As if you needed any excuse to dine out in Wine Country, here are some delicious new places to whet your appetite.
Chef Curtis Di Fede has put a seasonal California twist on a Japanese izakaya, with small plates, Japanese whiskeys, sakes, shochu and craft cocktails. The pub-style space gets busy and loud, and the kitchen sends out unusual bits of whole animal yakitori like chicken hatsu (heart), tan (tongue), bonjiri (tail) and kawa (skin). There’s real elegance in other dishes, though, such as fluke sashimi scattered in sunchoke, sansho pepper and lime, or Sonoma-Carneros Paine Farm pigeon ramen rich with miso, fresh bamboo shoot, black garlic, wild nettles and house butter in paitan (milky white) broth.
821 Coombs Street, Napa, (707) 254-9464, miminashi.com.
Two Birds One Stone
The big names promise brilliance, as chef Douglas Keane (of Healdsburg’s former two Michelin star Cyrus) partnered with Sang Yoon (of the acclaimed Father’s Office American gastropub and Lukshon Asian Fusion in Los Angeles) – and the result is spectacular, for a contemporary California spin on Japanese cuisine. Some standouts include silken tofu bathed in chilled shiitake broth and sprinkled in furikake seasoning, salmon roe and sea grapes tendrils, or chawanmushi of “ham & eggs” in warm, savory custard layered with smoked duck ham, scallion greens, togarashi and silky, poached-in-shell onsen jidori egg. The setting is drop dead gorgeous, too, in the recently renovated Freemark Abbey Winery.
3020 St. Helena Highway (St. Helena), 707-302-3777, twobirdsonestonenapa.com.
It’s a taste of Spain and Portugal in downtown Napa, fresh from the owners of El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma and REDD in Yountville. Chef Esteban Escobar crafts signatures like spicy chorizo and clams with toasted noodles and lime; grilled flatbread slathered in pumpkin seed spread; oxtail tamal with trumpet mushrooms and cilantro-lime butter, and whole fried branzino framed with saffron braised baby fennel, creamer potatoes and peppers. Just don’t expect a typical Spanish ambience – this pretty place is modern, boasting round subway tile, an open kitchen, and soaring exposed ceilings.
790 Main Street, Napa, (707) 927-5265, basaltnapa.com.
JaM stands for the lounge’s music theme, where you can spend a long time admiring walls covered in classic rock album covers, beneath a ceiling hung with a disco ball. Guests can jam in the private multi-track recording studio, groove to live and DJ music acts, and nibble on things like sliders and a cheese plate until 10 p.m. Sun.-Weds. and until midnight Thurs.-Sat. Mostly, Jam stands for the wines, in crowd-pleasing flavors like JaM (Cabernet Sauvignon), Butter (Chardonnay) and Toast (sparkling) from Napa Valley Vintners John and Michele Truchard (yes, their initials are JaM, too).
1460 First Street, Napa, (707) 265-7577, jamcellars.com.
Gather Café by Stewart Cellars
With a collection of three stone buildings centered around a heritage oak tree, the gorgeous indoor-outdoor restaurant and winery celebrates natural splendor. Chef Sarah Heller keeps things ultra-flavorful and healthy, for bites like Thai salad with arugula, carrot, crunchy cabbage, cucumber, chilled noodles, basil and radish in spicy peanut ginger dressing; or curry quinoa tumbled with roast chicken, cauliflower, sweet golden raisins, crisp chickpeas, kale and almonds. Seasonal ingredients take center stage, for winter statements like the harvest salad of garden-fresh mixed greens tossed with roast sweet potato, apple, zucchini, crunchy walnuts and tangy goat cheese. Then, wash it all down with wines, or daily fresh pressed/squeezed juice blends such as the spicy-tart carrot, orange, grapefruit, ginger and turmeric quaff.
6752 Washington Street, Yountville, (707) 963-9160, stewartcellars.com.