From Snacks to Culinary Fine Art, Wine Country Serves Up Mountains of Flavor
The Mecca of American wine is home to a feisty fine dining scene vibrating with culinary creativity. Competition among local chefs is fierce but good natured, and the winners are their lucky customers, who will find grazing throughout the valley to be exceedingly rewarding.
Five towns dot Napa Valley’s 30-mile axis, beginning in the south with Napa city—a hub with some 70,000 inhabitants—and progressing northward to Calistoga.
In between, diners will encounter multiple levels of culinary sophistication—from the ultra-chic The French Laundry, in Yountville, to simple lunch outposts like Nest, in Oakville, or The Spot, in St. Helena.
Chances are you won’t always be craving a 5-course meal. In fact, a day full of wine tasting and winery visits sometimes inspires a desire for a quick snack and a nap. As a result, we’ve divided this restaurant round-up into two categories: those establishments that offer simpler, but nonetheless sophisticated fare, best suited for a fast lunch or an easy dinner; and those restaurants where white tablecloths are more likely to be in evidence. They are listed alphabetically and grouped by their locations.
Dining attire in even the most formal restaurants is generally casual to casual chic. Men may occasionally need to wear jackets, but ties are definitely a rarity. Be prepared for cool evenings, however, when dining al fresco. All restaurants listed accept Visa and Mastercard.
EASY LUNCHES, TAKE-OUT,
AND QUICK DINNERS
Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road; 707/963-1211
There are two restaurants at the famous Auberge du Soleil. Both sport the best views of any restaurant in Napa Valley. But for a quick, casual bite—or just an afternoon apéritif—Auberge’s terrace and bar can’t be beat. Great beer list, too. No reservations are required here, although they are recommended for the more formal restaurant next door . Hours: daily, 11:30am-dinner.
Gordon’s Café and Wine Bar
6770 Washington Street; 707/944-8246
Looking to hang out with the valley’s power brokers? This is where they all have breakfast. Maybe that’s because owner Sally Gordon serves up the best baked goods and coffees around. Lunches are equally inventive and refined, with a serious staff in the open kitchen that serves up not only great sandwiches but also very gourmet fare. Hours: daily, 7:30am-6pm.
7787 St. Helena Highway (Route 29); 707/944-0206
A fun spot, with a casual outdoor patio. No frills here, but the food is made with fine, fresh ingredients. The salad combo is a must. Has pastas, sandwiches and Mexican-inspired fare, too. The beer list beats the wine list, however. Hours: daily, 7am-6pm.
829 Main Street; 707/224-8555
This casual, fun setting is also home to some very serious cooking. Small plates, or tapas, are the theme here. The Spanish influence is apparent in the atmosphere as well as the cuisine, which flows from the kitchen in a steady stream of savory specialties that can be enjoyed as a light snack with a glass of vino. Order enough of these scrumptious small plates and you’ve got a full-blown meal. The restaurant does not take reservations. Hours: daily, lunch and dinner. Entrées: $3-12. Wine list: About 50 wines; international. Corkage: $10, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
1364 Lincoln Avenue; 707/942-9088
Definitely the best pizzas and pastas in the northern end of the valley. Relaxed, friendly atmosphere features original art by winemaker Heidi Barrett. Good local wine list, too. Hours: daily, 11:30am-10pm.
|ST. HELENA |
Cantinetta Tra Vigne
1050 Charter Oak Avenue; 707/963-8888
Tra Vigne’s Cantinetta wine bar shares a lovely garden patio with Tra Vigne’s more formal restaurant (see page 40). The Cantinetta focuses on “mini-flights and tasty bites,” and features some 80 to 100 wines by the glass served alongside Italian-inspired small plates, reminiscent of Spanish tapas. Very casual, and brimming with locals. Hours: daily, afternoons only.
Dean & DeLuca
Although reservations are not necessarily required at all the restaurants listed below, they are strongly recommended.
Angèle Restaurant and Bar
540 Main Street; 707/252-8115
In the best French country tradition, this snappy little restaurant in the old section of town sits at the edge of the Napa River. Angèle serves up straightforward, fresh flavors couched in easy elegance. Owned by the family that built Auberge du Soleil. Hours: 11:30am-10pm. Entrées: $11-24. Corkage: $15, waived with additional purchase from the wine list.
Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions
975 First Street; 707/255-0622
Last year, this well-known wine retailer opened a wine bar and restaurant in a renovated historic building in downtown Napa. The term “rare wines” is no understatement. Some 40 wines by the glass and 400 by the bottle are on hand to pair with a varied selection of tapas, cheeses, sushi and other wine-friendly dishes. You can snack or dine here. The featured 4-wine tasting flight changes daily. Hours: daily, 11am to midnight; weekends until 1am.
Cole’s Chop House
1122 Main Street; 707/224-6328
A serious steak house with a serious, mostly California, wine list to match. The list is heavy on red wines, and has a smattering of excellent whites. A good half-bottle selection makes it easy to try multiple producers. Think big, as the courses come in man-sized portions. In addition to the main attractions, don’t forget to order classic sides like the hash browns and creamed spinach. The décor and the cuisine feature a similar rustic elegance. Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 5-9pm; Fri. and Sat. until 10pm. Entrées: $16-42. Wine list: 160 wines. Corkage: $15, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
4110 St. Helena Highway; 707/224-3300
Set at the northern edge of Napa town, this vineyard-side locale is also known as the power-brokers’ favorite lunch haunt. Here’s where you’ll see a collection of the Valley’s cognoscenti making deals as they chow down on some really good Italian comfort food. Pizzas and pastas are, of course, excellent. But so are the many more fine-tuned entrées that strike a Tuscan chord at the gateway to wine country. Hours: daily, 11:30am-10pm. Entrées: $16-24. Wine list: 300 wines; Napa Valley focused, with Italian twist. Corkage: $15, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
6510 Washington Street; 707/944-0103
Talented French Chef Philippe Jeanty opened this quaint dining spot some years back after his 20-year run at Domaine Chandon’s restaurant. The atmosphere is oh-so-French, and the cuisine is redolent of the sights and smells one associates with Paris and the northern parts of France. Lots of richly textured, buttery dishes that are perfect when washed down with any of the fine local or French wines on the list. Hours: daily, 11:30am-10:30pm. Entrées: $12-26. Wine list: 150 wines, heavy on California and France. Corkage: $15 per bottle.
6534 Washington Street; 707/944-8037
Another French-inspired restaurant, but this one is owned by American chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame. It’s his more relaxed endeavor, with an emphasis on fresh seafood and solid bistro cooking. Hours: daily, 11:30am-12:30am. Entrées: $15-27. Wine list: 130 wines; international. Corkage: $15.
7377 St. Helena Highway; 707/944-2749
Named after the measurement used to determine sugar content in ripening grapes, Brix offers a seasonal California cuisine to match its grape-oriented identity. Not surprisingly, the wine list is very California-centric. Hours: daily, 11:30am-9:30pm; Sun. brunch 10am-2pm; dinner 4-9pm. Entrées: $17-31. Wine list: 620 wines, California focused. Corkage: $15 per bottle.
7399 St. Helena Highway; 707/944-2424
Well-known local Chef Cindy Pawlcyn helped transform this little white building into a culinary landmark for Napa Valley. The food can be described as robust American tempered by a European sensibility. The onion rings are legendary. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11:30am-9pm; Fri. 11:30am-10pm; Sat. 11am-10pm; Sun. 11am- 9pm. Entrées: $15-20. Wine list: 325 wines, mostly New World. Corkage: $15, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
6725 Washington Street; 707/945-1000
Not far down the street from Bistro Jeanty sits Philippe Jeanty’s newest endeavor. The two restaurants may be close in proximity, but they exemplify two very different styles of cooking. Bistro Jeanty represents northern France. Père Jeanty, by contrast, is a solidly Mediterranean concept that features such Provençal treats as bouillabaisse and soupe de poisson. The lively front room is kid-friendly. In the back, grownups can enjoy a quieter intimacy. Entrées: $10-26. Corkage: $15, waived on additional purchase from wine list.
Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road; 707/963-1211
There is far more to this restaurant than a great view. (And it is, definitely, the best restaurant view in the valley.) The French- and Mediterranean-influenced menu is expertly executed in the kitchen, which also turns out a fine country-styled spread for breakfast. For lunch or dinner, the wine list features some 1,500 selections, with hard-to-find gems that will please even the most demanding enophiles. Hours: breakfast, 7-11am, daily; lunch 11:30am-2:30pm daily; dinner Sun.-Thurs. 6-9:30pm; Fri. and Sat. 5:30-9:30pm. Entrées: prix fixe $79, a la carte $30-38. Wine list: 1,500 international wines. Corkage: $30, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Avenue; 707/963-1200
Cindy Pawlcyn, of Mustard’s fame, opened this much-beloved local haunt a few years back. She modestly calls it an American grill. More specifically, it deftly integrates many international facets that now encompass an American culinary experience. (It’s no surprise—Pawlcyn says she owns over 8,000 cookbooks!) In short, the food shows off vivid flavors, artfully presented alongside a selection of fine wines made mostly by local winemakers. Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11:30am-9pm; Fri. and Sat., 11:30a.m-10pm. Entrées: $13.50-25.50. Wine list: 100 wines, most from California. Corkage: $12, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
1347 Main Street; 707/963-3799
Market co-owner Nick Peyton has a fairly illustrious culinary background, having managed the front of the house at Masa’s in San Francisco, the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, and Gary Danko. He’s brought his fine dining savvy to St. Helena, yet offers it at a reasonable price. The restaurant serves up the kind of California- and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine that appeals to both wine country locals and those just visiting town. Hours: daily, lunch 11:30am- 5:30pm, dinner 5:30-11pm. Entrées: $10-20. Wine list: 150 wines; international with a California focus. Corkage: $15 per bottle.
1345 Railroad Avenue; 707/963-8931
Chef-owners Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone have created a beautiful and elegant restaurant in St. Helena’s century-old stone Hatchery building. The two chefs met in Los Angeles while working at Spago in 1983 and moved to St. Helena to open Terra in 1988. The menu features artfully blended influences from Sone’s native Japan and California wine country, with results that are strikingly original and exquisitely executed. A very special and unique dining experience awaits here. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. (closed Tues) 6-9:30pm; Fri. and Sat. 6-10pm. Entrées: $24-29. Wine list: 450 wines, from Napa Valley. Corkage: $20, waived with additional purchase from wine list.
Tra Vigne Restaurant
1050 Charter Oak Avenue; 707/963-4444
Napa Valley’s benchmark Italian restaurant. Purity of flavor and simplicity of presentation are the hallmarks here. Don’t miss ordering the best wood-oven roasted whole fish in the neighborhood. Dine al fresco in the gardens or inside, where you’ll most likely be sitting next to some of the most famous names in American wine. The wine list features a carefully chosen selection ideally suited to the menu. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11:30am-10pm; Fri. and Sat. 11:30am- 10:30pm. Entrées: $14-26. Wine list: 310 wines, international with California focus. Corkage: $7.50.
All Seasons Café
1400 Lincoln Avenue; 707/942-9111
This quaint bistro in the heart of town serves up sophisticated fare with fresh, focused and elegant flavors. The attractive yet unpretentious dining room is also home to what may be Calistoga’s most impressive wine list, with some 700 selections culled from California and Europe. Hours: lunch, Wed.-Sun. noon-2:30pm;
dinner daily, 6-9:30pm. Entrées: $16-26. Corkage: $15 per bottle.
Wappo Bar and Bistro
1226 Washington Street; 707/942-4712
Features unorthodox cooking in a relaxed, outdoor patio setting. The menu features a serious potpourri of culinary influences from South America, Asia, India, France and Italy. The results, which include such dishes as tandoori chicken and a Brazilian seafood stew with peanuts and coconut milk, are delicious. Hours: lunch, 11am-3pm; dinner, 6-8:30pm; closed Tues. Entrées: $14-24. Wine list: 150 wines, California focus. Corkage: $15 per bottle.FOR MORE FINE DINING RESTARAUNT REVIEWS,
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