Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Terra, St. Helena

Terra turned out to be fantastic. Our innkeepers were impressed, calling Terra one of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. I don’t know the scene well, but I don’t doubt the claim. The food was that good.

We had a little trouble finding it at first. St. Helena isn’t big; we found the street easily, and we knew the enormous Italianate stone edifice just had to be it. But there was no sign. We drove past it once and finally parked and investigated on foot. Persistence paid off. A notice printed on an 8x10 sheet of paper told us we were in the right place.

In the lobby we were pleasantly surprised by artwork that was modern, but ever so slightly naughty. That suggested that Terra is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think that’s the case. The main dining room was a little more sober, dark, with stone walls.

The food is described as Italian and French, but I thought there was an Asian influence as well. This could have been a weird or pretentious combination in lesser hands, but it worked here. I had a lobster/vegetable soup, sort of like minestrone with shellfish. My main course was cod, which I really only ordered for the shrimp dumplings it came with. (And because I was trying not to have cheese at all three courses--cheese dependence is a little bit of a problem with me.)

I’m glad I did. The fish was unbelievably good, maybe the best ever. (In Taiwan I once had a whole small fish steamed with garlic and ginger that was a challenger, but I had to pick it out of a tank myself. The knowledge that I had just played the angel of death gave the fish a guilty aftertaste.)

My cod was broiled in sake, and glazed with a slightly sweet, tangy sauce, like teriyaki. The dumplings were small, boiled, and delicious. The cheese plate afterward was to die for. Everyone else seemed happy with his or her dinner, too. My father was torn between spaghetti with tripe and veal cheeks with sweetbreads--a dilemma possibly only he could have—so there really was something for everyone on the menu. (He went with tripe) Hilary had lamb, and Pipi and my mother both had pork, which was amazingly tender and flavorful. Hilary taught us that you can almost always get ice cream at a restaurant if you ask nicely enough, even if it isn’t on the menu, which was valuable information.

Verdict: 10 thumbs up. (Well, there were five of us.)

No comments: