There are few vacations I find more relaxing than a trip to the Napa Valley. There are always new restaurants to try, old favorites to revisit, and of course wonderful wines to enjoy. The Napa Valley also offers plenty of shopping, spa experiences and interesting art. But first, let’s eat.
Downtown Napa has come a long way in recent years and offers a wide range of delicious dining destinations that will fit most tastes and budgets. We started our culinary adventures with dinner at Atlas Social www.atlassocialnapa.com, which is operated by the same people who own Azzurro Pizzeria and Enoteca and the Norman Rose Tavern, both in downtown Napa.
Atlas Social, which opened in January 2015, has a casual vibe and a big, open dining room and bar area. The menu will appeal to locavores and fans of the farm to fork concept. The dishes, which range from snacks like their addictive Herb Leaf Fries with Meyer Lemon aioli ($6) to platters for a group, like the Garlic and Chili Roasted Whole Fish ($35), Spice Highway Chicken ($19/$35) and Grilled Hanger Steak ($36), are meant for sharing. They have an interesting and well-priced wine list that is all Californian except for a sparkling offering from France. Craft brew lovers won’t go thirsty either. There are beers on tap from California and Oregon, large format beer offerings from the West Coast, and ciders and a few other imported beers in cans.
We happily worked our way through the seasonally appropriate menu, sampling from all the categories—Farm, Sea, and Ranch plus those amazing fries. We ate the delicious shaved snap pea salad ($8), “angry” shrimp (I didn’t find them all that spicy) with basil, chilies and orange ($14), Masala chicken skewers ($10) and finished with the duck confit ($13), which was a very generous portion.
Aside from ordering more food than we should have, we were completely happy with our meal and would definitely return. Check their website www.atlassocialnapa.com for specials, winemaker diners, and other events and pop by for their “Social Experiment” AKA Happy Hour which runs daily from 3 to 6 p.m.
Our next delicious downtown dinner was at TORC www.torcnapa.com . We’ve dined here before and were looking forward to returning.
We’re glad we did. We got a great window table and started our evening with deviled eggs with pickled onions and bacon ($5). We’ve noticed deviled eggs popping up on many Northern Californian menus and we’re happy to sample them.
TORC’s menu focuses primarily on locally raised, sustainable food and the menu changes frequently to ensure that diners are enjoying what’s fresh and available. After the deviled eggs, we shared a Jamon Iberico, romaine, and stone fruit salad ($15)—light and refreshing and the ham brought us back to Spain for at least a short time.
We had a gorgeous salmon with fresh peas, radishes and favas and the Alaskan halibut with morels, peas and shaved crispy artichoke ($29). Both dishes were sublime.
A 2013 Keplinger Rose (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah) was a fine accompaniment for the meal.
We had excellent service and a delightful evening and left looking forward to another marvelous meal at TORC www.torcnapa.com.
1313 Main www.1313main.com was new for us and definitely deserves a return visit. What began as a wine bar is now a fantastic full- fledged restaurant. Even though there were plenty of people enjoying their meals on the Saturday night that we dined, the room was quiet enough for conversation and quite comfortable for a leisurely meal.
After a complimentary amuse bouche, we began our meal in earnest with a flatbread “carta musica” topped with chevre, lettuces, radishes, raspberries and nasturtiums ($11).
Champagne by Henri Goutorbe recommended by somm Bryan, made a festive and well-matched accompaniment.
Next up was a green garlic risotto with green peas, escargot and topped with crunchy garlic breadcrumbs ($17). I rarely order risotto out since I prepare it at home often, but this was delicious.
We chose a Knez Winery’s K—and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir to accompany our main courses, Sonoma Rabbit ($28) and Sturgeon in Brick Dough ($25). The Day Boat Scallops ($28) and Lamb Saddle ($29) we tempting, too, but will have to wait for the next time.
For once, we saved room for dessert—pound cake churros served with a Valrhona drinking chocolate ($8). A perfect finale to a terrific meal.
1313 Main also offers a seven course Chef’s tasting Menu from amuse bouche to mignardises for $70 per person with an additional $55 for wine pairings.
The wine list is very well thought out and will fit most tastes and budgets. Offerings are broad, global and interesting with bottles ranging from a 2010 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir from Fiddlehead Cellars for $39 to a 2008 Opus One Red Blend from Napa Valley for $1020. Both small and large format bottles are offered including a number of wines available in Jerobaoms and Methuselahs. 1313 Main also has a wonderful champagne list which includes the well-known labels, or grandes marques, as well as bubbles from grower producers and negociants. There are of course a full complement of sweet and fortified wines to end the meal. The people at two adjacent tables seemed to enjoy their dessert wine– two glasses of 1890 De Oliveiras Verdelho Reserva Madeira ($150 per glass) very much– a sweet end to a memorable meal.
Oenotri www.oenotri.com is a downtown Southern Italian restaurant that we return to again and again. It’s a fun, casual restaurant with delicious, well-priced fare, a lively bar and great service. Salads are inventive and large enough to share. We had a stone fruit salad with pancetta and nuts that was a great beginning to our meal ($13). Other antipasti on offer include pork belly, salmon crudo and seasonal vegetables.
Pastas range from a standard like bucatini with Alfredo sauce to an unexpected canneloni stuffed with pigeon. The pasta dishes are also suitable for sharing and prices range from $17 to $18. We didn’t have pasta this time but have enjoyed them as part of past meals here.
The pizzas are thin crusted and tasty and range in price from $15.50 to $18.00. If Oenotri’s seasonal toppings aren’t enough, diners can add traditional items like anchovy, Calabrian Chili or pancetta for a few additional dollars. We shared the nicely spicy “Diavola” pizza with gypsy peppers, lamb sausage and fior di latte with heirloom tomatoes. We added arugula to ours– vegetables are so important!
There is also a selection of “secondi”– main plates, usually including a fish, a meat and a poultry dish, that change frequently. We chose the swordfish prepared in the typical Sicilian agrodolce style which was served with grilled squashes and fennel. We had a crisp 2013 Tami Grillo from Sicily which was perfect with the meal. Main courses are in the $28 to $32 range.
We were too full for dessert after another delightful dinner at Oenotri! Check their website for events and news www.oenotri.com.
A bonus to our meal was learning from our server about Cadet www.cadetbeerandwinebar.com, a fun little bar just around the alley. Naturally, we had to pop by and check it out. We were there on a surprisingly crowded Monday night. Turns out it is a popular spot among those who work in the hospitality business. Plenty of restaurants are closed on Monday night and Cadet is where those folks go to take a break.
Other restaurants in downtown Napa that we’ve enjoyed and recommend checking out include: Celedon www.celedonnapa.com, Zuzu www.zuzunapa.com, Angele Restaurant + Bar www.angelerestaurant.com, and Kitchen Door www. kitchendoornapa.com at Oxbow Market. If you have any favorites we haven’t talked about, please let us know and we’ll be sure to add them to the list for our next visit.