Checking out The Cats and Byington Winery on a Recent Mileage Run

Jeanne & I were out to Santa Clara last weekend on a literal mileage run. We were flying into San Francisco, but decided to stay in Santa Clara which we’d never visited. A Groupon had come up for Global Winter Wonderland exhibit in Caifornia’s Great America so we decided to check out the light show at night, but that left a glorious sunny afternoon to fill.

If you were lucky enough to catch our live tweeting on the flight out, you might have seen us, among many many other things, discussing which local wineries to visit, finally deciding on David Bruce and J Lohr. After checking in at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara we headed out to the Los Gatos Hills for some great scenery and vino.

David Bruce was only about 30-40 minutes from the hotel, and along the way we passed a historic and interesting looking bar called The Cats. It only took me about 5 minutes later to realize the unusual name probably derived from its location in Los Gatos. Nothing slow about me after an early morning flight…:-P

Soon we were turning onto Bear Creek Road for the last 4 miles and 20 minutes of the trip. The road was narrow and fairly twisty, further complicated by the fact there was a Christmas tree farm somewhere up the road and traffic kept barreling down upon us occupying some of our (very limited) side of the road. Jeanne was a good sport, especially since there were a couple of particularly evil turns when I’d hear her half whimper “Uh, there’s a cliff on this side and no guard rail!”

But we finally made it to the top, only to discover David Bruce Winery was closed for a member only event. Something that was not listed on the website. Grrr.

Rather than have made that perilous drive for naught, we headed a little further north on the road to try another winery I’d seen listed, but knew nothing about – Byington Winery.

The grounds were quite pretty driving up, although awash in kids, and the tasting room was pretty crowded. We wound up starting out tasting behind the cash register monitor.

They focus on reds, with one chardonnay on the tasting list. Not a bad thing since Jeanne & I are currently in a red phase. The wines were good, not amazing, but priced about $10-$20 less than their Napa counterparts, and as such, as value. I particularly fell in love with the 2008 Byington Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, which had glorious sour cherry notes that I couldn’t get enough of. We liked the wines and we were intrigued by 5 other wines exclusively for wine club member tastings, so we  wound up sharing a wine club membership which, compared to Napa, was affordable, and it saved us our $8 tasting fees and let us try a wider variety.

After the tasting, we wound our way back down Bear Creek Canyon and debated whether we were up for J Lohr or if we wanted to head back to the hotel. Enroute, we decided we had to stop at The Cats for food, arriving just as it opened at 4PM.

The décor was pretty hilarious but inviting – a western motif with saddles on saw horses and non-western cat statues and images everywhere. It was with great difficulty that I restrained myself from trying out one of the saddles.

We were sat directly under a fan going full blast, which why, on a 50 degree day you’d need, I don’t know, and immediately in front of a cat mosaic mural.

I was surprised and pleased to see the limited menu – The Cats focuses on doing BBQ and steaks, and not much else, which meant it was probably going to be good! We started with fried mushrooms which were amazing! They were whole button mushrooms cooked to a tender consistency and then lightly battered. You could still taste the mushroom flavor, the crunchy outside just added a nice textural difference. Truly the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had.

Our meals came with salad (not bad) and a basket of dry garlic bread with a watered down BBQ dipping sauce. The bread was mediocre but the dipping sauce was great!

For the main course, Jeanne decided to try out their filet, topped with mushrooms and with a healthy side of grilled zucchini, squash, and portabello mushrooms.

I went with the St. Louis Hand Rubbed Ribs. I had a choice of dry rub, honey glazed, or BBQ smothered, but when the waiter told me they finish the ribs on the grill post-BBQ sauce so it gets caramelized, I was sold. And they were good!

My biggest problem with The Cats is there’s no easy way to head back to Santa Clara once you’re done. We wound up having to backtrack all the way to Bear Creek Rd, just to turn around and head into town. Once back at the hotel, our fervor to see the winter wonderland lights faded as the food and long day set in. And the realization that we’d need to walk almost a mile and back through the parking lots unless we wanted to pay for parking or take a cab.

So we decided to spend the evening in the hot tub instead, particularly since every other time we’d wanted a hot tub there either wasn’t one or it would be inconvenient to tote wet bathing suits in our luggage.

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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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