You'll be forgiven if you're unable to locate the tiny town of Yountville, California on a map. In fact, there's a real possibility of missing it altogether should you blink at the wrong moment while on the St. Helena Highway between Napa and Sonoma counties. So what would inspire an urban lover like myself to spend four days in a town with only a single traffic light? Food...insanely great food.
|The Yountville Art Walk|
In 1994, a chef named Thomas Keller brought his dreams to this sleepy hamlet, setting in motion a journey that would turn Yountville into the center of the foodie universe. It was then that Keller purchased The French Laundry, and spent the next decade transforming it into what many regard as the best restaurant in the world. And yet here it stands, inside an unassuming, century-old building, in Yountville of all places.
|The French Laundry|
In true "if you build it...they will come" fashion, the culinary revolution centered in Yountville was only just beginning. The sleepy Washington Street saw the addition of two more restaurants by Thomas Keller - three if you count the delicious Bouchon Bakery - and other acclaimed chefs flocked to the area looking for their own piece of the pie. With just shy of 3,000 residents - a third of which live in a military veterans home - Yountville's six Michelin stars is more per capita than any other location on the planet. The same number held by the illustrious Upper East Side of Manhattan...
|The garden at The French Laundry|
One might think all of this culinary success would go to Yountville's head, but quite the contrary. Sure, there's a steady flow of tourists passing through to snap photos of The French Laundry, plus a few hipsters riding their brand-new vintage bicycles to dinner, but for the most part Yountville has held on to its small town charm.
|Fresh basil, grown for all of the Keller restaurants.|
The stroll down Washington Street feels like you're walking through the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting. There's an abundance of these strange things called "flowers," and street signs are replaced by engraved wooden posts. The town's mechanic occupies the same dilapidated building he has for decades, while the park at the center of town is filled with numerous conversations on the weather.
|Pretty sure this place has been here a while...|
While Yountville is still the quintessential small town, it has a quirky side as well. There's a garden of stone mushrooms outside the post office, while a popular coffee shop is housed inside an old train caboose. Even the gas station takes part in the fun, doubling as a gourmet food and wine shop. They also happen to have killer donuts and make an awesome iced coffee...
|Only in Yountville do they ride a bike to the gas station.|
It's a strange, and unlikely combination that comes together to form this place called Yountville. One can travel from Small Town America, through hipster heaven, and wind up in foodie paradise, all within a few short blocks. It's a little confusing, but in another way, strangely enchanting. After four days this steadfast "city boy" was in love; unsure how to return to the land of traffic lights and Olive Garden.
|Not this time...but one day....|
Washington Street is totally deserted at a little after 9pm, giving a final moment of solitude for the last walk through town. The dim lighting and soft murmur coming from inside The French Laundry, brings a pause followed by a slight shake of the head. The greatest restaurant in the world, in Yountville of all places....
Enjoy Your Stay