The Napa Valley continues to see some of the most exciting restaurant openings in the country. From Thomas Keller’s foray into Mexican food at La Calenda to celebrity chef Hal Yamashita’s first U.S. outpost, diners will find a bounty of fresh choices up and down the valley — many of them newly opened since last year’s Napa Valley Film Festival. Here are some of the spots locals recommend — most with menus tailored to show off the finest products of the grape harvest.
Wine tour guide Doug White likes Southside Café for its “fresh farm-to-table food.” Four locations in Napa and Yountville offer breakfast and lunch with Latin-influenced touches including the croque Senora, a twist on the classic croque monsieur, or asparagus salad with chorizo vinaigrette.
Hal Yamashita is still in its soft opening phase in downtown Napa, but the “Iron Chef Japan” alumnus is gradually adding selections to two tasting menus and an assortment of nigiri sushi, robata grill choices, steaks and tempura.
Avow, which took over the historic Fagiani Building in downtown Napa, is a “very cool place,” says White. Run by Copper Cane Wine Co. owner Joey Wagner, the three-story restaurant features a rooftop deck that overlooks the park and wine-friendly dishes including braised rabbit and rack of lamb.
A branch of the hip Brooklyn restaurant Gran Electrica in downtown Napa has a “great energy,” White says, plus a tequila membership that lets regulars store their favorite bottles at the restaurant. Free-range chicken albondigas and chile verde with Llano Seco pork are a few of the locally sourced Mexican specialties.
New in Yountville is modern chophouse Perry Lang’s, the second restaurant from meat maestro Adam Perry Lang, who opened APL in Hollywood last year.
“Yountville is a new climate to pull from, where I can not only stick to my revisited classics but also have fun with some hyper-seasonal dishes unique to this area,” he says. His unique approach to dry-aging beef is the perfect complement to the Perry Lang’s list of regional wines along with Old World classic selections. “To explore these nuances with interesting pairings is new and different,” Lang says of the restaurant, located at the historic Groezinger Estate House.
Yountville is also, of course, Thomas Keller territory, home to the iconic French Laundry as well as Bouchon, Ad Hoc and now the casually festive La Calenda. Head chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling was raised in Oaxaca and showcases dishes of that region, including black mole chicken enchiladas along with other Mexican favorites such as pescado zarandeado verde, in which the fish is marinated in the slightly anise-scented Hoja santa herb.
Yountville also offers terrific upscale shopping, and after browsing at Restoration Hardware, visitors can head to RH Yountville, the design company’s only standalone restaurant. The adjacent wine tasting vault is housed in a 1904 stone building and stays open until 10 p.m.
Cinema Napa Valley chairman Patrick Davila is also director of operations at Meadowood Resort, so it’s no surprise his favorite spot outside the resort is St. Helena’s Charter Oak, the second restaurant from the team behind the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood. But he’s not the only one who sings the praises of the expansive eatery in the former Tra Vigne location.
“Nowadays food seems to be overly complicated — every dish at the Charter Oak is focused and true to its ingredients,” Davila says. Think hearth-cooked proteins, including smoked beef shortrib and Sacramento sturgeon, and such local ingredients as Mendocino sea lettuce.
The locals know best.