Napa California Restaurants

Napa is so close to San Francisco that we frequently take a day or several-day trips to the area. This is a summary of our restaurant reviews throughout the years. Some places we loved on our first visits but second visits turned us off from them. Others are new.

  • Torc
    • We first ate at Torc in 2014 based on strong recommendations from a San Francisco couple that said they would drive up to join us if we decided to go. Along with our friends, we sampled across the entire menu: and we loved it. Among our favorites: squash blossom frito misto, chilled corn soup, soft shell crab, squab, and especially the deviled eggs with bacon and the beef short rib. And our friends, who love Italian wines, were very impressed with the wine list and found two wonderful bottles, including a stunning 208 Muncagota Barbaresco.
    • On our 2021 return visit to Torc with just the 2 of us, we shared two entrees and a side. The Diver Scallops with cloud ear mushrooms and burdick root were nice, although we were less impressed by the coconut broth which was labeled as spicy but it really wasn’t. More to Tom’s taste was the Kurobuta Pork Chop with pork belly, bok choy and daikon radish, and the wine, a 2018 Bien Nacido Estate Pinot from Santa Maria Valley.
  • North Block
    • 2021 North Block was the new kid in the Valley helmed by a chef formerly with New York’s Momofuko. We began with nice sliced raw kampachi with perilla, apricot, and ginger threads, followed by two entrees. The roasted halibut with sabayon, charred leeks, and hazelnuts had a misfire (it had cooled while waiting for our other dishes to be served). They tried to give us a reheated version which we rejected and insisted on a new start from scratch. The replaced dish was fine, although not inspired. We were less impressed by a friend’s duck sausage pizza with tomato, mozzarella, basil, sesame, and chili oil and its soft, undistinguished crust. This brings us to our other entrée and the standout dish of the dinner: Duck a la Gray, a crispy-skinned, roasted dry-aged Liberty duck breast with preserved lime, crème fraiche and tatsoi (a Chinese cabbage). We also enjoyed a complimentary dessert the manager offered in partial compensation for the problems with the halibut: a very nice, fluffy cheesecake. Our wine from the aggressively-priced wine list was a light, red fruit 2016 Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The restaurant is still working out some kinks. For example, instead of charging us the bottle price for the wine, our waitperson charged us 5 times the glass price. Once we pointed this out, it was fixed. But when we received our credit card bill, we discovered the restaurant charged us twice for our meal. Our credit card company promptly refunded the overcharge. So if you do go, watch your bill.
  • Bouchon is a longtime valley standby bistro. While we didn’t write about our many meals here, in 2021 we had a decent, but undistinguished Boudin Blanc sausage with potato puree, dried plums, and beurre noisette (hazelnut butter). We were, however, very impressed by one of the specials: a pan-seared salmon on a bed of spinach and spring onion voulette, mushrooms, and roasted carrots.
  • CIA Gatehouse is the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone’s newest restaurant. While we love the CIA in general, the Gatehouse was a disappointment in 2021. We had a three-course lunch, each course of which can be chosen from four options. It was a bargain for $35 and four courses for $45. We took advantage of the three-course option by each choosing different dishes—with very mixed results. After a serving of homemade bread (a nice focaccia and less than inspired brioche) the meal shifted among hits and misses. Our first course was a disappointingly firm, and not very creamy burrata with roasted asparagus, blistered tomato, piquillo vinaigrette, and griddled focaccia was followed by a more interesting dish of summer squash fritters with spring onions and blackberry mostarda. Our next course was a disappointing dish of roasted maitake mushrooms with ginger-fermented cabbage, spring succotash, and fig leaf-lemongrass broth and a somewhat more interesting (but moderately overcooked) and peppered grilled Spanish octopus with citrus, piquillo peppers, pinenuts, olives, and chorizo vinaigrette. The main courses were both fine if less than inspired. We had a roasted chicken galantine with pepperonata, potatoes, and herb jus and pan-seared rock cod with haricot vert, confit potatoes, olive tapenade, and smoked tomato and leek vinaigrette. In general, it was a disappointing meal—and one of the first such meals we have had from the CIA. They were all beautifully plated, we only wish that the food was a wonderful as the visuals.

2021-05-27 13.31.15

  • Kitchen Door is one of our casual favorites in Oxbow Market. In 2021, we shared a pizza with parmesan crème, mozzarella, and provolone cheese, rosemary, and a combination of oyster and maitake mushrooms. It had a nice crisp crisp crust and a tasty pronounced mushroom taste. In 2019 we had another lunch. We had a delicious chicken pho with rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, and jalapeno. We also had a delicious two-cheese mushroom pizza with maitake and trumpet mushrooms and parmesan cream sauce.
  • La Calenda was Thomas Keller’s newest casual, Yountville restaurant in 2019 when we had lunch at the Oxxacan-themed La Calenda. Our lunch began with a sinfully fattening, although very tasty Quesa Fundito, a type of local cheese fondue that was served with tortillas and salsa verde. This was followed by two dishes, the best of which was sautéed shrimp with roasted garlic and a medley of wilted greens. The other, which after a confused order and a set of odd exchanges with the server that claimed he need to get a manager’s permission to replace the dish with the one we originally ordered, was a less satisfying chicken enchilada smothered in mole negro. While lunch was OK, we do not plan to return.
  • Oenatri. Our first visit to Oenotri was in 2014, it was a modest storefront restaurant where we snacked on its wonderful charcuterie and pizza. The restaurant has since expanded to perhaps five times its original size and now includes alfresco options, including sidewalk tables on First Street and a lovely courtyard. The Northern Italian menu has also expanded to include a range of antipasti, seconds, and of course, pasta. After a snack of fried Cavolo Nero (kale) with very hot pepper and Parmigiano, we settled into two seconds: the wild king salmon was wonderful—especially due to its incredibly fresh sweet corn polenta accompaniment. While the pancetta-wrapped rabbit was somewhat less satisfying, the salmon, the courtyard atmosphere, the knowledgeable service, and the bottle of Montepulciano Vino Nobile more than made up for any lapses on the rabbit. We only wished that our return visit in 2019 was as good, but it wasn’t. We shared several dishes with some friends for dinner at this Napa restaurant. We were supposed to start with one of the spot’s justly famous pizzas, a four-cheese with tomato and hot pepper. Due to some mix-up in order, our dinner started with two pasta dishes. The radiatore with short rib sugo, tomato, onion, and Meyer lemon gremolata was acceptable but less than exciting. Better, albeit still not memorable, was gigli with green garlic pesto, meyer lemon, pistachios, and pecorino romano. Our entrees were similarly good but not sufficiently inspiring to drive a quick return. The crispy hen with smashed Yukon Gold potato, roasted carrots, and salsa verde was certainly crispy (a bit too fried for our taste) and the hen was fried chicken, instead of the Cornish hen-type bird we had expected. Similarly fine but less than inspired, was a thin, medium-rare steak smothered with tomato, garlic, hot pepper, oregano, parmesan and arugula. And once the pizza came, it was only OK. We had all been here before and enjoyed the restaurant. But we all agreed to look for another place next time. Too bad.
  • Mimimashi (now closed) was a popular Japanese izakaya restaurant that offers a wide range of Japanese dishes, ranging from sashimi to teppanyaki and robata dishes in 2019. We shared a selection of dishes with friends, from roasted Japanese sweet potato and Napa cabbage Okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake topped with bacon, katsuobushi, kimchi, nori, tonkatsu sauce, and other ingredients) to Hamachi collar and grilled robato dishes including chicken breast and belly. We paired our meal with Gunmaa Tzumi sake. We finished the meal with one of the restaurant’s delicious deserts: rum raison ice cream topped with miso caramel and candied walnuts. All of this made for a very pleasant and very reasonably-priced meal. A definite place to revisit on another visit.
  • Bounty Hunter is a BBQ restaurant in downtown Napa. In 2019, we ordered ribs which were OK,  but they lacked the deep favor that would make them better. Their sauce selections for the ribs were disappointing. We can find better places to eat.
  • Boonfly Café is a great lunch spot and always seems to be crowded when we stop there. Their wagu cheeseburger always hits the spot. And their flatbreads (this time roasted chicken), was delicious. Good food, atmosphere, and service. It is a great place for lunch, brunch, or any other good, casual meal in Carneros.
  • Angele. This restaurant in Napa had been on our “To Try” list for about a decade. We finally made it in 2014. Why did we wait so long? We had two dishes. Both they (Roasted Quail with quinoa stuffing) and Scallops with forbidden black rice, saffron cream, and charred leeks) and the service was very good.
  • The Q r&b. This restaurant gave us a nice taste of Memphis BBQ in the Valley in 2014. We enjoyed deviled eggs, smoked baby back ribs, and pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and barbeque sauce.
  • Bistro Don Giovani. This is one of the valley’s older, classic restaurants, which still regularly makes it onto the Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area restaurant lists. We enjoyed a light lunch in 2104: rigatoni with meatballs and especially the fig and gorgonzola pizza with caramelized onions, arugula and aged balsamic.
  • ZuZu. Our dinner at this packed spot in 2014 consisted of four small plates. Three were pretty good: Grilled squash blossoms with chevre and quince on salsa, pan-fried manchego cheese with roasted peppers, and salmon with arugula and fennel salad. The best dish, by far, was the perfectly cooked (medium-rare) Colorado lamb chops with a delicious Moroccan barbeque glaze, mint, and chutney oil. True, it would have helped if the restaurant had shaper knives, and ideally, a somewhat sharper server, but it did have delicious lamb chops.
  • Morimoto. We really enjoyed a multi-course dinner at Morimoto shortly after its opening. Although it took a long time to return, we looked forward to lunch on the deck overlooking the river. Tom ordered a Sea Urchin Carbonara Lunch Set (sea urchin udon with bacon, sushi, miso soup, and vegetable tempura) and Joyce had a yellowtail avocado mori cristo (essentially a Croque madame). After interminable waits for food and visits from our server, the udon was overcooked, the croque was all brioche and batter, with barely a spec of fish or avocado. There are simply too many good restaurants in the valley to put up with service or food like this. It is now off our list.

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