I can never go too long without visiting wine country. The sun, the scenery, the food and drink… Yep, it seems that every few months now I need my Napa fix. After our epic excursion on a hot air balloon, Ann Marie and I decided our next big Napa Valley adventure should be the wine train. If you’re up in that direction, the wine train is a lovely way to take in the sights – Ann Marie and I are used to speeding through the valley in a car, but if you take the train, it’s a pleasant three hour tour, plus you get lunch.
There are a few different lunch options for your afternoon ride, and we chose the Gourmet Car. So you board and are seated in the lounge car, where you’re provided appetizers and a pour of wine. This is a great way to start; you sit facing outward and can take your time enjoying the apps and sipping your Merlot. We guzzled our tasty bites fast enough that we could wander to the front of the car and step outside to take a look at the engine – way better than sitting inside anyway! On a nice day it’s totally relaxing to stand outside with the wind in your hair. We didn’t enter the train car again until it was time for lunch, after the train had made it all the way from Napa to St. Helena with a pit stop in between.
Now, the food. There’s a prix fixe menu with plenty of options for all kinds of eaters. We both got the cream of portobello mushroom soup to start – and wow oh wow I hope that’s their soup du jour on a pretty regular basis because it was lick-the-bowl good. As in, we both fantasized that the train would break down and they’d have to placate us by bringing us extra soup bowls. As for entrees, Ann Marie enjoyed her salmon on a bed of kale in a lemon-thyme sauce, and I got the squash polenta accompanied by portobello mushroom (Yes, more portobello. You can never have too much mushroom) filled with spinach and ricotta. My polenta, I wasn’t wild about – I prefer a creamier polenta with a soft, mashed potato-like consistency rather than a solid square, but everything was still tasty. We wrapped up the meal with vanilla bean creme brulee and a bourbon caramel drenched brownie. Now overall, for a prix fixe meal that’s got to be served to a trainload of people, this food was pretty. darn. good. Bread comes to you warm, service is extremely prompt, so overall this is a solid dining experience. Best meal of my life? No. But for an afternoon coasting through Napa Valley? It hit the spot.
For two of us who have already spent a bunch of time in Napa, the Wine Train was still absolutely worth it. It allowed us to sit back, take in the sights we usually ignored when we were driving, and really enjoy the beauty of the valley. I don’t really understand why you’d use the wine train to take you to a winery, because then you’d miss some of the ride, but that option is also available. There are different levels of cars – the Vista Dome (swankier) and the Silverado car (cute Old West kind of feel to it), and I could see taking another ride on the train to try another car, or dinner instead of lunch, or a wine train murder mystery. For the sights, the experience of riding the nifty train, and the leisure of enjoying a meal over the three hours it takes to travel the valley, I’m giving the wine train a definite thumbs up.