Napa chefs and restaurateurs had a banner year in 2015, opening venues that included second or third locations for several of them. The predominant themes were rustic Italian and comforting pub grub. As downtown Napa continues to rebuild and reinvent itself, more restaurants and hotels are on their way, popping up like mushrooms in January.
Here are some of the biggest openings of 2015.
Ca’Momi Osteria: Calling itself “Obsessively Italian,” this Napa newcomer actually backs it up with a menu focused on authentic regional specialties and traditions. Travel north to south, east to west through the foodways of Italy with dishes like grilled rock octopus with lemon vinaigrette inspired by Venice’s seafood bounty ($16); imported burrata from Puglia (the boot heel of Italy) a with roasted vegetables and olive oil ($14); or a hearty oxtail stew with tomato, rigatoni, soffritto, pinenuts and raisins ($28) from the pastoral Lazio region surrounding Rome.
The only spaghetti on the menu is “alla bottarga,” a briny, slightly funky dish that gets a shaving of cured fish roe, a Sardinian specialty that’s well-worth a try if you’re a seafood fan ($20).
Pizza is the heart of the Osteria, however. Not just pizza, but certified-authentic pizza Napoletana that’s cooked for exactly 90 seconds in a 900-degree wood-burning oven. Exactly. Don’t ask for Parmesan cheese or red pepper flakes or pepperoni on your pizza, because that’s not how things are done here, and they’ll be glad to tell you.
Instead, experience pizza as it is meant to be, with simple toppings of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic and oregano ($16), or more luxurious toppings of porcini mushrooms with white truffle cream and basil ($22). They come uncut, ready to slice and dice any way you please. In true Italian style, sharing here is not only acceptable, but expected, so mangia with gusto, and toast to the good life with friends and family.
Open daily for lunch and dinner, 1141 First St., Napa, camomi.com.
Heritage Eats: Slow fast-food is having its moment. Convenient, walk-up meals with sustainable principles and local connections are what Napa’s Heritage Eats is all about.
Think Jamaican jerk chicken on steamed bao buns with Asian pickles and habanero sauce, or an Indian tikka masala with grilled veggies stuffed into a flour tortilla (both $9.95).
Co-founders Ben Koenig and Jason Kupper (both former The Thomas Restaurant alums), insist on using only heritage breed meats and maintaining the relationships with local farmers forged earlier in their fine-dining careers.
We think they’ve captured the idea of how we’re eating now, but also how we’ll be eating in the future — with international flavors, conscious sourcing, and a menu that allows for plenty of personalization. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 3824 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, heritageeats.com.
Atlas Social: The third Napa restaurant for co-owners Michael Gyetvan and Christina Rivera (Norman Rose Tavern, Azzurro Pizzeria), this is a vibrant gastro-hub for mixing, mingling and plate-sharing, and when we say social, we mean you’re destined to run into at least four people you know on the way to your communal table, where you’ll meet six more people you don’t. The idea behind it is small plates/big flavors that are meant to be shared.
If you can’t find something from the globally-inspired menu, it’s on you : Tempura veggies, twice fried Brussels sprouts and tuna crudo are available, along with rabbit pot pie, masala spiced chicken skewers, pork belly tacos and chicken-fried quail.
Dishes range from $5 to $10, making this a popular after-work meet-up spot. Lunch and dinner daily, 1124 First St., Napa, atlassocialnapa.com.
Napa Palisades Saloon: This downtown spot is for beer fans, with more than 20 regional beers on tap and Napa-style pub grub that ranges from shrimp and grits with smoked chili butter to lamb burgers, Shrimp Louie salad, pot roast and pimento cheese fondue. For the local beerati, it should come as no surprise that Santa Rosa’s Kevin Sprenger (Sprenger’s Tap Room) is a co-owner of the saloon and brewery project. Napa Palisades recently released its first beer, 24/7 Session IPA. Open daily, 1000 Main St., Suite 100, Napa, napapalisades.com.
Ninebark: Foodies are abuzz over the reincarnation of The Thomas, and more specifically Chef Matthew Lightner. The two-star Michelin chef calls the menu California-inspired and market-driven, but he has a firm grasp on the latest culinary trends, like charcoal grilling, smoked everything, pickling, new takes on old favorites (black garlic ranch dressing, salt cod beignets) and global inspirations like poke with kombu and brown butter dashi. A more casual bar menu includes many of the dishes and sides, and the recently-added brunch menu may be one of the most tempting we’ve seen. Stellar cocktails to boot. Closed Monday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday, brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 813 Main St., Napa, ninebark-napa.com.
Coming Soon: One of the most anticipated openings of 2016 is former Oenotri chef Curtis Di Fede’s izakaya restaurant, Miminashi. The Japanese pub-style restaurant will feature grilled yakitori, Japanese pancakes, raw and smoked local fish, rice bowls, porridges (a hot trend for 2016) and plenty of beverage choices from Napa and Japan. 821 Coombs St., Napa, miminashi.com.