Veronica Experiences The Charter Oak
Intrigued by the number of fine dining establishments opening casual dining concepts, I made my way to St. Helena for my first round of research. The Charter Oak, located in what once was Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne, is the latest project from the team at three Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood.
Upon entering the beautiful brick building, we were greeted by a gorgeous patio leading to a massive wooden door. As soon as we stepped into the dining room to take our seats, my eyes were immediately drawn to the open hearth. It was the restaurant’s focal point, where the action began. Luckily, we sat close enough to where I could feel the warmth radiating and could smell a faint smoke coming from the fire. I watched in amazement as one chef worked her magic around the hearth – chopping away at the counter while making sure to turn the meat and vegetables on time.
As we order a few appetizers, our server made sure to ask us if we knew where our utensils were located. This was one of the many interesting details about the experience – the utensils are conveniently stored in a hidden compartment built into the table. The atmosphere screamed rustic and cozy with wood and metal furnishings and unique choice of dishware. Service was attentive and timed impeccably. They gave us just enough time in between each course, as not to overload us with the shared dishes, and our server was well versed in the immense wine list.
We began with a selection of starters but the star of the day, and perhaps my new favorite appetizer, was the dip of Marin brie with trout roe and potato chips. I would describe this dish as elevated snack food to be eaten with a nice bottle of chardonnay in your best fuzzy slippers. For the main course, I ordered a hearty beef rib served with beets dried over the fire. Thankfully, the meat fell right off the bone to save me from looking like an animal as I devoured all of the delicious fatty bits off the meat. Admittedly, I snuck some of the hot sauce from the bottle they gave my boyfriend for his fried chicken sandwich.
After the first and second course, we pondered on driving over to Bouchon Bakery for a sweet treat but our plans were immediately halted. A dessert cart arrived at our table, dim sum style, and a server recites the offerings. Captivated by the selections, we give in and order dessert. We ordered the pavlova with preserved strawberries and olive oil custard and buffalo milk ice cream, which she proceeds to plate by our table. Both never overwhelmed with too much sweetness; just the right finish to a delicious meal.
For drinks, I enjoyed a whiskey and burnt rosemary cocktail, brought over to the table inside of a flask and poured into a coupe glass. The rosemary is burned, thrown into the flask, gets covered, and the smoke from the rosemary is infused into the cocktail. An excellent cocktail for those looking for some excitement on their taste buds! With my beef rib, I paired with a Rafael et Fils cabernet sauvignon from their extensive list of Napa Valley wines.
Takeaway: details, details, details! From the hidden utensils compartment, perfect serving time of dishes, to the complimentary mini soaps in the restrooms, The Charter Oak utilized the importance of details. As a first-timer, the details kept me engaged in my experience and excited to find little quirks. Also, with the rise of fine-casual, elevated but approachable comfort food is in. I’m ready to find more ways to fancy up the potato chip dip!