A recent visit to Napa Valley found me dining at PRESS Restaurant, in beautiful St. Helena; and it was nothing short of fantastic. Opened in 2005, by Napa legend Leslie Rudd—whose small-batch, 100% organic, hand-crafted, and artisanal Rudd Estate wines have become favorites of oenophiles, collectors, and those in the know about such matters—PRESS began as a steakhouse, which makes sense, seeing as Rudd’s original focus was Cabernet Sauvignon, notably the Rudd Oakville Estate Red, which remains the company’s flagship to this day. As Rudd Estate’s repertoire expanded, so too did the focus of the kitchen at PRESS, now helmed by Chef Philip Tessier.
Tessier—who’d previously worked in some of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Roger Verge’s Le Moulin de Mougins, Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, and Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Bouchon, and The French Laundry—will go down in culinary history as the first American to medal at the biennial Bocuse d’Or, Concours Mondial de la Cuisine (often referred to as the “Olympics of Gastronomy”), where he received the silver in 2015. Now, at PRESS, Tessier is presenting clever and sophisticated takes on Modern American cuisine that pair well with everything. But fear not, as, with what is widely heralded as the best collection of Napa Valley wines in the world (10,000 bottles of 1,750 wines), wine director Vincent Morrow is on-hand to recommend an ideal accompaniment for any dish. And what dishes!
We began with an assortment of starters, including the Everything Pretzel Epi (with fennel fromage blanc), Sweet & Sour Pig Ears (with espelette glaze), Beef Fat Potato (with broccolini, preserved lemon, and garlic aioli), Charred Octopus (with black truffle mole, potato salad, and wild radish) and Citrus-cured Kampachi (with compressed watermelon, cherry tomato, and hibiscus leaf).
The Everything Pretzel Epi was a tasty spin on bread and butter and was so good, we ordered a second; while the Beef Fat Potatoes were enormous Lincoln Log-like French fries that were crispy and wonderful. The Charred Octopus was tender and made all the more memorable by that black truffle mole. The Citrus-cured Kampachi was light and lovely, and when enjoyed alongside the 2019 Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc (Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley), was elevated to something quite sublime. But, as good as all of those were (and they were really, really, good), they all took a backseat to the Sweet & Sour Pig Ears. *
I know, I know. Pig ears? I thought the same thing. Fast-forward to the end of our meal, and I was leaving with a to-go order of these crispy morsels of flavor that I not only enjoyed the next morning on a toasted English muffin with some butter and local artisanal cheese but also continued to nibble on as a nosh, throughout the weekend. They were that good. Pig ears: Who’d’ve thunk it?
As a bit of an intermezzo, the kitchen sent out a plate of Ricotta Gnudi (wrapped in squash blossoms and served in a parmesan consommé); three bite-sized delicate delicacies that looked like works of art and tasted even better.
Then came the entrees. Now, as I mentioned, PRESS began as a steakhouse, and while there was no shortage of options for guests choosing to zig into a fix of red meat, we zagged toward seafood and poultry. To wit, two of us ordered the Truffle-glazed Chicken (with smoked bacon sausage, melted leeks, roasted globe artichokes, and sauce de vin); while the third went with the Poached Lobster (with demi-sec tomatoes, Ronde de Nice, and verbena nage).
The Poached Lobster was terrific and, thanks to that verbena-flavored broth, featured a light citrusy flavor; and paired charmingly with that 2019 Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc. As for the Truffle-glazed Chicken, it was, in a word, perfection. Everything about it was stellar, from the tender and succulent meat to the crispy skin and the truffley goodness. And, paired with the 2018 Crossroads Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville, Napa Valley) was a truly memorable poultry presentation, if ever there was one.
Our desserts, the Fig Leaf Panna Cotta (with blackberries, whipped honey, and toasted almond) and the Jivara Chocolate Crème (with orange-cocoa crumble, olive oil sorbet, and chocolate sponge) were both particularly yummy and creative without being too rich (which was a good thing, as there simply wasn’t much room left in my stomach, by that point).
Leslie Rudd used to be fond of saying, “The best is good enough,” and this ethos is apparent in his wines and at PRESS Restaurant—both of which are now very capably led by his savvy daughter, Samantha Rudd, who shares her late father’s sentiment. Is it any wonder then, that I can’t wait to return to St. Helena, and dine at PRESS, once more?
St. Helena | Napa Valley
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[Editor’s Note: The best description of Crossroads by Rudd I’ve found comes from Kerrin Laz—an esteemed wine consultant and proprietor of K. LAZ WINE COLLECTION in Yountville, CA—who writes: The Crossroads wines are created to be a taste of Rudd wines at a more accessible price without sacrificing the same attention to detail and drive to improve practices, farming, and winemaking year over year that is consistent with Rudd Estate. Crossroads is estate grown, coming from the same vineyards and crafted by the same winemaking team as Rudd Estate, making it a reflection of the place and the people of Rudd Estate. Despite the pedigree of an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon and Mt. Veeder Sauvignon Blanc, Crossroads is priced accessibly and is meant to be enjoyed upon release.]