Napa restaurant explosion

Your scorecard to the new downtown Napa restaurant scene

C Casa's fresh Mexican tacos

Downtown Napa is in the midst of a restaurant explosion. And by explosion, we mean that restaurants in this formerly sleepy Wine Country burg are popping up like mushrooms in November — you can’t take a step without hitting one.
From the downtown restaurant row to a revamped Oxbow market and the emerging Riverfront development plenty of folks are spending big bucks to get their Napa food fix. Less than an hour from Santa Rosa we’re practically neighbors, making an quick evening jaunt or a weekend stay-cation practically a requirement for these last languid days of summer. Need an inside guide to the players? Here’s where to go…
Oenotri: Meanwhile, Napa’s new southern Italian eatery Oenotri continues to take the valley by storm with its modern-classic takes on pasta, salumi, squab (a fave), pizza and whatever else is in season. Not surprisingly, owners Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde are Oliveto alums, so expect lots of nose-to-tail eating. 1425 First St. (near Franklin), Napa, (707) 252-1022.
Late night: It’s no secret that the sidewalks tend to roll up early in Wine Country. But the recently-opened Bistro Sabor is keeping the party going with late night Latin street eats until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights (midnight Tuesday through Thursday). The menu’s simple, with just a handful of small plates — a shitake mushroom quesadilla; corn with fresh cheese and salsa; salmon ceviche tostada; a fruta fresca with mango, jicama, cucumber, cabbage and watermelon and a selection of Mexican tortas (sandwiches), tacos and tamales. 1126 First St, Napa, 707 252-0555.
Grace’s Table: For lunch, grab a seat at the also-new Grace’s Table (in the former Azzuro space), where a mix of seasonal global cuisine somehow works. It’s a hodgepodge of dishes, from Tuna Nicoise and Creole Steamed Mussels to pesto potato gnocchi, tamlales or Sonoma duck breast. On nice days (and really, when isn’t it nice in Napa?), a glass wall opens up to let diners spill out onto the sidewalk. Open for lunch and dinner daily, 1400 Second St., Napa, 226-6200.
Kids: Conveniently located just around the corner from the Sift Cupcakery outpost in Napa, The Little Gourmet is a kid-centric restaurant that’s adult friendly. Instead of microwaved chicken nuggets, however, expect healthier — but still very toddler accessible eats. Like “Boulders and Logs”, an organic meatball grinder sandwich with a “forest of broccoli” or Snakes and Worms, soy and peanut butter-marinated chicken atop soba noodles with a dipper of peanut butter “mud”. Grown ups can order from the kid menu or from a slightly more mature menu. Open for lunch and dinner. 1040 Main Street, Napa, 257.7700
Oxbow Evolution: If you haven’t visited the Oxbow Market in a year or so, expect to find a much-changed venue that’s become a dining destination. One of the best (and newest) additions is C Casa, an artisan taqueria headed up by the Jacinto brothers (Cindy Pawlcyn alums) and Catherine Bergen (Tulocay, Made in Napa Valley). They’ve expanded the dining area into the center of the market and outside, with cozy semi-private coves, featuring menu items like tacos with spiced lamb, mint and goat cheese; ground buffalo with microgreens, black beans and chipotle aioli; broccoli cabbage slaw with cilantro lime vinaigrette and whole chile rubbed rotisserie chickens. Also new to the lineup is Graham’s Takeaway, a CIA-trained chef and French Laundry alum who serves up anything-but-ordinary sandwiches, salads (everything baked potato salad is a winner) and fresh pastries and breads. Ca’Momi Enoteca pizzeria and wine bar is slated to open later this summer and there’s buzz that another major player may move into the market this year.
Save room for stops at Hog Island Oyster, Pica Pica Maize Kitchen and the new Pica Pica Bar, along with Kara’s Cupcakes, Annette’s Chocolates, Whole Spice, Oxbow Produce and grocery, Three Twins Ice Cream, Kanaloa Seafood and Five Dot Ranch, whose sustainable beef is starting to show up on restaurant menus throughout the valley. 610 and 644 First St , Napa.
Morimoto: There’s no doubt that Masaharu Morimoto’s newest restaurant in Napa’s downtown Riverfront development is Wine Country’s most, well, un-Wine Country space. There’s no stucco or faux-Italian charm, but instead a stark, minimal urban space with concrete floors, vast windows and a clean Japanese sensibility. Several hostesses greet you at the door, while an army of staff line the walls waiting to present masterworks of Japanese/California cuisine to Morimoto’s rabid fans. He is, as most foodies know, Food Network’s Iron Chef of Iron chefs. An alum of Nobu and countless other restaurants, he now has several eponymous eateries (Philadelphia, NYC) and is in the works with (we hear) three more just this year. Morimoto, unlike other FN personalities, however, has the actual cooking skills to draw serious eaters, rather than celeb-gawkers.You’re here for two things: Seafood (especially sushi and sashimi) and the Waygu beef. Morimoto is a notorious stickler about his fish, usually flying in exceptional seafood from Japan. Waygu is a highly marbled, incredibly tasty kind of beef. It’s the breed of cattle used for kobe beef, but typically from America (and therefore not allowed to be called Kobe, which only comes from Japan). 1001 Second St, Napa, 707 252-1600.
Also opening in the much-anticipated Riverfront in coming weeks is Fish Story, a new restaurant from the Lark Creek restaurant group with Chef Stephen Barber at the helm and a casual dining concept from Tyler Florence (who just opened Wayfare in SF) called Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie.
Around 3pm, head to Model bakery (644 First St., 259-1128) located outside the Oxbow complex near Gott’s (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) and Fatted Calf Charcuterie. The iconic valley baker now does a late bake for restaurants, setting aside a few dozen warm, chewy loaves for lucky locals who know their secret.
Also still relatively new…
Norman Rose Tavern
Neela’s Indian Cuisine
–  Azzuro Pizzeria e Enoteca: A new location on Main has meant even more fans for the longtime Sicilian-style pizza spot. The menu has continued to evolve, with of-the-moment specials (grilled peaches, tomatoes and ricotta in late July is heaven) along with weighty dinner specials like ribeye steak.