5 restaurants you must try in the Napa Valley
The overall effect on the wine industry was relatively small, with only about 30 of more than 900 wineries in Napa and Sonoma experiencing damage, from minor to catastrophic.
When you go to Napa Valley, where to eat is almost as important as what winery to visit (and sometimes, they’re one and the same).
People frequently ask me — as they do about Reno — to name my favorite restaurants in the valley. For me, “favorite” encompasses not just places I’ve been for years, but also spots I’ve recently tried that feel like they should enter my restaurant rotation.
April through October marks peak time in the Napa Valley. As this season begins, six months after wildfires charred the Northern California wine country, the Napa Valley is open and pouring,
With that in mind, I'm sharing five of my favorite Napa restaurants, from haute to humble, each more than worth a stop when you're visiting the valley.
And remember: If a place takes reservations, make them as far in advance as you can. Eating out is part of the point of Napa Valley; restaurants be busy.
This beloved French bistro, named for chef-owner Philippe Jeanty, celebrates 20 years in April.
The chef grew up in the Champagne region of France, and Bistro Jeanty draws inspiration from the neighborhood bistros that form an essential part of French life.
Pass beneath the red-and-white striped awning into a dining room glowing in harvest colors; French posters and barnyard tchotchkes add whimsical notes.
You might begin with butter lettuce salad dressed by mustard vinaigrette, perfect in its simplicity, or with duck confit and goat cheese pâté swiped across crusty bread.
No matter what I have for the main course — Petrale sole spiked with lemon butter sauce, say, or slow-cooked pork shoulder, I always get a side of the best buttered noodles you’ll ever eat.
Bistro Jeanty also has a lovely terrace and offers happy hour plates and wine from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
6510 Washington St., Yountville, Calif., www.bistrojeanty.com, dinner entrées $21-41
Although Harvest Inn, the property that incorporates Harvest Table restaurant, lies just off the main drag in St. Helena, Calif., the resort's mature redwoods, abundant gardens and adjacent vineyards make it feel thoroughly tucked away.
I like to begin dinner at Harvest Table with a glass of wine or a cocktail in the restaurant’s bar that gets hopping later. Wood, brick and natural light compose a dining room flanked by two terraces for warm-weather dining.
The menu changes frequently, drawing on the bounty of Northern California and top-notch suppliers beyond. If it's on the menu, start with hamachi crudo, its mildness enlivened by citrus three ways. The roast chicken with seasonal vegetables ranks among the best renditions I’ve had.
The wine program at Harvest Table is exceptional, so ask the sommelier for advice (and about the blind tastings). Last time I was in, Harvest Table poured Château d’Yquem by the glass; you don’t see that everywhere.
At Harvest Inn, 1 Main St., Saint Helena, Calif., www.harvestinn.com, dinner entrées, $21-39
It’s going to surprise some folks, but for me, trips to the Napa Valley aren’t only about allowing my appetite for fine food and drink to spread into wider indulgence.
Sometimes, you need a break from the fancy.
And that’s where La Luna Market & Taqueria comes in. Head for the back — past piñatas and beauty products and Latino versions of famous snack foods — and get in line with locals for outstanding taqueria standards.
Choose from a dozen different meats like chorizo, lengua (tongue) or spicy shrimp to stuff tacos, quesadillas and burritos or to anchor a Luna lunch with rice, beans and corn tortillas.
Grab a carne asada burrito as thick as a python; for sharing, go with a heap of nachos layering homemade tortillas, shredded chicken, spicy red sauce and thickly sliced jalapeños. Out back, there are picnic tables overlooking — what else? — vineyards.
1153 Rutherford Road, Rutherford, Calif., www.lalunamarket.com, breakfast, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, $7.95-9.45
Since 1931, Napa Valley Olive Oil Company, down a side street in St. Helena, Calif., has sold local olive oils and balsamic vinegars in bulk.
A white barn houses the family-owned business. Shelves, bins, baskets and cases brim with dry goods, meats and cheeses imported from Italy. Sausage clusters hang here and there. Ask for samples.
You can pay for oils and vinegars with a credit card on Napa Valley Olive Oil’s website, but unless things have recently changed, the store still only accepts cash or, if you can believe it, personal checks.
For a simple lunch, buy some bread, prosciutto and cheese, then enjoy at one of the picnic tables. And don’t forget to add your business card to thousands already affixed to the walls; it’s the thing to do when you visit.
835 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena, Calif., www.nvoliveoilmfg.com
Some of the best meals of my life were eaten at the old Cyrus in Healdsburg, Calif., in Sonoma County; chef Douglas Keane co-owned the restaurant. When it closed in 2012, he took a few years off.
In 2016, Keane and his business partner, chef Sang Yoon, opened Two Birds/One Stone in a soaring 1890s stone building at Freemark Abbey, one of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley (and the first owned by a woman).
The restaurant celebrates the confluence of regional wine country ingredients with Japanese yakitori and other Asian flavors. On my last visit, our party of five shared about a dozen small plates.
There were Jidori eggs (from a Japanese heritage breed) sprinkled with chicken skin cracklings (oh my yes). Green onion-ginger meatballs received a gust of Thai herbs. My friend went at pork belly steamed buns with me, then ordered a second bowl of wok-roasted sweet white corn with miso butter.
If the weather is warms, scoot outside where 35 seats offer the opportunity to graze stylishly beside fountains, a fire pit and a yakitori grill.
At Freemark Abbey winery, 3020 St. Helena Highway N., St. Helena, Calif., www.twobirdsonestonenapa.com, small to full dinner plates, $6-39