Wanderlust seems to be catching, and we’ve got a bad case of it this spring.
With the twin pulls of Auction Napa Valley approaching (May 31-June 1) and a downright instinctual need to get out of the office, it seemed, well, necessary to investigate the bumper crop of new restaurants just over the hills in neighboring Napa Valley. From St. Helena to Napa, burger joints, pizza cafes, crepe shops and plenty of spots for outdoor wine and cocktail sipping are opening up in time for the tourist season. Here’s a peek at what’s on the menu.
Town of Napa
Biscuits: The South has risen in the North Bay. The newest entrant into the grits and biscuits restaurant trend is the countrified Biscuits. The menu looks like it’s been lifted from the kitchen of a Arkansas truck stop. In a good way. Homemade biscuits, gravy, pulled pork biscuits, pecan pie, homemade barbecue chips, fried green tomatoes, collard greens with ham and best of all, chicken and waffles. Best bet: The Pappy, a thin buttermilk waffle sandwiching bacon, a fried chicken and pepper jelly. Syrup on the side, natch. It’s the best I’ve had outside Oakland, maybe even north of the Mason-Dixon. Take an extra biscuit to go, and don’t slam the screen door! 1502 Main St., Napa.
Tarla Mediterranean Grill: When you think about under-represented cuisines in Napa, Greek and Turkish come to mind. Obviously not a lot of falafel and schwarma carts dot the vineyards. So Tarla Grill in the new Avia Hotel in downtown Napa has a natural niche cut out for it. Chef Gerry Castro (Farmstead, Murray Circle) has a pedigreed background that spices up the usual meze and moussaka. Outdoor dining. 1480 First St., Napa, 255-5599.
Redwood: Following in the steps of neighbor, Thomas Keller, Richard Reddington, of much-lauded Redd in Yountville, has opened a more approachable every-day eatery just blocks away. The focus is on the wood-fired oven, with pizzas (clam and bacon to lardo with fontina), pasta, salads and entrees of quail, pork chops and lamb shank. Open breakfast through dinner daily. Look for the Wappo Hill mailbox, which belonged to the late Robert Mondavi’s Napa estate. Outdoor dining. 6755 Washington St., Yountville, 299-5030.
Habit Burger: Burgers are the stars of Habit Burger Grill, a (mostly) California based chain of restaurants. Although chains aren’t usually big news, the arrival of Habit, which has outposts in San Mateo and Pleasanton, was a flame-broiled freakout in the Valley. Mostly because finding a decent burger under $15 isn’t the easiest thing to do in Napa (aside from the Squeeze Inn and Gott’s). 1735 Trancas St., Napa, 251-8137.
La Crepe: The Oxbow market continues to evolve, hitting critical restaurant mass. Prepare for a density of artisan, ethnic, specialty foods equal to a neutron star. The newest entry: La Crepe, serving up authentic French crepes. Leave room for Kitchen Door, Kara’s Cupcakes, Gott’s Roadside, C Casa, Ca’Momi, Model Bakery, Fatted Calf, Three Twins, Pica Pica, Hog Island…and the list just goes on. 644 First St., Napa.
Eiko (fusion Japanese, sushi) opened in June 2011 with plenty of fanfare. While the look and feel are ultra-trendy, reviews have been mixed. You game has to be pretty solid when Japan’s Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto holds court just down the street. 1385 Napa Town Center., Napa, 501-4444.
Cielito Lindo: Also opened last summer, this upscale Mexican eatery replaced Annalien serving mainly dishes from the Veracruz region of Mexico. Look for dishes including octopus tacos, corn cakes with crispy pork skin, or lamb mole. 1142 Main St., Napa, 252-2300.
Still closed: Michelin-starred Ubuntu closed last year for a “sabbatical”, and has yet to reopen.
Oakville Grocery: No, it’s not exactly new. In fact, the Oakville Grocery has been around for 130 years, and it was time for a facelift. After closing in January, the general store turned picnic-fare stop has reopened with a new chef and a new look. There’s a new walk-up espresso window and ice cream counter (serving Napa’s Three Twins ice cream, natch) along with a farm stand featuring fresh produce from nearby Rudd Farms. Newly-appointed toque Jason Rose (formerly of the Delfina Group and La Cocina) has updated the menu to include updated sandwiches, salads, baked goods and seasonal goods from the farm. The store was rescued from an uncertain future by winery and restaurant owner Leslie Rudd (Dean and Deluca, Press, Oakville Estate) in 2007.
Goose and Gander: From the ashes of the Martini House has arisen Goose and Gander. Locals know its the clubby downstairs bar where cocktalian Scott Beattie continues to work his libation magic. The signature drink: Buddha’s Hand Vodka, lemon, into, shiso, ginger, galangal and rhubarb called the Scarlett Gander (classic Beattie). Chef Kelly McCown serves up comfort favorites from braised meatballs and scallops with fried green tomatoes to pan-roasted chicken, grilled flatiron steaks and a luxe burger with Gruyere, bacon and duck fat fries (add some melted marrow on top for the complete effect). Outdoor dining. 1245 Spring St., St. Helena. Open for dinner 4-10 p.m.daily, lunch Friday-Sunday, late night dining 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. at the bar. 967-8779.
CIA Cafe: Need a quick jolt of espresso or a sandwich made by budding Culinary Institute of America chefs? The school recently opened a bakery cafe open for breakfast and lunch, with croissants, muffins and other fresh-baked goodies, plus sandwiches for lunch. Open 9a.m. to 4p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2555 Main St., St. Helena. 967-2320.
Brassica: Chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s re-imagined Go Fish! becomes an Mediterranean-inspired eatery. Eggplant fries , spaghetti carbonara, Moroccan lamb shank. Outdoor dining. 641 Main St., St. Helena, 963-0700.
La Condesa: Austin-based Mexican comida takes over the Keller Brother’s Meats building, serving up nuevo Latin favorites from citrus brined chicken and chiles rellenos to ceviches and taquitos. Expect to pay premium prices for this homey Mexican fare, because it is, after all, Napa. 1320 Main St., St. Helena, 967-8111.