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Restaurant at Meadowood | St. Helena

Author: | posted 07/22/08 | Print This Post Print This Post |

Update: Chris Kostow continues to rake in the critical accolades, setting him on a path to rival the French Laundry. Prices have risen since the writing of this review in 2008, so plan accordingly.

Restaurant at MeadowoodIt was a dinner that cost as much as a flat screen television. A single meal for two at the Michelin-rated Meadowood Restaurant cost more than my monthly car payment, more than I spend on clothes, as much as a flight to New York City and more than many people earn in a week. Let’s be honest, it’s more than many people earn in a month.

The knee-jerk reaction when I tell people this fact is either “Holy #$!&, I would never do that” or “Was it worth it?” And that’s exactly the point. We can all justify why it’s a ridiculous sum of money for anyone but lottery winners and the obscenely wealthy. But the harder question is, what could possibly make it worth that much for your average person?

Let’s break it down. Here’s what you get for $661:
- Brief access to the very exclusive Meadowood Resort, a secluded retreat for the rich and famous. They have a croquet pro, if that says anything.
- Million dollar, panoramic views from the dining room, and at least four people ready to serve your every whim.
- An eight-course chef’s tasting menu ($155 per person) and wine pairing ($95 per person). Tasting menus showcase the chef’s skill and ability to weave cohesive flavors and textures from appetizer to dessert.
- Haute French cuisine from one of the fastest rising chefs in the Bay Area, Christopher Kostow, who’s been at the restaurant since May 2008.

Those are the facts. But why people spend that kind of money on a meal is a bit more ambiguous.

Kostow, who’s in his early 30s, is among the handful of chefs working in Wine Country who have mastered modern haute cuisine. This is the kind of food you eat once or twice in a lifetime if you’re lucky — plates so tweezer-precise that if feels like a sacrilege to degrade them with a fork. Radishes become art and herbs become bubbling foams and powders. Kostow stops well before reaching the silliness of gastro-tech (lasers, dry ice and the like), but incorporates elements like sous vide (a water cooking process for meat) with impressive effect.

Take for instance “Foie Gras and Strawberries”, a quartet of foie gras as a smoked custard; shaved with a peppery arugula leaf; incorporated into a mille feuille (like a layered cake) with strawberry gelee; and pan seared. On top, a pickled strawberry, foam and drips of almost imperceptible balsamic vinegar. It’s heartbreakingly good, paired with a sweet-tart Hungarian Tokaji. Would I pay what amounts to about $31 for that experience again? Yep.

Other particularly good dishes on the current tasting menu:
- Lobster in a brown butter sauce with a sweetbread ravioli, morel mushrooms and summer truffle. Four small bites of bliss paired with an unoaked hillside chardonnay.
- A barrel-shaped bite of Sonoma Poissin (a young chicken) with a single cockle, four haricot verts tied in a bundle and a splash of buttery cockle sauce and an earthy cabernet franc.
- Smoked toro (fatty tuna) sliced paper thin, topped with Osetra caviar and teardrops of craime fraiche. Paired with a cedar-aged sake.
- A surprise pre-dessert palate cleanser of sorrel fizz (sorrel is a tart herb) and plum gelee.

Two small gripes: Meadowood’s tasting menu is based on “a collection of dishes inspired by today’s finest ingredients” — a theme on the a la carte menu as well, featuring “Local Gardens”, “Nearby Waters” and
“Pastures and Ranches”. Sonoma meats and cheeses and regional produce are well-represented, but there’s clearly a little wiggle room when compared to stricter devotees of farm to table eating (Dungeness crab in July? Monkfish?). At the level of complexity of Kostow’s menu, I don’t begrudge him using whatever products he likes, but I’m not inspired by what’s become an almost meaningless drumbeat.

The other problem here is the level of service which, for this price, lacked the impeccable polish and consistency (read young staff who’ve memorized the drill, but don’t seem fully invested) of other comparable restaurants. McNibs’ pretty much laid it down, saying “Uh, are we being served by the interns?”

After eight courses, three hours, eight glasses of wine and $661, I’m left wondering if I’ve truly gotten my money’s worth. Compared to the region’s other top Michelin-rated restaurants (Cyrus and French Laundry), I’d say yes. Though you can get out of Cyrus and Meadwood for far less by ordering a la carte, the $155 tasting menu is far below the $240 per person tab at French Laundry and comparable to Cyrus’ $130 chef’s tasting menu.

But this isn’t about bargain hunting. This level of cuisine is about the potential of food as sensory art. Kostow’s food pleases the eyes, nose and mouth, certainly, but wiggles deep down into the soul. If you take the time to explore each bite–to look at touch and smell; to appreciate each detail so carefully mapped out by the chef — it is transformative. Then again, I’m a giant food nerd who lives for that stuff.

Dropping a wad of cash on a single meal is a giant commitment for most of us. If you’re going to do it, Kostow’s certainly one of the best chefs around with whom to invest your palate–and your wallet.

The Restaurant at Meadowood, 900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena, 707-963-3646.

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2 Responses

  1. For Petes Sake January 24, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    Please go somewhere else and rant about your terrible economic troubles.( I am a broke full time student that works part time. Did I mention I have a high mortgage too that I struggle to pay with my husband?)
    I get the food review and I enjoy reading about other people’s experiences with the finer things in life. So keep up the good work…using words to help others picture themselves in a decadent place.

  2. BiteClub October 27, 2008 at 9:48 am #

    osted By: summer07 (01/08/2008 2:14:00 PM)
    Comment: I ate at Auberge De Soliel last summer and it was excellent, fun, memorable, and delicious. However, it was only around $200 for two and I think $661 is a little ridiculous for food. It just goes in one end and comes out the other. But the memories, conversations, scenery, service, dessert!, duck, lobster, etc. do make a difference. It’s better than Denny’s!
    Posted By: garliccrouton (28/07/2008 3:33:20 PM)
    Comment: Wow, I did not mean for everyone to get so worked up, censorship and everything. I actually can afford the $661 dinner, but I guess I was feeling sympathetic for a minute. It will pass…
    Posted By: nick (27/07/2008 3:26:55 PM)
    Comment: anyone who pays $661 for a meal is simply an idiot no matter how many times you invoke “food as art” and similar pretentious pap.
    Posted By: Michelle (26/07/2008 5:07:43 PM)
    Comment: I once had a $330.00 Spaghetti dinner for two at The Venetian (Las Vegas)…Sad, but true!! $74.00 of that was a bottle of wine, the rest was salad & dessert. Heather got eight tasting courses with wine(s) – I got noodles. My bad. LOL
    Posted By: barbarag (25/07/2008 2:47:14 PM)
    Comment: I love Heather’s stuff. I love all the food words she’s given us over time. I love the places and food she’s written about. Heather is gem with a real sense of what we eat, or wish we could eat, or might eat soon “and all that info is threaded with a healthy sense of humor, too. I can’t help being a little envious of that sipped, slurped and swallowed $661, though, when facing the fact that I must, somehow, teach my rapidly approaching high school science classes without the money to buy even necessary and basic classroom materials in sufficient quantities to last the school year. Maybe it was simply bad timing, spending that much money on what many of us could use to benefit so many others. (Deliberately, selfishly, I’m referring to places like my classroom and NOT places, online and off, that do so much more good like the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Food For Thought, Food Not Bombs, Kiva, Freedom From Hunger, etc.)
    Posted By: Happy Reader (25/07/2008 9:32:43 AM)
    Comment: I have to agree with those that think Heather and this column are good for us. Just because I may be in a tough economic position right now, doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about such places. Bringing in the social issues misses the point here. And really, Heather gives us a basis to think about such things, both in and out of context. I don’t always agree with your reviews, but fully support your efforts and appreciate that they are printed for us to enjoy, challenge and consider. Keep up the good work, Heather.
    Posted By: MyLastSupper (25/07/2008 9:29:33 AM)
    Comment: I shredded my last mortgage coupon and decided to join the payment default crowd, since it no longer matters for most of us blue collar workers if we even have any credit–financially or mentally or socially. I decided to make reservations and take the whole family out of my rohnert park 3 bedroom home and make it down to San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Garden Court for Brunch and then off to The Ritz-Carleton for dinner after touring the city in my soon to be repossed Cadillac Escalade. My old lady doesn’t know what’s up other than her soon to be ex-husband wanted to go out with a bang.
    Posted By: BonnieP (24/07/2008 2:05:50 PM)
    Comment: I enjoy reading all kinds of reviews, and this one was a great read. I subscribe to Gourmet Magazine, and although I may not be able to visit the cities or countries or restaurants they cover, I love reading about them. Keep up the good work, Heather.
    Posted By: Giovanni (24/07/2008 1:28:48 PM)
    Comment: I’ve enjoyed dining at Terra, Bistro Don Giovanni, Biba in Sacramento, Brick’s and Harrah’s Steak House in Reno to name a few, but I’ve never felt the need to experience a meal based upon snob appeal i.e the cost and expense involved. I go places where I feel that I’ll have the table for the evening, it’s not too noisy and the service is superb. Such has been my experience in my many trips to Italy.
    Posted By: Candace (24/07/2008 11:24:55 AM)
    Comment: I envy people that can go out and have a meal like that and I would much rather read the review coming from Heather than Jeff Cox talking about the tablecloth, every misspelled word on the menu,and if the Caesar is really a Caesar. I think that we are all foodies here or we wouldn’t be doing this.I personally can’t spend that kind of money on a meal but certainly wouldn’t turn it down if someone took me.My big spurge is buy a whole fois gras and searing for my friends.I know its not the same but that way I can have seconds.
    Posted By: TheOldGal (24/07/2008 11:18:14 AM)
    Comment: The restaurant is there and you reviewed it. Isn’t that your job? The piece was very well written, informative and all one could ask. You write about places people with cholesterol problems would never go. You write about Mexican places some of my friends would never frequent (unless I pushed them into it). So, now we know all about a place that most of us won’t go to. You have informed us, that’s the job Heather. I personally get unsettled when I see how the food people pile more and more food on the table, serve super size steaks and chops and generally get wierdly strange about the importance of fancy food when we look at children starving because we put the corn in our gas tanks. I do think, however, that the market will take care of that. When fewer and fewer people have the money to go to such a restaurant, it won’t be there. As far as not critizing the restaurant reviewer in the PD, who reads him? When he says the place “uses too much butter” what the heck does that mean? Was it greasy,doesn’t he like butter. What was the problem. And the fact that he couldn’t recognize a persimmon that could be sliced and put on a plate in two separate reviews when that fruit had been on the market for more than 10 years would certainly discourage most knowledgeable readers.
    Posted By: NorCal Foodie (24/07/2008 11:07:08 AM)
    Comment: I too held off commenting on the comments. Freedom of the press is a constitutional right in this country, as far as I remember from civics class almost 35 years ago. This basically comes down to the idea that if you don’t like the subject of an article, don’t read it. “Pilgrimage” dinners like the one Heather describes are something that many of us in the biz save up for. Having experienced a few of these in SF, NY, DC, as well as here in wine country, its not about the dollar value of the meal. It is a chance to experience and be influenced by the rarified atmosphere created by those of our peers that happen to, due to talent or circumstances, work in a place that gives them an open checkbook to create at a high level. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is not immoral. We all have the freedon to choose how and where we spend our hard-earned dollars, and I, for one, consult reviews such as these before putting my money on the table. Thanks Heather, for the continued good work!
    Posted By: MJF (24/07/2008 12:36:08 AM)
    Comment: After reading that initial, hate-filled rant from weds evening I was so angry that I had to force myself to take a day to respond. And I was glad that in the meantime many other people have posted to defend Heather’s right to spend money on food and then write an articulate, even-handed and morally questioning essay on whether (a) it was worth it, or (b) any meal is worth it. But “poor timing?” Did someone die here? There are people who read this blog who can afford this place and appreciate the information. Are you saying they should feel bad about doing so, and that this paper should avoid covering any stories that involve dubious or seemingly extravagant expenditures, simply because certain members of the sensitive readership will be offended by a conspicuous consumption that is beyond their means? So I just wanted to add my voice to those supporting this article. I understand that times are tough and expensive meals are out of the reach of many, and should be questioned and poked and prodded and whatever else is necessary. She did that. And she should be allowed to write about them without people attacking her personally. I think Heather and this blog have been more than evenhanded about burgers and wagyu being mentioned in the same breath, and showing an enthusiasm for food regardless of cost, class, ethnicity, or zip code. Oh and Mr. Social Consciousness– the next time you want to attack someone personally and draw on some articulate, highbrow definition of your terms– at least credit Wikipedia for your reference, or delete the bracketed footnote at the end of your pathetic cut/paste job that gave you away. That is if you’re able to see this message with the binoculars you use to view the world from that high horse you’re sitting on.
    Posted By: garliccrouton (23/07/2008 8:02:05 PM)
    Comment: with the average person barely making ends meet, gas, groceries, mortgage …this blog seems to be of bad taste(no pun intended)***interesting, but poor timing – I like Wojamo’s idea.
    Posted By: Wojamo (23/07/2008 5:23:16 PM)
    Comment: Heather- maybe a good off-shoot of this would be: If you were to save-up/really splurge on a meal that would be an experience of a lifetime, where would it be? I know there are plenty on here who have been to some of the best in the area and can chime in. For example, the money I’ve been saving is for French Laundry. But, perhaps it would be better spent at Cyrus? Meadowood? Somewhere else?
    Posted By: Wills (23/07/2008 2:51:46 PM)
    Comment: Thanks Heather I have worked at “Star” rated restaurants when and I have eaten at quite a few star rated restaurants in my lifetime but not lately. I do understand and appreciate the experience. It is not only the food but the experience that lasts a lifetime. Just thinking about it now brings back memories of the places I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, from New Orleans to New York to Dallas and beyond. Was it worth it? Hell yes! Will I do it again? Hell yes!
    Posted By: Vince (23/07/2008 1:08:03 PM)
    Comment: Different people spend money on different types of “luxuries”. Sure, I’d love to be able to try something like this all the time, while others would choose something else(unlike Laura below, I’d never trade in my French Laundry experience. It was a once in a lifetime treat and it was amazing and totally worth it to me). Thanks for the review Heather. It’s impossible to please all your readers, whether you write about fast food or haute cuisine, so don’t worry about the naysayers, carpĂ© diem!
    Posted By: Renie (23/07/2008 10:46:49 AM)
    Comment: Yup – Kudos to Heather and pppplllllltttt to all of you whose negativity seeps through your sanctimonious, holier than thou comments. Why not see it for what it is – a demonstration of Universal Abundance? I say: That or something better for me!! And – for all of you neg-heads too, for that matter. Good Going, Heather! Great review (as usual) and – that you sprinkled it with a few soul-searching comments regarding the meaning of it all – so much the better “read”. Now – back to my job search…..
    Posted By: Wojamo (23/07/2008 10:38:02 AM)
    Comment: I totally appreciate Heather writing this review. I can’t afford this place- not by a long-shot. But, I enjoyed reading it and also found her approach in gauging “is it worth it” to be easy to relate to. As is the case with many food enthusiasts (as most of you are) I value experiences much more than “things”. Great memories are one’s most valuable posession, in my opinion. So, I don’t have a flat-screen TV. I don’t have much in the way of jewelry. My and my spouses cars are both pushing 10 years old. BUT we do spend money on experiences- small trips and great food. To me- I would more likely “save-up” for a dinner like the one at Meadowood than to buy a new TV or piece of furniture (there are currently $142 in my French Laundry fund.) So, good for Heather. Thanks for the lovely review. And to Mark- I don’t give Jeff Cox a hard time, it’s true. But, I just don’t read his reviews. If I had a birdcage…
    Posted By: MsSteak (23/07/2008 10:12:16 AM)
    Comment: I agree with “give me a break”. What would happen if people stopped dinning at these “exclusive” restaurants? That’s 1 Chef, 2 Sous Chefs, a Pastry Chef, Maybe half a dozen line cooks,another half a dozen prep cooks and dishwashers… OUT OF WORK! And that’s only the back of the house. Let’s throw another 2 dozen staff on to that pile. Shall I move on to local purveyors and farmers now? My livelyhood depends on the Sonoma County Restaurant Industry! So do we now pick and choose who should be unemployed? Is this socialy conscious? I think not. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK HEATHER!
    Posted By: Michelle (23/07/2008 9:51:40 AM)
    Comment: I appreciated Heather’s review of The Restaurant at Meadowood. More importantly, I appreciate Heather’s diversity in cuisine. She has reviewed every type of restaurant for every type of budget. From Mom & Pop places to Meadowood (and even fast food joints sprinkled in between). Why can’t we all just read this review and appreciate it for what it is.. “her experience.” Remember folks that is is part of her job to keep herself up to date with the local top chefs (and not so top chefs) and restaurants so she can simply pass it on to us?!? Thanks Heather.
    Posted By: Paul (23/07/2008 8:05:57 AM)
    Comment: While many of us are in financial dire straights the fact is that the rich are getting richer so a review like this is justified. If you examine our economy over the past 8 years you see that we’ve been losing our middle class and the divide between rich and poor is humongous. So I guess we can look forward to cheese-whiz cheesesteak reviews for us poor folks and Meadowood reviews for the rich.
    Posted By: Disco (23/07/2008 6:37:49 AM)
    Comment: Having traveled a little bit, I actually appreciate the article she wrote. While $661 is a lot, I view dining at this level as a chance to experience something rare. That said, when I am lucky enough to eat at French Laundry or some new “hoity toity” restaurant in Beverly Hills, I do take my time and eat the food, appreciate the presentation etc., but at the end of the meal, ask if it was worth it or did I just eat with a bunch of suckers. If it’s just about the mark up on the food, you’ll never be happy…same with paying over $25 for wine. I feel lucky to live in the wine country where we have some of the best chefs in the world, so when I travel, I do take my time to “review” a meal if it’s “supposed” to be increadible. I used to work at Meadowood in college, and believe me, there are plenty of people from out of the area who don’t think twice about dropping that kind of coin on a meal. The question the reviewer asks essentially is, are they being duped? or is this meal really as unique and good as to be on the level of the top restaurnts in the world? If it was just the tasting menue for two without the wine pairing, I would try it…but for me, I would rather pay $80 at Cook in St. Helena and have the gnocchi in brown butter sage sauce…MMMMMMM
    Posted By: dine swine (23/07/2008 1:58:02 AM)
    Comment: who cares about social issues. eat to your heart’s content. spend every penny, ‘cuz you can’t take it with you. Don’t give to charity, all the church does with it is pay off the sexual harrassment/molestation lawsuits.
    Posted By: Give me a break (23/07/2008 12:26:05 AM)
    Comment: This is directed mainly at the “social consciousness” comments which spew hatred at Heather. First of all, why you may not be one of them, there are people who eat at fine dining establishments (even in difficult economic times). Oddly enough, some of these individuals like to read restaurant reviews and news articles about food. I think Sonoma County is lucky to have a local newspaper that meets this demand with interesting pieces about the area’s greatest restaurants (they gives me something to read in between my Rob Report magazines). I also don’t think dining in such an establishment is socially irresponsible or condescending to the average reader. In fact, most people know the world is unfair and economic inequality exists. Most poor people understand this and somehow get on with their lives without Kiton suits or a Ferrari. Still, somehow, there is always a “socially responsible” person who feels the need to rant. I applaud Heather for spending $616 to support Meadowood’s servers, chefs, dishwashers, and the local producers who supply the restaurant with fine ingredients. She has done her part to keep the local economy strong and employment high.
    Posted By: wine country fan (22/07/2008 10:40:56 PM)
    Comment: Beautifully written piece. Yes, times are hard right now and more so for others. Thank you for an escape and hope that maybe one day my sensors can too enjoy something of this magnitude. As a food fan, these sort of indulgences are well worth saving up for and it’s amazing to see how quickly the wine country is moving up the ranks as destination dining.
    Posted By: Heather…you are a disgrace (22/07/2008 9:52:45 PM)
    Comment: Heather…You expect me to pay for a subscription to the PD so you can spend this kind of money on a meal in these economic times? Completely disgraceful. People are losing their houses…kids are asking parents why they have to move and change schools, and you spend time and money to “review” such an opulent place? We as a society are truly losing touch with reality, and you Heather should be ashamed of yourself.
    Posted By: Mark (22/07/2008 7:15:43 PM)
    Comment: I forgot to add, Jeff Cocks usually only reviews restaurants that are unbelievably yuppie and over-priced while The Bite Club travels to places for cheesesteak and pizza for us “poor folk”…Do you guys give HIM a hard time? I think not.
    Posted By: Mark (22/07/2008 7:14:05 PM)
    Comment: Why do you guys sound like such jealous haters? Personally, I couldn’t afford it, but if that’s what she wants to do then why WOULD you care? I’m glad I was able to read the review because God knows I’ll never be able to eat that way myself (for now) lol. But seriously, I’m sure there are things each of you have purchased over the years that I could find ridiculous. The whole crybaby thing about “how could you do this with the economy blahblahblah” is such a crock. With that attitude I hope you only purchase the necessities and give the rest of your paycheck to charity. Otherwise you’re a Sew Kew Snob yerself!
    Posted By: Social Unconsciousness (22/07/2008 5:11:46 PM)
    Comment: Social consciousness is consciousness shared within a society. It can also be defined as social awareness; to be aware of the problems that different societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis; to be conscious of the difficulties and hardships of society. Social consciousness brings moral implications. Often, people with an awakened social consciousness become socially active.[7] A socially conscious person tends to be empathetic towards others regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, class, or sexual identity. For a small town paper’s food critic to spend $616 on a meal in this current atmosphere of financial difficulties for a majority of Santa Rosa is terrible. Flashing the cash in the face of the average newspaper reading citizen shows how out of touch with reality she really is…are you looking for a job change so you splurge your last couple months. The budget of the paper should not even reimburse for this ridiculous expenditure. If you would write frank, non-Dicken’s style food review, similar to yelp/zagat/tripadvisor more readers would rely on your experiences; most of us know of your limited eating experience, simple criteria for greatness, and wannabe status. These reviews are getting as jaded and useless as Cox’s.
    Response: To your point…I knew I’d take some heat for this one, especially in light of the economy and tough times for everyone. In fact, I spent most of last night (after dinner) stuck in a moral quandary about it–which is exactly why I wrote the piece the way I did. I can’t help but wonder if other people feel the way I do. I’m not going to pretend that a meal like that is anything but an extraordinary experience to be savored on a rare occasion…if at all. But if you’re going to do it, wouldn’t you rather have the facts? Most BiteClubbers know that I spend the majority of my time sussing out eats that are within the realm of reality for the everyday budget. Once in a great while, I think its imperative to experience (and pay for) what so may people travel here for — meals of a lifetime. Excuse me while i return to my vending machine crackers, now. I do like the wannabe thing though. My business cards need redoing.
    Posted By: elcee (22/07/2008 4:16:25 PM)
    Comment: Heather’s question: Is it worth it? For most except TVR (The Very Rich) in this economy, we don’t even want to mentally go there. My visits to French Laundry, Cyrus, and similar places in SF over the years always seemed to be missing the “fun” aspect of dining. I’ve had a lot more fun at places like Ame (SF), Terra (St. Helena), K&L Bistro (Sebastopol), Central Market (Petaluma), Syrah (Santa Rosa) at a fraction of the cost of those top-tiered places.
    Posted By: Susan (22/07/2008 3:40:36 PM)
    Comment: With the front page screaming headlines about record foreclosures, this is incredibly unrealistic. Most people, according to the PD’s Sunday front page, can barely afford groceries or gas.
    Posted By: Laura (22/07/2008 3:30:24 PM)
    Comment: I am sure it was tasty. I enjoyed my meal at French Laundry many years ago however these days I would take the $661 and buy a ticket to France and get better service and cheaper great food even with the bad exchange rate.

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