vineyard - Block B" from Santa Cruz. The last savoury dish was "tete du porc", served with peas, smoked potato gnocchi and horseradish, the dish pleasantly balanced and the pork pleasant but not having the flavour that one would find in certain restaurants in Spain (18/20). This came with a glass of Roy Estates Cabernet Sauvignon "Estate" 2006 from Napa.

Rather than a cheese board, four cheeses were served with accompaniments. Pecorino Balze Volterrane was served with pear, macadamia nut and Nasturtium, whipped Senne Flada with apple jam, honeycomb and a little toasted brioche, Blu Del Moncenisio with dried cherries, white port and watercress, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar with beer-poached prunes, Brussels sprouts and puffed rye. This was all very pretty, but I found this unnecessarily elaborate, though it did serve to distract from what were some pleasant but hardly dazzling quality cheeses (17/20). This came with a glass of Schloss Vollrads Spatlese 2020 from Rheingau, an excellent wine.

A "ready-made ice cream cake" with roasted white chocolate and saffron caramel was a well-made and pleasant way to finish the meal, a comforting landing after some of the more exotic earlier dishes (18/20). This came with "Dolce" by Far Niente 2006 from the Napa Valley. Coffee was excellent (19/20), though the espresso was served in a very small cup, so it was irritating to be charged for refills.

Service throughout the meal was top-drawer: our waiter very knowledgeable, topping up faultless, the sommelier excellent. The bill came to $355 (£216) per person. Overall this was certainly a highly enjoyable meal, with some very good dishes that in particular showcased the local vegetables, grown on the grounds.  Sometimes the cooking seemed to me to be trying a little too hard to be inventive, whereas the scallop and crayfish dish demonstrated that the kitchen can deliver a lovely, simple dish with plenty of flavour if it chooses to. My main caveat is a certain inconsistency; over a lengthy tasting menu you are unlikely to encounter dish after perfect dish, but for me there were just a few too many ups and downs. However, this was certainly an excellent restaurant with much to like about it.

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