The Napa Valley Guide
A round-up of picks for one of my favorite places in the world! Napa encompasses all that I love : food, wine, nature's beauty. Here the focus is not on the latest gluten or dairy free diet, but on ingredients (many which are grown mere feet away from where they are being served.) People relish in the season, all while doing it with a glass of wine in hand harvested from the same soil for which they are standing. I feel at home among the grapevines, so I hope you will enjoy this carefully collected guide.
The Charter Oak | Located in the former Tra-Vigne space, this new restaurant has been beautifully renovated with an open fire wood stove, modern bar, and patio. The attention to detail as well as the knowledge and warmth of the staff only adds to their minimal, yet impeccable menu. It’s hard to choose favorites, but the crispy potato tostones, chile and clam spaghetti, and smoked beef rib were the stand outs. ‘The raw vegetables from our farm with fermented soy dip,’ may sound like a seemingly boring menu item at first glance, but is met with the most tender and sweet garden vegetables along with an addictive accompanying sauce. You must approach dessert with a well navigated plan for it cannot be missed whether you choose the buffalo milk ice-cream with burnt caramel, or the pale meringues piped table-side with an olive oil custard atop a bed seasonal jam (in this case, strawberry.) Not able to dine there just once, we promptly made it our last meal of the trip too, this time for lunch, where it was suggested we order the cheeseburger. The focus on the soft sourdough bun, the thin and crispy double patties, with a generous slab of melty cheese oozing from its sides, secured it’s position into my burger hall of fame.
Two Birds/One Stone | Also newly opened, this California-with-an-asian-twist inspired menu is a welcome addition to the Napa restaurant scene. Favorites were the steamed bun platter, tuna crudo, and the Korean buffalo fried chicken.
Mustard's Grill | My family has been going here since it opened 30 years ago. Stop on your way into St. Helena for lunch. Order the sweet corn tamales, barbecued baby back ribs, and a slice of their famous lemon-lime meringue pie.
Farmstead | A casual, easy spot for a tasty and seasonal meal. Their garden where they cultivate some of the vegetables in their dishes is on site, making it a lovely place to walk around with a glass of wine on a warm summer evening pre-dinner.
Terra | Chef Hiro Sone has received a Michelin star every year since it opened in 2007. A prix fixe menu is offered in which you can choose between 4 to 6 courses (these dishes offer more than just a bite-size taste of food.) Their classic dishes like the sake-marinated cod and shrimp dumplings in a shiso broth and strawberries in a cabernet sauce, are always on the menu along with new offerings changed regularly. This is a special dining experience.
Other suggestions : Archetype, Bar Terra Acacia House, Press, Cindy’s Back Kitchen.
Napa Soap Company | A quick stop, I love picking up some of these beautifully wrapped bars of soap to take back as gifts for people when I return home.
Oakville Grocery | This is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California since it opened in 1881. It is a place to stock up on local goods such as olive oil, honey, and jams. It is also a good place to grab a tasty sandwich and other items to take on a picnic.
Napa Vintage Home | Located on the main street in St. Helena, this store has a great selections of linens and homewares such as Astier de Villate and Simon Pearce.
Acres | A specialty store that has a selection of beautiful coffee table books on gardening and beekeeping, pantry items with local olive oils and jams, a selection of Farmhouse Pottery, and stacks of linen pillows.
Las Alcobas | This is a new, modern hotel in the midst of Napa, with oversized bathrooms and balconies overlooking the vineyard. It is comfortable, sleek, andwith the best room service I have had to date. It is a quick walk to the main drag of St. Helena, which makes it convenient to walk into town to shop or to have dinner.
Other suggestions : Meadowood, Hotel Yountville, Wydown Hotel, AirbNb.
Wine Tasting | While the selection of vineyards to choose from is overwhelming, I like going to less mainstream spots for a tasting. The sommelier at Gjelina here in LA suggested going to winemaker Cathy Corison’s vineyard, known for her ‘old-school cabernets.’ I loved the laid-back feeling at this winery. We were able to taste her delicious wines including a white varietal, and a gewürztraminer, while learning the history of the vineyard. She was nominated for a James Beard just this year for Outstanding Wine Professional. Needless to say, a few bottles were shipped back to Los Angeles to keep the party going!
Auberge du Soleil | A beautiful hotel overlooking the valley. I love coming here for a glass of champagne and a nibble as the sun is starting to set.
Oxbow Public Market | Open 7 days a week, this is an enclosed farmers market made up of food vendors and local produce. You can shop, but also eat at spots such as Live Fire Pizza, Gott’s Roadside, and Hog Island Oyster Bar.
Drive to Calistoga | Besides all the endless eating and drinking Napa has to offer, taking in the beauty of your surroundings with a leisurely drive is a must. As you weave your way around the grapevines, you take in the vast mountain back drop. I especially enjoyed the drive to Calistoga, where you can stop in the little town, and loop your way back around to St. Helena.