Until this summer, I hadn’t visited Napa Valley for close to thirty years. It’s hard to believe given that it’s less than a two-hour flight. Boy, have I been missing out. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, and the wines spectacular, but there’s also a thriving food scene. It should come as no surprise that farm to table is the name of the game given the resources available.
Overall, I spent 11 days in Napa this summer between two trips which gave me plenty of time to try many restaurants. I was fortunate to get insider recommendations from a friend who lives in Yountville, and she did not steer me wrong. The following spots were memorable, in food and ambience, and ones I would return to on a future visit. Enjoy!
Conveniently located central to where we were staying and tasting, we ate at Archetype twice, once for lunch and once for breakfast. The dining room is a soft, modern take on the popular farmhouse style seen throughout the valley, except here, everything is a distinctive, creamy white. I loved the decor, lighting, seating and overall ambiance of the restaurant and was thrilled when the food we ordered met the same casually sophisticated standards. I had the Breakfast Tacos – thick, blue corn tortillas layered with scrambled eggs and a heavy dose of maitake mushrooms and guacamole. Outstanding. Our table also ordered the Black Forest Ham & Caramelized Onion Omelette and the Norwegian Eggs (poached with smoked salmon on the famous Model Bakery English Muffins). For lunch, we all had a salad of mixed greens and vegetables with a thinly pounded chicken breast and medallions of avocado toast. Very, very good.
Seasonal, ingredient-driven American farmhouse cuisine in a modern barn-like space that opens to views and access of the ranch’s culinary gardens. Lively bar outside with fireplace, lots of seating and on occasion, live music. The menu focuses on Long Meadow Ranch beef, produce, olive oil and honey. Our table had grilled artichokes, warm buratta with grilled bread, short ribs, cavatelli pasta, and an arugula salad. The grounds, including an organic garden, are beautiful to stroll with one of their innovative cocktails – such as my personal favorite, a Hemp Thyme Vodka – while you wait for your table.
I had heard about the stunning views at Auberge that accompany their exquisite fine dining menu and was pleased both lived up to the fame. The vantage point overlooking the valley is spectacular, particularly at sunset. The expansive deck allows for a number of tables outside and I’m always thrilled at the opportunity to dine al fresco. But that’s just the setting, the innovative 3-4 course cuisine, layered with unique ingredients and inspired by the wine country, is prepared with care towards flavor and presentation. The service was exceptional as well.
People line up, sometimes out the door, for their famous English Muffins. They’re good. Really good. You can dine in or take out. We did both. There are several variations on their Breakfast Sandwich on the said toasted english muffins with egg, arugula, tomato, avocado, ham or cheese. Artisan breads, sandwiches and pastries have made this a must for anyone visiting the valley. There’s a cookbook if that’s not possible. There are three locations – in St. Helena, Yountville (a mini version) and Napa at Oxbow Market. We also found Model Bakery breads at Cal Mart in Calistoga.
Rustic American cuisine served in a pub-like dining room, basement bar or tree covered patio of what was once the 1920s home of prosperous bootlegger, Walter Martini. The history alone makes for a unique dining experience. The artisanal cocktails and cozy bar downstairs are a must and truly set the mood and tone for the restaurant. A bevy of cocktail pros/bartenders create tasty, one of a kind drinks, many with an oversized, single ice-cube that was a beauty to look at. Really. Clear as glass and smoothly chiseled, it was a conversation piece. I had a Cucumber Collins which was beautified with floating huckleberries, pickled cucumbers and yuzu. It went down easy.
The upstairs dining room is casual, clubby decor reminiscent of a hunt lodge. Red walls, dark wood plank ceilings, numerous decoys, leather booths and reclaimed old-growth redwood complement the comfort food. We started with a tasty Wood Roasted Cauliflower seasoned with cilantro, chili and almonds. Green Goddess Salads, Chicken Tandoori and a grass-fed burger kept us all quite satisfied.
Casual Italian entrees and wood-fired pizzas served in a renovated 1916 Italian Grocery Store. Family owned and operated by the Altamura family, many of the locally sourced ingredients and wines come directly from the Altamura Ranch and Vineyards. A full Negroni Bar makes for an enticing start to the meal, most of which are items designed to share. We ordered a variety of plates including Peach Panzanella, Buratta with Heirloom Tomatoes, Crispy Calamari, Bruschetta, Pasta Nero Shrimp and Pappardelle Pork Shank Ragu. I have to mention them all, because they were equally fabulous.
We were advised to get there at 4:40 for their 5pm opening, since they do not take reservations. Good thing we did. By the time the doors opened, the line was long and the restaurant was filled within minutes.
Italian spin-off from the popular Yountville restaurant, Redd. We popped in for lunch between wine tastings and had a fantastic, relaxing meal. The Meatballs with grilled bread is a must have appetizer. We easily polished off a couple of tasty, thin-crust wood-fired pizzas and salads. Seating is inside or out but we preferred the comfortable ambiance of the dark interiors which were complemented by beautiful lighting surrounding the bar.
Casual upscale dining serving “New American” fare which includes burgers, pork chops, salads and a House-made Ricotta Crostini. It was extremely hot the weekend we were in Napa, so we ate inside, although the large patio with fire pits looked inviting on a cooler evening. The salads were crisp and refreshing with a unique umami dressing on kale, flavorful micro herbs and local radishes. Delicious cocktails could be enjoyed at table or the lively bar scene.
We spontaneously stopped by Solbar for lunch between tastings. We had no idea we were in for such a treat. We sat at the bar and shared three dishes – Locally World Famous Beet Salad, Crispy Petrale Sole Fish Tacos and Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Wraps – all equally delicious and satisfying. There was no questioning the quality of the seasonal, farm fresh ingredients and the chef’s skill in making unique bites. The bright white modern farmhouse exterior is warmed inside with a palette of blue, gray and mink, plush mohair upholstery and several stunning elm-wrapped spheres providing soft lighting. On a future trip, I would be happy to try their dinner menu.
One last thing…
SingleThread in Healdsburg is the place to get a reservation in all of Napa right now. I didn’t go there, but my friend who has traveled and dined throughout the world, firmly claimed it was the best dining experience of her life. That’s saying a lot!
“In the heart of downtown Healdsburg, one of the country’s most accomplished chefs Kyle Connaughton, along with farmer and wife Katina Connaughton, have opened SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn, a 55-seat fine dining restaurant with five exclusive suites. The farm, located on five acres between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch, supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, honey, eggs, and olive oil to their restaurant kitchen. Guests of the restaurant are treated to an eleven-course tasting menu, showcasing the seasonal bounty from the couple’s farm. SingleThread provides guests a bespoke hospitality experience in the center of Sonoma Wine Country.”
Source: photos: Sam’s Social Club, all others personal