Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review November 2007
By “The Elusive Epicurean”
I am a shameless carnivore. I have plucked feathers and chopped heads. I will eat the meat of cute, fuzzy creatures without the least remorse. I adore foie gras. Lest you think me completely unfeeling, I will inform you that I do have a vegetarian friend. I think this very open-minded of me. So when my editor invited me to “Wild Game Week,” it will come as no surprise that I got excited.
“Wild Game Week” is an annual event at Hurley’s Restaurant & Bar in Yountville, and features exotic meats such as caribou and ostrich. If you didn’t make it this year, put it on your calendar for 2008. It is not to be missed.
My companion, Madame X, fit the profile of the dining companion I required for the evening: eats meat plus a witty conversationalist. Also, she was available on short notice.
Foolishly, we did not secure a reservation in advance. I advise you not to repeat our mistake, but if you do, then follow our lead and console yourself with a festive cocktail at the bar.
Half a Jackie O and Pomatini later, we ordered up a plate of Squash Blossom Fritters ($10). The lightly crisped blossoms were filled with herbed goat cheese and accompanied by a roasted red pepper and tomato coulis. Yummy.
After some quality cocktail chatter, we were seated before the candlelit fireplace. Do file Hurley’s away as a nice date destination. Despite the fact that the dining room was at capacity, we felt surprisingly secluded at our little table. Our conversation quickly turned to Brangelina vs. Bennifer.
Memories of squash blossoms in our heads, we couldn’t resist a second appetizer course. It’s not as if anyone from the bar would see us, now would they? So we ordered the Belle River Crab Crakes ($12), and were rewarded for our decision. Served with a cucumber, tomato and red onion salad and a smoked paprika aioli, the crab cakes were all the things they should be, and none that they should not.
There was no discussion about the main course. We were there to eat wild game, and so we went for the wildest goods offered: Braised Wild Boar ($23) and Grilled Medallions of Cervena Venison ($29). Served with truffle-scented soft polenta, roasted seasonal vegetables, and crispy onion rings, the braised boar was fall-off-the-bone tender, and full of flavor. Earlier, I had spotted Wild Boar Sliders ($14) on the late night bar menu, and promptly put them on my To Do list.
The venison was served with a wild mushroom spaetzle, wilted Brussel sprout leaves, and huckleberry compote. This was a landmark dish because I have, until now, absolutely dreaded spaetzle. It helped, too, that the meat was succulent, flavorful and all-around delicious.
Before I started contemplating some backyard deer hunting, I learned that this particularly delicious venison derives its appellation “Cervena” from being naturally raised, without the use of steroids or hormones, by some folks in New Zealand. Oh, well.
I was stuffed. Madame X looked at me sheepishly, and I knew what she wanted: a side of the Macaroni & Cheese ($3.50). Madame X then proposed an article on the Valley’s finest mac n’ cheese. I thought this a splendid idea, and promised to look into it. Though as I shoveled the cheesy, gooey-with-a-touch-of-crisp goodness into my mouth, I wondered if Hurley’s hadn’t already taken the prize.