I have traveled to Napa Valley on business regularly for the past 20 years, and it has become a dining mecca with some of the best restaurants in the country.
During my annual trips, I often plan my schedule to be there for fried chicken night at Ad Hoc, which is every other Monday. This is a special experience if you love great fried chicken, but you have to plan your calendar just right. They also make a killer brownie sundae. Ad Hoc is celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s family-style set menu in downtown Yountville. Keller is also the owner of the famed French Laundry, which many consider one of the best restaurants in the country. The prices at Ad Hoc are obviously much more approachable than the pricey French Laundry. The corkage fee at the French laundry is a whopping $150/bottle. Ad Hoc has a fun, casual feel and the choices change daily. They are open for Sunday brunch.
Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega has an electric feel, and the Italian menu is solid. Bottega is not inexpensive: the prices on the wine list are not shy. It’s a fun place to people-watch. and when the weather is nice there is some wonderful outdoor seating. The Calabrian chicken under a brick is sensational. The sweet corn agnolotti and pasta di uovo with butter and sage are both delicious. Best to get reservations well in advance at this popular downtown Yountville destination.
Cindy Pawlcyn has long been one of Napa’s foremost restaurateurs. The food is always good at her restaurants; she has survived the test of time. Mustard’s Grill has been going strong for more than 30 years, as the food here remains reliably good. Located at 7399 St. Helena Highway in Napa, this restaurant is still a hot ticket that captures the essence of Napa Valley. The sweet corn tamales, Hunan grilled chicken salad, truck-stop deluxe special and seafood tostado are some of the highlights. The “way too many wines” list is relatively reasonable with a great regional selection.
Don Giovanni is still popular among locals with its delicious Italian fare. Located at 410 Howard Lane in Napa, this is an integral part of local dining experience. Start out with a pizza or the fritto misto. The grilled pork chop and the spaghetti Bolognese are two of their signature dishes. The corkage fee is $20.
The Rutherford Grill used to have a wonderful complimentary corkage policy, but it’s now set at a relatively reasonable $15/bottle. The Grill has a very nice bar where a lot of winemakers drink beers at the end of the day. Highlights on the menu include their enchiladas, rotisserie chicken and grilled chicken salad. They are open for lunch.
Auberge du Soleil is one of the most romantic spots in the Valley. Auberge is part of the namesake hotel, dates back to 1981 and has magnificent views of vineyards in Rutherford. The food is fairly expensive, and the menu is not particularly dynamic — but how about those views! Features include the red snapper, lamb in red curry and potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms. The corkage fee is a whopping $40/bottle.
Bistro Jeantyin Yountville has authentic French cuisine that is even better than the famed nearby Bouchon Bistro. Enjoy the tomato soup in puff pastry, escargots, steak tartare, coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. If you want to eat healthy, start out with the butter lettuce with the mustard vinaigrette dressing. Angele Restaurant in downtown Napa also has wonderful French cuisine.
I am particularly fond of the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. Owner Chris Hall is a class act, and this Rutherford restaurant has been his passion. The ingredients are authentically farm-to-table and the food is delicious. The appetizers are the best part, including the deviled eggs, chili and meatballs. The cheeseburgers and St. Louis ribs score high marks.
The best pizza in town is at Redd Pizza in Yountville and Oenotri in downtown Napa. Oenotri is typically not open for lunch. The top steakhouses include Press in St. Helena and Cole’s Chop House in downtown Napa. The top lunch spots include Tarla Meditarranean Grill in downtown Napa, Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena (formerly “taylor’s refresher”), Hog Island Oysters at the Oxbow Market in downtown Napa or comfort food at Market St.Helena.
As chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Jonathan Newman was once the nation’s largest wine buyer, and brought a number of popular innovations to bear, including the Chairman’s Selection program and opening of local stores for Sunday sales. Jonathan has received significant industry accolades during his career. Follow him on Twitter at @NewmanWine and visit his website: newmanwine.com.