Being the ‘other’ 3* in Napa is not easy. When the restaurant at Meadowood received the Michelin’s highest accolade, criticism was harsh and the foodie community was sceptical towards the cuisine of Chris Kostow.
However, the dining experience at Meadowood is a special one, no doubt about it. It starts with the location of the resort in which the restaurant is. As this was the first site at which Bill Harlan planted vines, you can imagine that it is amazingly pretty here. As this bit of Napa wasn’t quite ideal for growing grapes, Bill Harlan certainly has found something useful use it for, as Meadowood is a beautiful, peaceful and hidden place that encapsulates what Napa is all about.
Once you step into the relatively small restaurant you are immediately struck by the fact that apart from a magnificent view into the little valley and onto the golf course, the colours and decoration create a feeling of warmth. The service is a little stiff and not quite as knowledgeable as you’d perhaps like it to be, but that seems to be quite common in California’s very finest restaurants.
What is clearly amazing here is the food. There really isn’t an awful lot you can criticise with Kostow’s cuisine. It is intricate, precise, playful and most importantly always delicious. He’s a master at marrying flavours and combining products, be it simple dishes or complex compositions. What you feel in every dish is his desire to constantly push forward. That is something that really makes his food interesting, and so captivating. It is not often that someone can manage to challenge and beat your expectations with every dish.
An example of this would be a grilled cucumber with caviar and cream. It is a dish that is sublime in combining the beautiful little cucumbers from the kitchen’s own gardens with the richness of the caviar and the freshness of the cream. For a dish that might appear gimmicky, there is an awfully precise way of thinking behind the dish, and a result that is both coherent and convincing.
That Kostow can do simple dishes equally well is best shown by a loin of beef with courgettes and lardo. This is a beautiful piece of beef, abundantly marbled with fat, and topped with a thin strip of lardo that adds extra richness to it. A few pieces of grilled courgettes and a fairly classic jus finish the dish off and add a vegetal character to it. With such perfectly executed food, and beautiful preparations one really cannot say much but agree with the Michelin: This is sublime food.
Another dish that ought to be mentioned has the fairly pretentious title of “To quicken the heart”. Basically it combines yeasty with fairly salty flavours in a dessert that stands out for its balance and clever construction. Such a plate of food is not only surprising due to the combinations of flavours that it features, but also due to the fact that they can be made to appear so natural and coherent that you wonder why no one else does something like it.
That is what Kostow does best. Bring products together that are beautiful in terms of quality, cooked perfectly and paired with unusual garnishes. His cuisine is subtle, yet powerful, rich and fresh at the same time. It is a great testament to both the quality of produce offered in this beautiful part of the world and the dedication of a fantastic brigade. With him being so young, we can only look forward to a next meal at Meadowood to see how things have developed.