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Best Restaurants in Napa Valley, CA

by Monty Preiser

All area codes are 707.

The first thing many people notice about wine country dining is the freshness of every ingredient. And why not - with the world's breadbasket of fruits and veggies on one side, and an ocean on the other? With this base from which to choose it would be a tragedy if the food was not terrific. Fortunately, you won't dine much better or with much more consistency anywhere, and most of the Napa restaurants (unless ethnic) prepare their food in the California style, which is really a combining of all the great cuisines of the world, along with the use of the world's freshest ingredients.

As to ethnic dining, traditionally there have not been many ethnic restaurants of note (a few good ones here and there - mostly Italian), but that is because the chefs here understandably create dishes that accompany California fine wines. Nevertheless, as the country becomes accustomed to wines from throughout the world (including sake), some pretty good Asian establishments have made an appearance. Nevertheless, even in fabulous places that claim an Italian heritage, California is still California, and the food is so reflective.

A word about the wine lists in Napa. It is quite routine for even average restaurants and sandwich shops to have great selections of wine, so it would be monotonous for us to praise the wine list in each review. What we will do is mention the wine service in those restaurants that are extraordinary (on the positive or negative side).

Another tip: If you want to visit most good restaurants in the Valley, they are crowded, especially in season. Make those reservations as early as possible and live up to them or cancel them timely.

One further tip. You will be visiting wineries all day and at dinner will often want to drink a bottle that you purchased. No problem in Napa Valley - the restaurants expect it. Most do charge a fair corkage fee, however, so you should expect that as well. We believe that when more than two people dine (and even sometimes just a couple); if you bring a bottle, buy a bottle.

And a last hint. If you dine in Calistoga, which is the warmest part of the Valley anyway, the area near the windows on the south side of Lincoln Avenue can be quite warm and bright while the sun is setting in the summer. Fair warning. Don't stay away from the restaurant - just ask for a cooler table or go later.

AD HOC
6476 Washington St.
Yountville
944-2487

This was supposed to be a short-lived restaurant, but if you read my reviews right here for the past two years you would have seen I predicted it would stay open permanently. And I was right. This is a smash hit because it is owned by Thomas Keller.

We don’t think Ad Hoc rises to the level of super restaurant, but then it is not supposed to. Best described as serving (the Valley’s best prepared) comfort food, the $49 menu for four courses is set in stone each night (changes being allowed for allergies and religious reasons). It is best to call and ask about the menu to see if it appeals to you. There is usually a salad/appetizer to start, the entrée, a cheese course, and dessert. The servers are casually dressed and the portions, served on earthenware plates, are large enough for sharing. You can sometimes get seconds. The wine list is small, but you will find something to make you happy.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B

AKA BISTRO
1320 Main St.
St. Helena
967-8111

Just as we were ready to review this new restaurant, there was a chef change. And you know a new chef always changes things around. But we went anyway and had a very nice time. Owner Robert Simon has certainly dedicated himself to providing excellent food – our filet, fresh corn soup with curry oil, fresh veggie pasta, and salads were all terrific. The wine list is adequate, and I suspect will be upgraded as time passes and the crowds increase. Our only real problem was the service. The staff is nice but has little sense of timing. Once again, that may improve. Even with the present problems, this is a nice addition to St. Helena. Oh – desserts are “must try.”

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B

ALL SEASONS
1400 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-9111

Mostly frequented by locals and those staying nearby, the real treat here is not so much the food, which is good but not stellar, but the unique wine store in the back of the restaurant. The wine shop, not surprisingly, carries a fine selection of Napa and Sonoma wines, but it is one of the only place in the Valley that stocks fine Italian AND French wines (Bordeaux and Burgundy especially). As you dine, you have a choice of drinking from the wine list or from the store, and if you choose the latter, a reasonable corkage fee will be added. The fine wines here are a nice accompaniment to hearty California/French dishes.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

ANGELE
540 Main St.
Napa
252-8115

A semi French bistro on the banks of the Napa River, the enjoyability of your experience here may depend on who is managing the floor at the time. In the last year we have seen excellent management translate to good service and good food, and vice versa. But the truth of the matter is that the attraction of Angele is its lovely location overlooking the river, and its multitude of outside tables allowing seasonal guests to enjoy the usual gorgeous Napa nights. The food is good enough, and the wine list allows for some fun selections. Finally, know what's really great here? The good ole American burger, which is sometimes the perfect food after a day of visiting wineries. Select a Zin to go with it.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B+

 

ANNALIEN
1142 Main St.
Napa
224-8319

This 44 seat restaurant in downtown Napa suggests the ambiance of Saigon night life in the 1920s and 1930s at the height of the French Colonial era in Vietnam. Service is friendly, and the most important factor - the food - is created and prepared in the best tradition of Vietnamese cuisine. It is simply delicious. Annalien is often deservedly crowded so we recommend you call ahead.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A-

 

AUBERGE DU SOLEIL
180 Rutherford Hill Rd.
Rutherford
963-1211

For elegant dining plus a view, no restaurant in the Valley compares to Auberge Du Soleil, located at altitude off Silverado Trail. The restaurant features rich interiors accented with abstract paintings, exposed beams, and warm wood furnishings. We recommend taking some time for either lunch or dinner, while first relaxing on the terrace surrounding the dining room, or even in the bar. Both areas provide top shelf cocktails, great wines, and stunning panoramas.

But the view is terrific from the restaurant too, as is the well prepared and interesting California cuisine served by Chef Robert Curry. If available, consider the Juniper scented Fallow deer; the Blue nose bass with Manilla clams; and the roasted chestnut soup. The menu is set up to be a tasting menu at $105 for four courses, but the restaurant allows you to also dine a la carte. That is appreciated. Add what is as fine a wine list as any place in the U.S., and it isn't surprising that Auberge is the choice of many of the vintners in the Valley when they want to experience a special evening.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A


BANK
1314 McKinstry St.
Napa
257-1800

Located in the new Westin, Bank provides the opportunity to enjoy a more sophisticated type bistro does than anywhere else in town. As it is run by the same outstanding group that owns La Toque (only a short jaunt down the hall from Bank), you are assured of fine wines, fine food, and a stylish atmosphere. This is not the place for the kids to go for a beer – it is for those looking for a relaxing bistro meal of quality, wines of note, or just a perfectly mixed cocktail. One of our favorite Napa evenings? Drinks at Bank and dinner at La Toque.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

BARBER’S Q
3900 D Bel Air Plaza
Napa
224-6600
Not a mere BBQ house, this one. Dishes include roast chicken, country ham on cheddar Jalapeno biscuits, lamb burgers, ribs, grilled cheese, etc., etc. Everything we have tasted is well prepared, indeed, and each dish is well complimented by wonderful sides (love collard greens with pepper vinegar). Service can be appropriate or a touch slow if crowded. Our only real concern here is the price of the food – a bit high for the cuisine on the one hand, but perhaps not out of line for the quality. You may have to make the call on that one yourself.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

 

BAR VINO
1457 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-8272

Bar Vino is a wonderful concept restaurant that is ever evolving to please its clientele. Intimate and warm, the tables surround a bar that houses a number of eclectic, small production wines. A satisfactory number are always available by the glass.

Your experience here is not over once the wine list leaves the table, as the restaurant offers often unusual dishes that are designed to be paired with the wines. Bar Vino is a nice destination restaurant, and one of those comfortable establishments you will seek out after a few days of running around to wineries and the more ballyhooed big ticket restaurants.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A-

BAYLEAF
2025 Monticello Rd.
Napa
257-9720

While we understand an establishment putting itself in the best possible light, when Bayleaf's website says that, "Our recent full-scale renovation in 2001-2002 has created one of the most beautiful and charming restaurants in the world,” and that, ”Our owners' mutual vision has been to create the perfect combination of elegant indoor/outdoor dining atmosphere with world-class cuisine & service," it is too old and too far-fetched. Yes, Bayleaf is a lovely property, and yes, it has a wine list of which to be proud. Kudos, as well, to a menu that emphasizes food without disguise. However, to suggest this is world class cuisine and ambiance does the restaurant no real service, as it cannot live up to that billing, and will only lead to disappointed clientele.

Though the paella was interesting but uninspired, and the salmon overdone, we found great merit in the rack of lamb and the scallops saltimbocca (loved the white wine lobster roe reduction). We suggest Bayleaf as a nice place to enjoy a group's company with good food and an even better wine list, but it should not be high on your preferred Napa dining establishments.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-

BISTRO DON GIOVANNI
4110 St. Helena Highway
Napa
224-3300

If you want crowded and noisy to go along with pretty good (not great – don’t let anyone’s hype fool you) food, this is your place. Freshness is the watchword here - we love the sauces and fish, as well as dishes like pasta with lamb, artichokes, and roasted tomatoes; and the duck breast served on risotto with apples and chipoline onions. The hamburger has been rated by one national magazine as one of the country's best, but we don't agree and suggest you not expect the world should you order it. Much of the menu, including terrific veggies, is grilled on mesquite, a process that imparts some nice flavors that compliment the natural fragrances. As alluded to, Giovanni's is not the best food in Napa, as some claim, nor is the menu very expansive. In fact, there are many comments from visitors about the lack of expected food in an Italian restaurant, and also from locals about the lack of change in the menu. Service can be good, but too many members of the staff seem to have an attitude suggesting you are lucky to be dining there. Nevertheless, Don Giovanni garners high ratings among many, and good ones from us.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

BISTRO JEANTY
6510 Washington St.
Yountville
944-0103

A recent let down in the kitchen, and service that is problematic, have both combined to hurt Bistro Jeanty. Created in a French countryside manner, the flavors of the food should be timeless, but yet paradoxically they have not stood the test of time. The menu include such selections as home cured pork belly with lentil and foie gras ragout; rabbit pate with celery root apple salad; Coq au Vin (chicken, mushroom, and bacon red wine stew; and a hearty cassoulet with duck confit, sausage, and bacon). Granted, this has never been cuisine for everyone's taste buds, but it's different from what most people in the U.S. are used to, and when different is also "good," it's worth a try. But lately it has not reached that level.

Food Rating: C+ Overall Rating: C

 

BOON FLY CAFE
4048 Sonoma Highway
Napa
299-4872

Don’t get Boon Fly mixed up with Farm. Both are on the property of the eclectically lovely Carneros Inn, but the former serves the expected Continental/California cuisine, while the latter is fine dining. That does not mean Boon Fly is not a nice stop if you are in the area, especially for breakfast, when it is unsurpassed.

Do-nuts and perfectly prepared eggs are famous in the morning, and dinner offers standards such as potato skins with bacon and cheese; hot wings; mac & cheese; grilled mahi-mahi; and burgers. For lunch – the Reuben. You get the picture. The atmosphere is rustic-chic.

Food Rating: B+ for Dinner and Lunch , A+ for Breakfast Overall Rating: B+


(The) BORDER
1005 First St. (corner of Main)
Napa
258-1000

Where has everybody been and what have we been thinking? Napa Valley has always had a myriad of Mexican restaurants, but all in the taqueria mold. Not that there is anything wrong with burritos, tacos, etc., but why someone has not yet opened a Mexican room with finely prepared food is a quandary. Well now they have.

The Border, smack in the middle of downtown Napa in a lovely property, strives to offer Mexican cuisine as it was meant to be. The kitchen is overseen by brothers and owners Pablo and Ignacio Jacinto, veterans trained in some of Napa’s most famous restaurants. The bar serves wonderful cocktails and beer (perfect with this cuisine), and of course the wines are plentiful – this is Napa. Try the grilled Oaxacan rabbit; red chile marinated skirt steak; the tequila braised pork shoulder; the ceviche, or the prawns Jacino style. If there is a downside, it is the front of the house and the management. Out of too many things on the menu, takes too long to receive something else you want to go with what you have been served, etc. You get the picture. But things are new here and may improve.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: C+


BOTTEGA NAPA VALLEY
Yountville
945-1050

Napa has long waited for world class Italian cuisine (sorry Don Giovanni and Tra Vigne), and it has arrived with all the ruffles and flourishes of a new President.
Bottega is, to put it simply, the first truly great all around dining experience to open in Napa Valley in many a year – probably, as a matter of fact, since La Toque opened in 1998. Owned by Chef Michael Chiarello, who ironically put Tra Vigne on the map for many seasons before he left and that establishment slipped, here is a place where everything has come together beautifully. And the crowds right now prove the point. It is unquestionably the hottest restaurant, with one of the best bar scenes, in wine country.

No mere trattoria or common ristorante, Bottega’s menu is a combination of the world’s cuisine influenced by the best of Tuscany. Dishes such as garganelli with Balsamic Rabbit Sugo and chanterelle mushrooms, a goat’s milk braised lamb shank, or char-grilled octopus are rarely seen in the Valley, and we are certan they have never been prepared better.

[BIG HINT: As you might guess, reservations are a must. But they are so swamped that it is sometimes hard to get a reservationist. We suggest you go to opentable.com]

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

BOUCHON
6534 Washington St.
Yountville
944-8037

This is a fun French bistro. In fact, though Bouchon means "cork" in French, it is also a term in France meaning bistro. The striking bar, attractive room, fresh raw seafood, well conceived wine list, and late hours all combine to make Bouchon enormously popular with those in the wine industry, as well as with late night diners who don't have too many choices outside the town of Napa. It's a good place to meet people after 10:00 p.m. We think the food has improved each year and is now quite good all around. The cuisine on the one hand is quite simple - just as a “bouchon” should offer - but it is nicely prepared with lots of options. Service is usually professional, but too often falls down on overly crowded nights.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

BOUNTY HUNTER
975 1st St.
Napa
255-0622

Perhaps more a wine bar and wine shop than a restaurant, this wildly popular stop in downtown Napa is packed most every night. There isn't a lot of room to move around, but meeting people (many of whom are related to the wine business and most of whom can afford a good bottle) is half the fun. The food is BBQ and burgers style, with the chicken roasted upright on a beer can probably holding honors as the bar's signature dish. Whatever you do, leave time to browse the walls and catalogue of what the store offers for sale. We spend much of our life studying the wines of California, and don't you know that the Bounty Hunter always has a number we haven't seen.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A-

BRANNAN'S
1374 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-2233

This beautifully restored restaurant with open windows and wall murals created by acclaimed trompe l'oeil artist Carlo Marchiori (a local), is once again as hot as it was when it opened in 1998. The chefs here are preparing some ultra wonderful Continental entrees, as well as various dishes punctuated with game and western flavors befitting dining in the town of Calistoga and its western motif. The hoisin glazed ribs, braised rabbit Bolognese, venison, and hanger steak are all worth the trip to the northern Valley. The bar at Brannan's, which makes mean martinis and other elegant cocktails, is understandably one of the most popular meeting places in the area.

The owners of Brannan's are also vintners, so they understand wine and maintain a list of excellence. Service here is quite friendly, and on weekends you can dine while listening to live blues and jazz - unfortunately a mostly lost pleasure in Napa Valley.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A

BRIX
7377 St. Helena Hwy.
Yountville
944-2749

A favorite hangout for the locals and visitors in the know for a number of years, and one of our favorites too, almost every seat in the casually elegant dining room offers a panoramic view of the restaurant's olive groves, vineyards, and herb gardens. The ambiance here has undergone a more than pleasant transformation, so you can add romantic to the descriptive adjectives.

Brix not only serves excellent food, but also vies for the best wine list in the area. Why? Simple. There is an on premises wine store where you can, if you wish, peruse the marvelous inventory, buy your bottle, and drink it for a fair corkage charge. Beyond that, Brix has one of the best bars in town.

The service here is professional and friendly, and the ever on site management makes sure all operates smoothly. You might describe the cuisine at Brix as seasonal California, and the chef's use of local produce, some of which grows adjacent to the restaurant, is a bonus. Recently Brix opened a flat out beautiful private wine room for intimate meals of about 12, and on Sundays the restaurant offers a memorable brunch. Visiting Brix is a true wine country experience.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

BUSTER'S BBQ
Intersection of Lincoln & Rt. 29
Calistoga
942-5605

For years, few places in the country could match the quality and taste of Buster's BBQ. Lately, however, the meats are likely to be overdone and the chicken dry. Hidden in a shack just off the main road, with seating at now enclosed picnic tables, Buster or his staff prepares the beef, fowl, and ribs on a huge grill outside, and serves from a window in the building. You will select either a sandwich or a dinner made from Tritip (a popular beef cut in the West), pork loin, chicken, or ribs, with sides of slaw and/or baked beans. Be careful that you taste the hot sauce before taking too much. For two of us we usually split a sandwich and a slab of ribs. It's enough, and at times it's a real treat.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-

BUTTER CREAM BAKERY & DINER
2297 Jefferson St.
Napa
255-6700

This little place is reminiscent of an old time bakery and soda counter (they still have pink stools). Breakfasts and lunches are traditional, but the real reason to stop here is the huge selection of fresh baked goods and pastries. Some report surly service, but we have always had smiles from behind the counter.

Food Rating: B Baked Goods & Pastries Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B

CC BLUE
1148 Main St.
St. Helena
967-9100

CC Blue serves some fine food, but suffers from an ability to attract the older, more affluent crowd that can afford expensive sushi. There is heavy competition during normal hours from nearby “Go Fish,” so CC Blue needs to find an identity. We hope it does.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: C+

CELADON
500 Main St.
Napa
254-9690

Celadon, owned by Chef Greg Cole, is far and away the city of Napa’s most popular restaurant, and for good reason. A lovely ambiance, impeccably prepared food, friendly staff, superb wines, and the right energy. Chef Greg is fond of referring to his cuisine here as "global comfort food," and the seasonally changing menu features the flavors of the Mediterranean, Asia and the Americas. The Algerian style braised lamb is a wow, and we think the calamari is (with apologies to the many restaurants in which we dine and continue to compare this dish) the best we have ever tasted. The wine list has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence annually since 1997, and we recommend drinking your choice on the romantic patio with a fire.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

CINDY'S BACK STREET KITCHEN
1327 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena
963-1200

Located in a 150 year old building on Railroad Ave., the charm is certainly there, and, let's face it, Cindy Pawlcyn knows how to cook. Here you generally find core California cuisine plus frequently influenced Latino/Southwestern dishes. On special evenings (Wednesdays as we write this), Cindy commits to evenings featuring cuisines from throughout the world. Regardless of what menu you are enjoying, all is beautifully prepared and served in large portions.

The wine list is highly representative of the Valley’s best, and the wine knowledgeable staff is more than capable of helping you pair the right food and wine. Service and management are well in sync to offer a delightful dining experience.
Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A-

COLE'S CHOP HOUSE
1122 Main St.
Napa
224-6328

Napa Valley is without many of the fine dining chain restaurants you find in other areas of dining renown. To this we say "Hurrah," as the absence of these giants allows independent chefs to practice their trade. With this in mind, some years ago Greg Cole ambitiously opened the Valley's first restaurant devoted to steaks and chops (this does not imply that many other restaurants cannot prepare superb steaks - they can and do – but most are up Valley).

Cole’s itself is spacious and stunning in design, and it is hard to secure a reservation in the main room or the patio, due to the popularity of both the restaurant and a revitalized downtown Napa. As with most steak houses, everything here is a la carte, and that can add up on your check. The wine list is “steak house priced,” and so an evening here is not the cheapest in town, but you don’t want it to be. Prices are always fair when you can enjoy excellent meat and fish dishes, a nice wine inventory, and friendly service. And in the downtown Napa area we think it fair to say that only La Toque and Silverado Club offer the same type of food. Convenience is also an important factor.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

COMPADRES
505 Lincoln Ave.
Napa
253-1111
In wine country, sometimes you want something other than wine. Well, if your choice is a margarita and very good Mexican food, many locals will tell you that the best around is served at Compadres. Atmosphere here is lively. Food is good. Drinks are large. Prices are gentle. You'll find a good local crowd.

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Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

COOK ST. HELENA
1310 Main St.
St. Helena
963-7088

Cook has developed a following of its own, but unfortunately we are not included among them. We don’t dislike it – we are just not enamored. Featuring a largely eclectic menu, the food here is fresh and filling, if not particularly outstanding. As with most restaurants, some dishes are better than others. We enjoyed the braised short ribs with huge pieces of meat falling off the bone, as well as the large serving of clams and mussels covered with a chunky tomato sauce with homemade sausage. Popular all over Napa, and here too, is the lightly fried calamari served with a thick aioli sauce. Other dishes were OK, though the salads could all use improvement. So could the wine selection. We also find the restaurant too small, too crowded, and often too hot.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-

CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
(sometimes referred to as Wine Spectator Greystone CIA)
2555 Main St.
St. Helena
967-1010

It may be a good thing that some people stay away from the CIA thinking it is only a training school for chefs. The restaurant is crowded enough. In reality, though, the training area is separate from the dining room, which serves some well prepared and interesting dishes.

Housed in the former Christian Brothers Winery, the CIA includes museums, a gift shop, exhibits, culinary conference and teaching areas, and a new and exciting wine study building. Yet the restaurant is not overshadowed as it creates classic California dishes, and the wine list is arguably one of the finest in Napa. The cavernous dining room (which is a bit loud - it's in an old stone building after all) surrounds numerous chefs preparing various dishes, many of which will challenge your palate. The servers are uniformly knowledgeable, friendly, and efficient, and management, while recently including a few on the surly side, is usually affable as well. This is a fun wine country experience with a bonus. The restaurant is open late morning until the early evening hours, and serves its full menu at all times.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

CUVEE
1650 Soscol Ave.
Napa
224-2330

From an establishment that, as late as 18 months ago, had put it all together as well as any restaurant in Napa Valley, to one that is decidedly average, Cuvee is an unfortunate disappointment. The food has become just a little better than average, and, while the wine list is better than that, the staff is not wine skilled. Dining is available inside or on the patio during most of the year.

Food Rating: C+- Overall Rating: C+


DEAN & DELUCA MARKET
607 S. St. Helena Hwy.
St. Helena
967-9980

Not a place to sit for a meal, but deserving of inclusion here because buying lunch to enjoy outside at a winery is an almost inescapable pastime in the Valley. At D & D you can find whatever you want, from pre-prepared meats to an incredible selection of cheeses and sandwiches, and from gourmet desserts to perhaps the largest selection of California wine anywhere. This store has produce, food products, and cookware. Even if you aren't buying, you should still browse through the store and taste all the samples. Someday they'll get you back. A one of a kind place.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A+

DOMAINE CHANDON (see Etoile at Domaine Chandon)

DON GIOVANNI (see Bistro Don Giovanni)

DOWNTOWN JOE'S
902 Main St.
Napa
258-2337

Is there any one of us that hasn't occasionally looked for that casual place with burgers, wings, BBQ, fish and chips, on premises brewed beer, dancing, sports on TV, and music? How about during late night hours? And how about with no pretense? Well, Downtown Joe's delivers. It's not what you come to wine country for, but it can satisfy a craving. The sausage sampler is unusual, filling, and a treat. Do be aware that although Joe’s says it is a sports bar, selections on TV are very limited.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B-

ETOILE AT DOMAINE CHANDON
1 California Dr.
Yountville
944-2892

For what we fear is too long now, Domaine Chandon, which brought fine dining to the Napa Valley many years ago, has not been able to offer an experience those in the know would recommend. Fortunately, those now in charge are doing something about it, and good reviews are being received from locals and visitors alike, who are impressed not only with the structure, reputation, and history of the institution, but also the dining room. The wines made here, including the bubbles, leave lots to be desired.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B-

FARM AT CARNEROS INN
4048 Sonoma Highway
Napa
299-4900

Over the years we have gotten to know many chefs in the area, and when executive chef Jeff Jake and chef de cuisine Christopher Girard grace a kitchen you can be sure the food will be pretty superb. And as we “eat with our eyes” as well as our mouth, the impressive surroundings serve as a worthy compliment to the evening’s dishes.

You will be impressed upon arrival by the outdoor living room styled alfresco lounge, Cathedral ceilings, two fireplaces (one of them illusory – you will have to see it to know what I mean), and a patio where you can dine in season or when it is not too cold. All in all, the dining room itself, with multi colored lighting throughout, is one of the most beautiful such dining spots around. Treat yourself to any of the offerings on the menu, and know that whenever possible they represent the best of the region, always with organic and sustainable agriculture in mind.

Not surprisingly, the wine list is extensive and tantalizing. Perhaps surprisingly, the mark ups are consumer friendly. Put it all together and an evening at Farm offers all one could ask for when dining out.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A+


FILIPPI’S PIZZA GROTTO
645 First St.
Napa
254-9700

Located right across from the Oxbow Center, you won’t hear much talk about Filippi’s from the locals. But it gets a nice drop in crowd from people looking for Italian food or pizza in the downtown area. We think the entrees are little above average, but we like the pizza very much. Not much of a wine list, so if you are in the area and decide to drop in, go across the street or next door first to one of the tasting rooms and buy yourself a good bottle.

Food Rating: C+ Pizza Rating: A- Overall Rating: B-

 

FLATIRON GRILL
1440 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-1220

This restaurant, which opened its doors in 2001 and is owned by the same team that owns Brannan's and Bar Vino, has undergone a sprucing up - and it's looking good. Calistoga needed a place for fifties style comfort food, and FlatIron Grill is answering the call - and in a semi upscale manner. The ambiance here is quite inviting. You will note the warm tobacco colored walls, marble rusted metal wainscoting, and suede covered booths in the dining room, while enjoying the cow paintings by famed artist Lowell Herrero.

The menu features an excellent selection of different meats, fish, and other long time favorites. The skillet mushrooms and onions; artichoke dip; mushroom cheeseburger; and FlatIron steak are definite winners. And on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday you find something not so easy to find in wine country- succulent prime rib. Of course, a nice wine list is a given at any of the establishments owned by Mark Young and Ron Goldin.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

FRENCH LAUNDRY
6640 Washington St.
Yountville
944-2380

There is little room for debate that at a dinner price of $175.00 per person before wine to an arguably inane $240.00 per person with wine, French Laundry continues to be Napa Valley's most famous and most expensive restaurant. One might ask why, and the answer is simple. Because it can. Yet there has to be some limit some time as to what one will spend to dine, doesn’t there?

The French Laundry is also the most difficult place in Napa Valley to secure a reservation, and is the home of one of the world's highest (and, we’re sorry to say, over-the-top) corkage charges of $50 per bottle. This is not to say that the flair of Chef Thomas Keller is not beyond wonderful, or that the food is less than stratospheric in its excellence. We know of no chef that combines ingredients as artistically as does Thomas to make for an astonishing food experience, and our 4 ½ hour lunches are always extraordinary events. But for us, there has to be more than food. You have to feel as if the restaurant wants you and cares if you return. You also want to leave thinking the entire dining experience was "worth it." If the price is too high, the corkage charge unreasonable, and the reservation policy a pain, some part of you feels unsatisfied no matter the brilliance of the dishes. This is the contradiction that is the French Laundry. It is an absolute destination spot for anyone wanting to experience what some (but not all) say is the world’s best, but is it a place to which people will hurry back?

The French Laundry offers three menus that change on a daily basis. The 9-course Chef’s Tasting Menu, the 9-course Vegetable Tasting Menu, and the 7-Course Menu are designed by Chef Keller and his staff to showcase the best seasonal products available. Wines and wine pairings are available at an extra cost. Some of our favorite dishes included: Silver queen corn pudding and grated summer truffles; the “boeuf grille” with potato puree, mushrooms, sweet carrots, and Bordelaise sauce; Ricotta gnocchi with shaved Roquefort cheese and 50 year old sherry vinegar; Maine lobster tail with truffles, corn pudding, and Applewood smoked bacon; and milk fed chicken with roasted mushrooms and slow poached apricots.

Make no mistake. French Laundry has won almost every global award or rave, and the food merits those accolades. So if that's what you want, regardless of the charge, by all means don't miss the chance (if you can get in). We hope some of the charismatic welcoming atmosphere of the chef’s other sterling restaurant, Per Se in New York, will make its way west.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A-

FUME BISTRO
4050 Byway East
Napa
257-1999

Fume Bistro, warm and inviting, has become a true favorite for locals and visitors "in the know." Cocktails are good, the carefully chosen wine list is price friendly, and the servers are people friendly. If you are in the mood for pizzas, there is a wood fired oven. If you want appetizers, choose from one of a number, such as duck confit spring rolls, roasted mussels, roasted prawns, or crispy calamari. Salads are good, and soups, which change daily, are terrific. Entrees include excellent corn and shiitake mushroom ravioli, seared sea scallops, and various preparations of fresh seafood, chicken, and pasta. Save room for the exceptional homemade desserts, primarily the trio of crème brulee and the white chocolate cheesecake. Fume is one of the few places in town you can try the outstanding Bremer Family Wines by the glass. Chef/owner Terry Letson makes sure that Fume offers a wine country experience.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

 

GENOVA DELI
550 Trancas St.
Napa
258-2296

This is a real enigma. The sandwiches and the food are quite good, and truly on a gourmet level. However, the service is flat out as slow as proverbial molasses. There is not enough staff, and even if you call your order in, it is not always ready.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: C+


GILLWOODS CAFE
1120 Town Center
Napa
253-0409

1313 Main St
St. Helena
963-1788

In trying to think of a better place for a real homemade breakfast in the entire Valley, I could not come up with one, except maybe Boonfly, but it is far more expensive. And while there is plenty of lunch competition from some fine restaurants, Gillwoods is old time counter food (served at tables, though) such as club sandwiches like only hotels used to make, . . . . . .

Locals love it here. Tourists usually want more of a wine country experience during the short period they are in the Valley, but Gillwoods is there for a nice reminder of home and days gone by.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+


GREYSTONE AT CIA (see Culinary Institute of America)


HOG ISLAND OYSTERS
610 1ST St. – Oxbow Center
Napa
251-8113

Here is a great addition to the Valley, especially the town of Napa. Fabulous raw oysters from a number of regions (served with their famous “hogwash” mignonette sauce), and baked oysters (these with various toppings such as a Rockefeller or BBQ) are created to please. There are also choices of sandwiches and other fish specials, but it is the oysters from this venerable producer and retailer that are the draw.

Hint: Tuesday is loca’ls night as we write this: $1.00 oysters.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

HURLEY'S
6518 Washington St.
Yountville
944-2345

Hurley's benefits from the local popularity of its owner Bob Hurley, plus the location (location, location). The restaurant is in the middle of late night Yountville where the two main streets connect, and serves a regional menu for dinner, as well as a late night bar menu. In fact, the bar is the strong point of the establishment to our mind. Stunning glass doors open to the patio from the bar, and the dining room is bathed in warm colors. Unfortunately, the menu, the dish preparations, and the wine list are not overly exciting, but the restaurant does have something for everyone - steak, seafood, and sometimes game (usually a fowl). Service is friendly.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

HYDRO BAR & GRILL
1403 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-9777

Hydro, which is really a bar with food, serves hearty selections to (at least on weekends) some pretty good rock music. There is nothing remarkable about the decor (brick walls and hardwood floor) or the food, but it's a good stop for the 21 - 25 set on the main drag of Calistoga, or for a quick lunch (warning – it seems a number of things on the menu are not always available, so check first or, if you find this out when you order, do not hesitate to leave).

Food Rating: C Overall Rating: C+


JoLe
1457 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-5938

Owned by a young couple who left a successful venture in Philadelphia for the quiet of wine country, JoLe is a rising star in the Napa Valley, and adds a needed fine dining restaurant in Calistoga (Brannan’s being the other).

The chef specializes in local organic ingredients, and we love the combinations of food which lean toward the minimalistic side. In other words, the aromas and flavors of the foods themselves are not overwhelmed or hidden by too many things on the plate. Try the tamarind glazed shrimp; the crispy smelts; the watermelon and feta salad; or the sweet breads with creamy corn. The wine and beer lists are eclectic and very interesting.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

JONESY'S FAMOUS STEAKHOUSE
2044 Airport Rd.
Napa
255-2003
You probably won’t find anyone but locals who know about Jonesy’s – a throwback to the 60’s if ever I have seen one. There are those who believe this to be the best steak in the Valley, though I haven’t talked to enough people who have eaten here to get a real read. Nevertheless, I can say that it is excellent, and that it is clearly the best steak-buy around. Splurge and try their specialty, a fresh grated potato cooked with melted cheese and topped with grilled onions. It is as decadent as it sounds. Located in the Napa airport private terminal, here is a slice of what once was. We suggest you bring your own wine, because this steak deserves a great Red, something you unfortunately won’t find on the wine list.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: C+

LA LUNA MARKET
1153 Rutherford Rd.
Rutherford
963-3211

You can't eat inside, but there is no place to find more authentic Mexican ingredients in the Valley, nor are you ever likely to experience anything quite like the burritos served at the food counter in the back of the store. If we told you that they weigh a pound or more, we are not exaggerating, and you get to choose the meats, beans, and spices that are included. One burrito feeds three, and it's worth a stop here at least one time per trip to fill up for a lunch picnic. Have some Tums handy, and don't plan dinner for that night.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: N/A

LA TOQUE
1314 McKinstry St.
Napa
257-5157

One of the places we go out of our way to recommend is La Toque. Chef/owner Ken Frank and his staff are omnipresent in their desire to make each diner's experience memorable, and they almost always succeed. From the moment you enter to the presentation of desserts somewhere between 90 minutes and four hours later (dependent on your dining numbers, the number of courses you choose, your drinking preferences, and your desire to relax), you feel as if you are royalty.

We think this is Napa's number one dining experience, though when we say this we are invariably asked about French Laundry. As we have written, the food at the Laundry is unsurpassed, but Chef Keller's style is different from Chef Frank's, so it is hard to conclude that one is better than the other. Both reflect the chefs' personalities. What does separate the establishments, in our opinion, are the other aspects of the dining experience. While at La Toque, as at the Laundry, the food and wine presentations approach perfection, the former's inviting atmosphere in the form of reservation ease, reasonable corkage charges, and staff friendliness elevates it to number one - the fact that it is less expensive is just a bonus. But less expensive does not mean inexpensive. For the same type menu as you would find at French Laundry, the food at La Toque will cost about $100 per person or $450 per couple with food, wines, tax and tip. Very different than about $800 that a couple will drop with Chef Keller.

Noteworthy is the fact that while La Toque used to feature only a prix fix menu of set courses, the restaurant’s move into their beautiful new room inside the new Napa Westin has allowed them to expand their kitchen and their food options. Diners can now choose the number of dishes they wish, the number of wine pairings, and be charged accordingly. The menu changes depending on the availability of the freshest of ingredients, but no one does lamb, skate, fois gras, or gourmet soups any better than Ken Frank.

If one chooses to accompany the meal with wine (and you should), we suggest you consult, and have a discussion with, sommeliers Scott Tracy or Yoon Ha - we always do (and usually learn something).


Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

MARKET
1347 Main St.
St. Helena
963-3799

Market capitalizes on the trend toward comfort foods. To that end they offer dishes such as meat loaf, fried chicken, etc. It's quite a favorite, but (and I say sorry here to all my Napa friends) the food is only "OK" at best, the wine list not as good as it should be, and the service needs some (no, lots of) work.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B-

(The Restaurant at) MEADOWOOD
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena
963-3646

Chef Christopher Kostow was recently named one of Food and Wine’s best new chefs, and his youth, vitality, and creativity show through in this lovely restaurant featuring what we call fine California Contemporary cuisine. It is hard to pass up dishes like curried shrimp salad with watermelon or a perfectly poached pullet egg glazed morels, or a poached and roasted squab.

Your choices at Meadowood range from a la carte, to a four/five course tasting menu, to an even larger chef’s dining experience. Wine pairings overseen by Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure are available and recommended. And by the way, the property is beautiful as well.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A+

MUSTARDS GRILL
7399 St. Helena Hwy.
Yountville
944-2424

Long a Napa Valley tradition, celebrity chef Cindy Pawlcyn continues to turn out superb fresh fish, lamb, and pork (often with some Asian touches) in what looks like an old road side restaurant. If there is better salmon in the Valley we have not tasted it. Just looking at the appetizers available recently will give you a good idea of the breadth of the food - roasted garlic soup, onion rings with house made tomato/apple ketchup, corn tamales with pumpkin seeds, Ahi tuna, and Asian lettuce wraps. Don’t worry about a good wine pairing as the list is well thought out.

To us, this is one of the perfect spots to hit early - in other words, before it becomes crowded. Reservations are always difficult to obtain during the more popular lunch and dinner hours, and understandably so.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A


NAPA GENERAL STORE
540 Main St.
Napa
259-0762

We like the store, but only review the restaurant here. And it is not a difficult review. The comfort cuisine lunch menu is for comfort all the way.

Food Review: B Overall Rating: B-


NAPA VALLEY GRILLE
6795 Washington
Yountville
944-8686

Here is an enigma. Offering pretty good food and wine, as well as staff that enjoys a good chat, Napa Valley Grille is rarely too crowded to find a seat. I think the usual availability (nice for us, of course, even if the restaurant would like to be more crowded) is because of a lack of effective advertising – a clear problem when you are in Yountville and surrounded by the famous and well known.
The menu changes, but is effectively grill cuisine designed to fill you up before you visit the next winery.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B


NEELA’S
975 Clinton St.
Napa, CA
226-9988

There is no cuisine we enjoy more than Indian. And though it is unfortunately not widely known, there are few cuisines that use such perfect spices and herbs in creating exquisite food. Of course, that assumes the chef knows what s/he is doing.

Well, Neela Paniz knows exactly what she is doing and Napa is fortunate to have someone who understands the beautiful nuances of Indian dining. Having opened a lovely room downtown, Neela is now serving a menu that is far more sophisticated, yet even more delicious, than the commonly known dishes popular in larger cities in the U.S. From pastries stuffed with shrimp and potatoes, to chicken cooked in the clay Tandoor (without the artificial coloring), to beets with cumin and mint in a golden beet cup, to a choice of many Indian breads, everything is a home run. And being in Napa, the wine list is designed to allow the enophile to find something that will pair with the food. If you are one who still believes Indian food is hot, spicy, and maybe even boring, you need to give Neela’s a visit.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

NEW YORK PIZZA
657 Trancas St.
Napa
255-8488

If I were in the Valley for more than a few days and wanted some simple Southern Italian fare, this is one of the places I would consider. Nothing fancy and nothing professional, but excellent pizza, nice pasta, and welcoming service.

Food Rating: B+ Pizza Rating: A- Overall Rating: B

OAKVILLE GROCERY
7856 St. Helena Hwy.
Oakville
944-8802

This is the Grand-daddy of all sandwich and gourmet food shops. You don't eat here, but order gourmet sandwiches (hot and cold) of every kind, and other treats. "The Grocery," as it is known, is always crowded, and yet turns out orders quite quickly. The place is a "happening" in and of itself, and the food is superb. A nice wine selection is on premises. Be warned: there are only one or two tables outside, so plan a picnic at your favorite winery.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+


PACIFIC BLUES CAFE
6525 Washington St.
Yountville
944-4455

Surrounded by more well known establishments, and sporting an old time façade, Pacific Blue caters to locals and Yountville visitors who are looking for an old fashioned burger or standard grill fare instead of the fanciest meal in the Valley. Lots of younger people who also like to be social. For us, a very good place for breakfast.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-


PALISADES DELI
1458 Lincoln Ave.
Calistoga
942-0145

If you are in the Calistoga area and want a solid lunch to take with you to picnic at a winery, this is the place. Good sandwiches and salads, if not much creativity or diversity.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-


PAPA JOE'S
1121 Lincoln Ave.
Napa
255-6525

Nothing but pizza, and I think the best in the Valley below St. Helena.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

PEARL
1339 Pearl St.
Napa
224-9161

Loved by many vintners, I’m afraid this is one we don’t get, It offers a fair menu, fair eclectic food, fair ambiance, and service that has to reach to be average. Nevertheless, Pearl has been there a long time and has a very loyal clientele. We suspect because the regulars and staff are so cozy that neither really notices the restaurant’s shortcomings, and, to their credit, they don’t care. Pearl is about the people.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: C.

PIZZERIA TRA VIGNE
1016 Main Street
St. Helena
967-9999

However you rate the food at this establishment’s parent Tra Vigne, the pizza here is the Valley’s best. The balance of the Southern Italian selections are nicely prepared, but won’t make you rave.

Food Rating: B Pizza Rating: A+ Overall Rating: B+

PRESS
587 St. Helena Highway
St. Helena
967-0550

Under the management of Allison Yoder and new lighting, Press caters nightly to a blue chip crowd of vintners and hearty food lovers. Landscaped beautifully with maple trees and white geraniums, Press is as pleasing inside as it is out. Floor to ceiling backlit wine racks, leather oversize chairs, a stylish high rise ceiling, and a colossal fireplace used to make chicken, confit, and other nightly entrees, combine to not only please the eye, but also prime the palate for some superb cuisine. The wine program is one of the Valley's best, with all wines served in elegant Spiegelau stemware appropriate for the varietal selected.

So there is no mistake, Press is no mere steak or seafood house. It brings to life the imagination of its owners, a dream born in France when Leslie Rudd fell in love with minimalist French cooking that emphasized the meat, seafood, fish, or veggie without allowing sauces to mask the food, or too many unnecessary ingredients to alter the basic beauty of the dish. Meats on the menu abound, from the superb (enough for two) hand chopped steak tartare blended tableside with seasonings, a raw egg, capers and onions; to the one pound dry aged Kansas City strip; to the Porterhouse for two; to the fire roasted double cut lamb chops; and to the dry aged bone-in rib eye. But don't hesitate to go away from meat. The fish, which changes nightly, was perhaps the best piece of fish we have eaten in the Valley. Sides? Of course - especially the roasted potato and garlic cake; the truffled mac and cheese; and the Brussels sprouts with Applewood bacon.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A+

REDD
6480 Washington St.
Yountville
944-2222

When a chef can prepare a chicken (roasted with garlic, potato puree, bacon, and English peas) that makes me want to pay restaurant prices for it, you know you are in the presence of greatness. Hyperbole? Not really. Anyone who has had the opportunity to dine with Richard Reddington at Auberge or here at his own creation, knows that the cuisine can be, and often is, extraordinary.

Where Redd falls off, in our opinion, is two-fold. Primary is its continued indecision as to what type of restaurant it wants to be. Is it fine dining only, or is it more in the country French mode? Will it advocate and teach about wines on a high level, or will it continue to serve an expensive five course tasting menu accompanied by inexpensive wines without the quality to do justice to Richard's food? The second problem is service related. Put simply, it just is not as good as it should be to support a chef of this talent, or prices of this magnitude. After three years, all these problems should have been rectified.

But let us return to the food, which, as we said above, is delicious. We enjoyed the glazed pork belly with pureed fennel; the risotto with Maine lobster and truffle oil; a fabulous sautéed skate; and mouth watering duck. Not an inexpensive restaurant, but at least the food can stand up to the price.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: B-

THE RESTAURANT AT MEADOWOOD
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena
963-3646

We have a shooting star here. Let us start with the recommendation that if you have not yet driven to the reception and restaurant area of Meadowood, time your reservation to begin in daylight hours. It can be a confusing drive. But once you arrive at this resort, you will feel as if you have driven up a country road and come upon a real find - and you have. A clubby, comfortable lounge with fireplace and bar introduce you to the ambiance and elegance that will follow you through your meal. Servers here are incredibly well trained and knowledgeable, which allows you to spend your time concentrating on Chef Joseph Humphrey's superbly creative dishes, as well as the wonderful, and sometimes rare, wines from the list or glass as chosen by informed sommelier Rom Toulon.

Dining is a la carte or prix fixe (where you can also choose to have a full wine pairing of some interesting selections). We chose the latter and were more than impressed. Even the dishes that were not stellar were still memorable, and but for one slip, the pairings were spot on as well. As with some of the best places we have dined, just describing the tasting menu (which we do below) recreates the evening for us, and gives you an idea of the full artistry of the chef.

Local Dungeness crab over a Steckel pear, vanilla, and sunflower seeds; Jerusalem artichoke soup with duck confit and sweet onions; Alaskan black cod with almond and cocoa nibs, pancetta, clams, and red pepper jus; Half Moon Bay Petrale Sole with grilled squid and a toasted garlic-saffron emulsion; Wolfe Ranch quail with a Romesco sauce, rainbow chard, and dry cured olives; Point Reyes grass fed beef with truffle braised celery, parsnip mousseline, and Cabernet jus; Chocolate pudding cake with milk chocolate mousse, peppermint meringue, and cocoa nib ice cream; and a Meyer lemon soufflé with soft serve pistachio ice cream. Enough said.

This is one of those establishments that is not inexpensive, but one of those where you feel the evening has been an event.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

RISTORANTE ALLEGRIA
1026 First St.
Napa
254-8006

An old bank reminiscent of many buildings erected during the Civil War era in the mid Atlantic states serves as the house for this inviting restaurant. Food is traditional Northern Italian, and while some dishes are fresh and winning, others are quite average. Service is nice but not professional. An odd quirk here is accordion music two nights a week - Monday and Wednesday.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

RUTHERFORD GRILL
1180 Rutherford Rd.
Rutherford
963-1792

If there is one place that no visitor should miss (locals don't), it is Rutherford Grill. Priced to please any budget, this Napa Valley institution is home to more winemakers and winery people than you can count for lunch, in the late afternoon, and during the early evening (especially on Fridays). The Grill is always crowded, friendly, and full of people who know each other. The wine list here not only rivals most in the Valley, but also we know of nowhere that offers better selections by the glass, or better prices for glass or bottle. Should you bring a bottle, there is no corkage charge.

And the food is superb. Inquire if ostrich is on the menu, and if it is, you must try it - so much like beef, yet healthy. We also like (no, love) the usually offered lamb, the prime rib sandwich, the rotisserie chicken, or any of the other so called comfort foods. Feel free to dine at the bar that is the focal point of the room. The food is the same as in a booth, and, if you are outgoing, you'll meet some interesting people. Outside dining is available and, in the right weather, a Napa luxury.
Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+


SIENA AT MERITAGE
875 Bordeaux Way
Napa
251-1950

We have waited around for this Italian restaurant to find its way, but it has not happened yet. It’s a shame, since the Meritage has become a popular hotel, there are some fine wineries and tasting rooms in the neighborhood, and we think the resources are there to hire some top people. We’ll let you know if it happens.

Food Rating: C- Overall Rating: C-

 

SILVERADO BREWING COMPANY
3020 St. Helena Highway
Napa
967-9876

An excellent stop when you are up valley, Silverado offers well prepared burgers, barbeques, salads, a wide array of other sandwiches, and surprisingly sophisticated specials (we had a pretty good San Francisco style Cioppino during their crab fest, for example). The home made brews are pretty good as well, and make a nice break from a morning of tannins. But this is Napa, after all, and you can, of course, find some fine wine as well. Located in a charming old stone building, this is a relaxing visit.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

SODA CANYON STORE
4006 Silverado Trail
Napa
252-0285

When you need a relatively quick lunch or other "general store" goods on the southern part of the Silverado Trail, you don't have many (if any) options. Fortunately, there is the wine country attractive Soda Canyon Store. The store offers excellent made to order sandwiches, as well as local wines which you can enjoy inside or, if you get there first, at one of the few picnic tables outside. Salads and prepared foods are also offered. This is a good morning place to pick up lunch for later as you begin your way up the Silverado Trail, or a welcome mid-day stop so you can stay in the neighborhood.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

SUSHI MAMBO
1202 1st St.
Napa
257-660

Sushi with a bit of a twist. The rolls not only include fresh California ingredients, but also I have rarely seen so many tempting selections. And not only are many unique, but most are excellent. But we eat most anything here. It's all fresh and well prepared. If there is a serious criticism, it would be the slow service. Still, for a sushi fix Sushi Mambo is worth the time, and the rolls worth the experience.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B

TAYLOR'S REFRESHER
644 1st St.
Napa
224-6900

933 Main St.
St. Helena
963-3486

This is one of the most unique places to dine in the country, and now there are two of them in Napa Valley. Frequented by locals and those who really know Napa, Taylor's atmosphere is a throwback to the 50's (even though the St. Helena property was remodeled in the 90's and the Napa property is new).

In St. Helena, you order from a window, take a seat at a covered picnic table, wait for your name to be called so the staff knows where to deliver the food tray, and then eat at picnic tables on the lawn in back. In Napa, there isn’t so much room. What also sets this legendary establishment apart is the menu. Yes, normal drive-in food is available (and it's excellent - try the juicy burgers), but you might also choose fish tacos, crawfish, or the best Ahi burger anywhere. It just depends what is on the menu that day. Shakes are wonderful, too. Finally, truly nice wines can be ordered - some by the glass and some by the half bottle. Hint: it's usually crowded, so SOMETIMES if you call ahead you can go straight to the pick up window and avoid the lines – BUT, lately they do not always answer the phone. Still, you shouldn’t visit Napa without trying Taylor's.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

TERRA
1345 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena
963-8931

We are always concerned when the owners/chefs of a great restaurant open another place in another city (San Francisco). And when you couple that with the retirement of a terrific long time manager and sommelier, trouble often follows.

But we are happy to report that Terra remains one of Napa’s best experiences, as Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani are on site about 2/3 of the evenings, and Geoff Harner has picked up the wine and management duties without missing a step.

The menu at Terra continues to be a masterpiece of deliciously light Californian and Asian influenced cuisine such as broiled sake marinated Alaskan Black Cod and shrimp dumplings in a Shiso broth; grilled lamb tenderloins with artichoke and mint; and buttermilk fried quail with mushroom sauce and bacon. The wine list is one of those intelligently crafted ones that proves you don’t have to have 3500 selections to win awards. 300 or so wonderful bottles is enough. And the prices of the wines and food, while not inexpensive (the preparation is too involved and the taste too good for that), should not break your bank.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

THAI KITCHEN
1222 Trancas St.
Napa
254-9271

We are always surprised to find a non local here, but this little room with about 10 tables serves some tasty and authentic Thai dishes. Don't expect top of the line or swift service (or even English speakers who can explain what is in some of the specials), but go when you are not in hurry and want this sort of food at low prices. Lunch, as a matter of fact, may be the best deal in town.

Recommendations? Almost everything, but our favorite is to choose a meat or fish and have it sautéed with fresh ginger, black mushroom, onions, and black bean sauce. The Pad Thai is also outstanding.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B
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TRA VIGNE
1050 Charter Oak
St. Helena
963-4444

A legend in the Napa Valley, and the recipient of many awards from many critics, we have believed for years that Tra Vigne has been highly overrated in most respects. Recently, however, there have been some changes, and the kitchen is turning out dishes that aren’t yet at the level of the restaurant’s reputation, but not as bad as the last few years. There is no doubt that the pastas are delightful. The service is still a bit spotty for non-locals, but it can be professional and friendly if they know you, or take time to know you. And no one has ever questioned the super wines on the wine list or the servers’ knowledge in that regard. There is no denying Tra Vigne is a popular stop in the Valley, and we’re happy it seems to be moving in the right direction again.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B-

UBUNTU
1140 Main St.
Napa
251-5656

As a rule we are not drawn to vegetarian restaurants, but, also as a rule, their menus do not reflect the imagination one sees at Chef Jeremy Fox’ new Ubuntu in downtown Napa. Besides the hard to resist specials, how about any of the following?
-Roasted Cauliflower in a cast iron pot with vadouvan spice
-Gratin of braised butterbeans and fideo pasta with smoked tomato & egg
-Fried pardon peppers with sea salt, espelette, and lime
-Flatbread with trumpet mushrooms, pecorino, and summer truffle

The beer list is stellar, and you bring your own wine for a $20 corkage charge.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

UVA
1040 Clinton St.
Napa
255-6646

Just purchased last month by the able Aaron Diaz, there are changes afoot, even though much will be retained in locals loved Italian restaurant.. We’ll have to get back to you on this one.

WINE SPECTATOR GREYSTONE
(see CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA)

ZINSVALLEY
1106 First St.
Napa
224-0695

This long time favorite out in the “suburbs” has moved to the middle of downtown, and is already boosting foot traffic in the area as old customers mingle with hotel tourists all rushing to the restaurant and bar. The menu is still pure comfort food well prepared by owner chef Greg Johnson, with a nice selection of salads (try the Chicken "Tostada", with chile-orange black beans, and tomatillo salsa), meats (how about grilled Kobe bavette with goat cheese "Mac-n-Cheese", Blue Lake beans, and red onion jam), fresh fish, sandwiches (loved the Reuben), and fowl (I often ordered the garlicky shrimp at the old location). Desserts are creative. The staff is pleasant and, under the guidance of front of the house owner Theresa Johnson, learning. And the bright restaurant and darker bar (with a late night menu) offer just the right touch of ambiance.

Welcome to town, Theresa and Greg.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A

ZUZU
829 Main St.
Napa
224-8555

Zuzu is a hot, late night, Mediterranean tapas bar in downtown Napa, and a worthy place to sample various small plates of well thought out, creative dishes. We like the service in this small but hip restaurant almost as much as we like the marriage of many flavors. Recommended are the paella; the Mexican bay scallops gratinee; the Argentinean flat iron steak; and the salt cod with truffle oil. But the menu changes periodically, so go experiment with as many dishes as you can accompanied by wine from a nice list.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B+



Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News and numerous other magazines. They are now frequent wine writers for Sally's Place. The Preisers own Creative Professional Programs, a company devoted to continuing education for professionals in conjunction with fine wine & food instruction, and are co-owners of SaraBec Wines, which produces the premium SaraBec Syrah. They have served as judges for the Hilton Head Island WineFest, the Mendocino Winegrowers Competition, the Long Beach Grand Cru Competition, and the American Fine Wine Competition. They also publish the world’s most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley. The guide was recently names by famed writer Jancis Robinson of the Financial Time as the best in Napa.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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