For those who love modern, inventive cuisine, beautiful decor, and superior service, there is a new “must visit” destination in the Napa Valley: Two Birds/One Stone just north of St. Helena, on the grounds of the Freemark Abbey winery. TBOS had been on our list of places to visit since it opened in June of this year for several reasons. For starters, the two chefs that came together to start TBOS – Douglas Keane and Sang Yoon – are well-known to us from each of their prior restaurants. Keane was the chef at Cyrus in Healdsburg, a Michelin one-start restaurant that we visited our first time in Sonoma County. Yoon, meanwhile, comes to Napa from Los Angeles (a journey we made in 2013) where he was the chef at one of our favorite restaurants, Father’s Office. Following a stint together on Top Chef Masters, Keane and Yoon decided to partner with each other to start a yakitori-style restaurant with a small-plates approach.
Our other reason for having Two Birds/One Stone on our short list of restaurants to visit is that one of us works with the daughter of one of the partners in the restaurant. Well before the restaurant was open, she told us about the concept and the menu, and we were intrigued. The fact that her father, Nick Peyton, was also a partner with Douglas Keane at Cyrus made it even more compelling for us. With special out-of-town friends in tow, we decided it was time to made the trek to Two Birds/One Stone. Our friends are real foodies and we were hoping not to let them down. Since we devoured almost literally every offering on the menu, including dessert, we can say that the visit was a success.
When we entered the restaurant, right away it looked and felt like a special place. The interior design of the space is impressive, with lots of open space and huge ceilings.
While we were waiting for the hostess to pull up our reservation, we scanned the restaurant and saw someone who looked very familiar. “Is it our imagination, or is that Robert Parker sitting over there by the window?” “It is not your imagination,” she told us. “In fact, I’ll be seating you at the table just next to him.” We promised to behave and not interrupt his dinner, which we mostly did, except for the several photos that we took of him while pretending to take pictures of ourselves at the table.
Thankfully for all of us, Mr. Parker left shortly after we arrived, which enabled us to stop staring and focus on our company and our meal. Shortly after we were seated, a gentlemen came over to the table to welcome us. When we found out it was Nick Peyton, we let him know the work connection with his daughter and we spent a few minutes talking with him. Like his daughter, he is a genuinely nice person and we enjoyed our time with him.
Finally, it was time to tackle the menu – small plates of Asian-inspired dishes. When we first looked at the menu, we thought we would only be able to try a few of the options. By the end of the evening, though, we managed to make quite a dent in the menu.
To get things started, we ordered the eggplant; salad with black kale, black garlic, black rice and chicken; and the radishes and butter. When the food came out, it was clear that we were in for a treat. The eggplant had been simmered and then served chilled in a soy and ginger sauce, and it was cooked perfectly, not mushy but also not too underdone. The salad was also very flavorful as were the radishes, which were on a bed of “butter” made from nori, the Japanese seaweed.
With four of us sharing these plates, they seemed to go much too quickly. We realized that we would be ordering many more plates, so we went back to the menu to plan the rest of the meal. At this point, we were considering simply ordering one of every dish on the menu and making it easier for us and our server. Common sense took over and we did not order everything, but, looking back on the photographic evidence, we didn’t miss that much! When the first round was cleared, we ordered crispy wings, which are deep-fried and served in a chili-yuzu glaze. We loved them – the texture and consistency were perfect and the sweet-sour combination was well-balanced. Four people, four wings – needless to say, that plate was emptied in no time.
Next out of the kitchen was the savory Japanese pancake, more of an omelette than a pancake, flavored with green onions and duck ham. According to our server, this is the most popular dish in the restaurant and we understand why. For those that are more experienced with Japanese cuisine, this dish closely resembles okonomiyaki.
Before our stomachs could signal our brain that we might be getting full, we ordered a significant amount more: bamboo-aged sticky rice; forbidden black rice (served with a duck egg on top); pork tenderloin; and short ribs. We have been eating a mostly “paleo” (carb-free) diet for the past year or so, and as a result rice is generally not something we order. But we decided to give ourselves a break and allow a “cheat” meal so we could try the rice dishes, which we had seen delivered to all of the tables around us (including our famous neighbor at the next table). Simply put, both rice dishes were excellent, although with different flavors and textures. Next time we go, we’ll have to order both again because we can’t pick one over the other. The pork tenderloin was delicious and very well spiced, but the standout dish for us were the wagyu short ribs, which were served rare or medium rare and seasoned with a very nice Korean BBQ sauce.
Finally we came to our senses and stopped ordering food, although we were tempted to order one more short rib dish. However, not enough of us agreed to help eat it and we wanted to show some restraint. As the dishes were being cleared, Nick Peyton came by to check on us; we asked him if we could go visit the kitchen and say hello to Chef Jake, whom I “met” on Twitter. Gracious man that he is, Nick gave give us a tour of the restaurant and took us back into the kitchen. This may have been the our first visit to a restaurant kitchen since the summer of 1981 when one of us was a dreadful dishwasher at a forgettable restaurant near Sacramento. At the head of the kitchen was Chef Jake Rand, overseeing the dozens of order coming in and the dozens of orders going out. Surprisingly, it all seemed very organized, with none of the shouting, drama, and chaos that we are used to seeing on the televised food shows. We asked Nick Peyton if this level of calm and order was normal and he put it best: “Why would you want to come to work and get yelled at?” Food for thought, people. Food for thought.
While we were in the kitchen, Nick Peyton asked if we were planning to have dessert. Bravely, we said yes. Grabbing a small ceramic bowl, he went to the soft-serve ice cream machine and gave us a sample of the matcha soft serve ice cream.
Back at the table, we all agreed that we would order dessert for all of us to share. Even though two of us had just had the macha soft serve in the kitchen, we ordered another one. For good measure, we also ordered the coconut milk panna cotta, served with passionfruit curd. Together, these items would be plenty of dessert after that large meal. For some reason, however, we were talked into also getting the kikori whisky and chocolate custard as well, which we are not complaining about as it was exquisite. Finally, after the third dessert, we stopped eating, although one of us could not resist ordering cold-brewed coffee, which is the only coffee on the menu at the restaurant. Nick Peyton has explained, was an intentional choice, made to complement the balance and authenticity of the unique cuisine.
If you’re coming to Napa Valley, or are a local and you have a special occasion coming up, make the trip to Two Birds/One Stone. And come hungry.
John & Irene Ingersoll
September 5, 2016