Category Archives: Restaurants All

Torc: restaurants come and go…I hope this one stays.

A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging property in Napa, is the restaurant called Torc.  It opened a few months ago and I wanted to give it awhile before tempting fate with such an eclectic menu.  We shared the evening with our friends, Don and Kathy, so that meant more bites to enjoy.

Beginning with the artichoke soup with mint and lemon, I was in love with the velvety finish.  The portions are not large (we had read about this beforehand) and yet when I saw what was put in front of me I appreciated that they seemed just perfect for dining on multiple courses.  The Kampachi Crudo was incredible, a white fish with a citrus sauce and avocado, as was the Roasted Beets with Burrata and a Sherry-Maple glaze.  Growing up on canned beets I thought I would never try them again.  Since trying roasted fresh beets my heart has been changed, and Torc delivered it with gusto.

We also tried the Deviled Eggs, and the Pakora, as well as the Jamon Iberica, all great small starter appetizers for the meal.  Jamie had read about the Coconut Rice and the flavor on that dish was subtle and fun to eat.  We also enjoyed the Pork with the Cheddar Grits and a Buccatini Pasta with a Lamb Bolognese.  We enjoyed all of it.  Prices for apps and sides run $5 to $15, and the entrees are from $14 to $29.

Torc is willing to accommodate changes to dishes to present Vegans, Vegetarians, and Gluten-Free guests.  That is something not every restaurant in Napa offers.  The menu changes seasonally so I am looking forward to some really great meals in the future.

The new Fish Story: you don’t want to miss it

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a provider of romantic lodging in Napa, is a restaurant called Fish Story.  They opened two years ago and chose to follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists for sustainable fish that are good for dining.  It was good but I could make almost everything on the menu at home; and when I want to eat out I generally look for chefs that will teach me, or tantalize my palate, or offer me things I would never do at home.

When the new chef came one month ago we were intrigued by the new menu.  Celebrating our 20th anniversary of our first date we decided to give the restaurant a try.  I texted a friend immediately after dinner: “Just go!”  Everything we had was delicious.

Jamie started with the tuna tartare with sourdough crisps and balsamic vinegar glee with a violet mustard.  Every bite was incredibly wonderful with little bursts of the gelee that would shine through the tartare.  I was tempted by the cold green garlic soup that was light, refreshing, and creamy goodness in a bowl.  For a main course Jamie ordered the Lobster “pot au feu”, a fish stew with a large lobster tail in the center, mussels, clams, and a luscious sauce to be sopped up with the hot bread they bring to table.  I ordered the sturgeon and it was perfectly cooked, a bit meaty and every bite tender, with this bed of leeks underneath that was a great complement to the fish as well as wild escargot bites that were incredibly tender.  I didn’t want my meal to end.

For dessert we enjoyed the soft vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and it was a perfect ending to a delightful meal.  The wine list for March was 1/2 off (their version of March Madness) so we splurged on a Storybook Zinfandel that was perfect with our meal.  First courses run $9 to $15, and entrees $17 to $38.  If you’re looking for some incredible flavors to go with fish, this is a great place to dine.

One last note: on the menu they state that “many items can be prepared in a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free fashion.”  That really impressed me as so many of our guests are looking for alternative cuisines due to dietary restrictions.

Duende: dinner on your way to or from Oakland Airport

Now The Inn On First, a romantic bed and breakfast inn in Napa, may be 60 miles from the Oakland airport, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get out there to try new and exciting cuisine that guests might be able to enjoy to or from the airport. High, high, high on my list is Duende, a spanish restaurant that specializes in tapas and paella. Located in Oakland, right off the freeway, the atmosphere is fun and exciting, casual and engaging. Specialty cocktails abound, but I always like to try some Spanish wine I haven’t had before, this time a Temperanillo that was bold, smooth, and just perfect with the rabbit paella. Now this isn’t just any paella. This is very traditional paella, the kind you have to wait 30 minutes for while you enjoy a salad or other tapas. The kind of paella whose rice is al dente, and that has those delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan that you can’t wait to scrape off and onto your plate. It is a paella you will not soon forget. Although they are only open for dinner (5:30 pm to 11 pm), I highly recommend it as your dining spot if your schedule allows.

Carpe Diem Restaurant: how we love you

Only a ten minute walk from The Inn On First, a Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is the wine bar and restaurant, Carpe Diem.  Specializing in innovative, fun, and interesting small and large plates, their menu changes all the time, which means you need to eat there regularly or you might miss some spectacular dishes.

Our last visit brought some new flavors in the form of the Winter Kale salad with blood orange vinaigrette and pomegranate seeds, as well as the Butternut Squash Risotto Balls.  I would recommend both of these.  The Tamales, filled with braised pork short rib meat, were light and luscious.  The tacos, filled with pork belly and asian slaw, continue to delight us (they change the filling daily: imagine Shrimp Pad Thai, or Filet Mignon with Pomegranate Glaze, as two small samples of their changing taco of the day filling).  The last dish we ordered was the Lamb with Harissa in a clay pot with Israeli couscous, small bites of tender lamb matched perfectly with chewy and tender large couscous kernels, tomatoes, and sauce.  Of course, dessert wouldn’t be complete without the Twix Bar, with the homemade shortbread dipped in dark chocolate and sea salt, sitting atop a scoop of salted caramel ice cream with house made caramel sauce.

As a wine bar and restaurant, this place is always crowded and reservations are a must.  Expect lots of people, a great staff that is both knowledgeable and helpful with both food and wine selections.

We are asked all the time: name us your top restaurants in Napa.  This is definitely one of them.

Brix Restaurant: still delivering quality food and service

Always a pleasure to return to old favorites, and Brix Restaurant is one of those places.  Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, it continues to deliver on both quality food and service.  We usually dine for lunch as we love the patio seating that overlooks the Brix Gardens and the mountains, but we went for dinner instead, to share a meal with some friends in town, Sarah and Danny.

We started with the mixed green salad, beet salad with walnut crisps and feta (loved it), and the pork belly as appetizers.  How they get the pork belly to be that delicious and tender is something I still strive for in my own cooking regimen.  The leg of lamb was so wonderful, perfectly cooked.  Not something I usually order, but it looked so delicious at another table I ordered it for myself and was glad I did.  The steelhead trout was the other special of the night, delicious in every day, grilled to perfection.  The burger, of course, a standard there, is always fun to order, and Jamie was oh so glad to have brussels sprouts with his dinner (you know I’m a hater, but can stand it if they are at the opposite end of the table).

Dessert was the weak link this visit, a caramel ice cream sandwich that didn’t quite live up to its hype.  It was tasty; just not what I expected based upon the description on the menu. For cocktail lovers, there is a full bar, and they carry a wide range of Napa wines by the glass.  For the four of us, including wine, the total bill was $325.00.  We thought it was worth every penny.

For those touring Sonoma, consider El Dorado Kitchen for dinner

Fettucine Carbonara With all the great dining in downtown Napa we don’t often send people over to Sonoma to dine.  Yet I know there are plenty of guests who spend the day in Sonoma as part of their stay in Napa, and I would highly recommend a restaurant for some great food.  Sonoma is a small, quaint town with a notable restaurant we were able to enjoy this past week: El Dorado Kitchen. It is a Lobster Rissotsshort 20-minute drive from The Inn On First, where you enjoy the best in romantic lodging in Napa.

With contemporary decor and an open kitchen it makes for an intimate dining experience.  We shared the meal with our friends, Don and Kathy, so we enjoyed quite a few delicious bites.

The chef sent out an appetizer: small cups of Butternut Squash Soup with housemade marshmallows and pepitas.  What a great start!  I couldn’t pass up the Lobster Bisque with chunks of lobster floating in the broth, and also shared the Beef Carpaccio, thin slices of raw beef with a lemon aioli and fingerling potato chips and, for this night only, shavings of black truffles on top.  Both were delightful beginnings to the meal.  Jamie ordered the Mussels with Chorizo which he enjoyed while Kathy and Don shared the Dungeness Crab Cake (yes I got a bite and the fresh grapefruit citrus just made it perfect).

Wine of the Night

I ordered the special of Roast Duck with Rancho Gordo Beans and Squash and it was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin on the breast.  The Lobster Risotto with Celery Root was delicious, as was the taste of the Fettuccine Carbonara with Bacon Lardons and Brussels Sprouts (yes, my bite excluded the Sprouts as you know how I feel about those!); and the Balsamic Reduction sauce on the Pan Roasted Scallops was incredible.  We paired everything with Copain Pinot Noir and it worked really well.  I love this wine!

Because it was my birthday celebration we ordered dessert, and my favorite bite by far was the Baked Chocolate Mousse; although the Sticky Toffee Pudding and the Baked Apple Tart were both really good, too.

Baked Chocolate Mousse

 

Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant: still producing Grade A innovation and flavor.

Only a ten minute walk from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant; what we call a “small plates restaurant”, meaning you order to share.  Where else can you be tempted by the daily taco of the day (filet mignon with pomegranate glaze, or shrimp pad thai, or pulled pork with a chipotle sauce, or lamb with pickled slaw- every bite delicious!) that changes all the time according to the chef’s inventiveness and seasonal ingredients.

I’m a fan of their pork steam buns, the short ribs, and their filet mignon with red rice cake.  Yet by the time you get there these may be gone and replaced with some other yummy dish for you to choose.  The fried olives are still a favorite of mine, and the truffled popcorn is downright addictive.  You swear you will stop eating it, and yet your hands keep reaching.  Jamie loved the brussell sprouts flatbread (you know I’m a hater so I don’t touch the stuff!), and the soft housemade burrata with olive oil drizzle and toast points is always fun.

This restaurant is fun, exciting, and always busy, so reservations are a must.  With so many wines by the glass, too, it makes it really interesting to try new wines with these dishes.  We’ve even had guests return two nights in a row just so they could try out other dishes and different wines.  Stephanie and Scott, Owners, Hostess and Chef, make this must-eat stop in Napa.  Oh, and seriously, if they ever take the Twix Bar off the dessert menu I might consider picketing the establishment.


Brix Restaurants: when you want a lovely garden to sit in for lunch

Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Brix Restaurant.  As my friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC I wanted her to experience the beauty that the Brix Gardens enjoys while dining on incredible food.

Asparagus Salad Brix Butter Lettuce Salad Brix Brix Garden View

 

 

 

 

As it was a bit later in the afternoon when we arrived (2 pm) we were practically alone on the patio for lunch.  With spring blossoms everywhere in sight, as well as bud break beginning to show on the vines all around, the place could not have been more welcoming.  We ordered the cold beet soup with a vegan base and a beautiful floral design of creme fraiche on top.  It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm spring day.  I ordered the asparagus salad, with a variety of white and green asparagus, and a light lemony dressing with petite brioche croutons.  So far the meal was perfect.

Donna enjoyed the house salad with butter lettuce, english peas, and a garlic-yogurt dressing, although we were both sorely tempted by the tempura fried green beans and the steak tartare.  The dungeness crab salad was tempting, but we tried to keep it light.  We decided to split the lamb sandwich on housemade focaccia bread with the most lovely crisp french fries (okay, so maybe we tried to keep it partially light!).  The bacon pizza looked delicious as we saw it delivered near us, as did the lamb bolognese.

Prices range from $8 to $18, for soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees.  If you are here during the busier summer months I would suggest making a reservation and tell them you want to sit on the garden patio.  If you ate my breakfast  that morning you probably won’t be hungry again until 2 pm, which is a great time to sit and enjoy an afternoon break from wine tasting.


Celadon: a Mediterranean style restaurant in the neighborhood

A 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Celadon, a restaurant celebrating Mediterranean cuisine.  Friends had come into town and it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cooking of Greg Cole, executive chef and owner. As they are one of the few restaurants with a full bar we imbibed in cocktails to begin and sat and enjoyed the beautiful dining room.  Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor patio area with its concrete floors.  It does have a large fireplace in the center and is surrounded by shrubbery, but I think the main dining room is beautiful, romantic, and elegant in feel with its booths, carpeted floors, and well-appointed artwork on the walls.

We ordered the Calamari with its sweet and spicy chipotle sauce- someone recently referred to it as Rhode Island style.  I’ve never heard of this before, but I loved every crunch bite, especially with the bits of pickled ginger.  The duck salad was phenomenal and the seasonal vegetable soup was rich in flavor and chock full of veggies.  Jamie ordered the pasta with lamb bolognese and it was incredible.  I ordered the pork porterhouse that was grilled and it was huge!  Much more than I could eat, but I knew I would enjoy it the next day at lunch.  Yes, dessert was ordered: the lemon pie.  Light, refreshing, and tart, with a buttery crust.  A perfect ending to the meal.

You’ll find a wide variety of fish and meats to choose from, as well as salads and starters to satisfy pretty much everyone: pork belly, crab cakes, beef satay, coconut prawns, grilled duck breast, flatiron steak, and stuffed chicken breast.  Prices for starters run from $9 to $18 and entrees from $14 to $40.  See http://www.celadonnapa.com for more information.


Melka Wine Pairing Dinner at Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is Carpe Diem, one of our favorite wine bars and restaurants in downtown Napa.  Recently they provided two nights of a Winemaker’s Dinner where they pair the food with the wine from one particular winery.  They selected Melka Winery for this event, and paired their wines with 5 different courses of food created by Executive Chef Scott Kendall.

We began with a grilled peach and housemade burrata on a crispy wonton that was paired with their Barrel Sample Mekerra Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($not priced yet).  The appetizer was delicious on its own, but when paired with the wine, it went from great to “wow!”.  This was followed by a warm goat cheese medallion crusted with walnuts and chamomile, paired with Metisse Mekerra Vineyard (2008) ($125), equal parts cabernet franc and merlot.  Bold nose, heavy dark fruit flavors with deep spice.  A nice contrast with the goat cheese.

Our next course was housemade paparedelle with braised lamb, paired with CJ Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) ($52), with soft fruit flavors in the traditional Napa cabernet style.  We kept trying to not eat everything as there was so much food, but with each bite and sip you knew you needed to taste more.

Our main course was Grilled Uruguayan Filet Mignon with a crispy Camargue red rice cake, paired with Metisse Jumping Goat Vineyard (2009) ($155), a delicious Bordeaux Blend with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot.  What a perfect pairing with the beef, soft and luscious mouth feel against the savory beef flavor.

Dessert came and we finally did slow down…a little.  It was a black forest truffle with bing cherries, chantilly cream, and toffee brittle.  Paired with Metisse Le Chatelet Vineyard- Saint Emilion Grand Cru, with chocolate notes and black cherry, again enhancing the great combination of flavors in dessert.

Now some might think that $125/pp is steep for dinner here in Napa, but actually that is the norm, if not more, especially if you do wine pairing with your meal.  The added value of this meal is that they keep pouring you more wine if you want it, as well as the interaction with the winemakers, Phillipe and Cherie Melka.  Lastly, when you meet Stephanie and Scott Kendall, and Steve Distler, the owners of the restaurant, and encounter their fabulous staff, you will make Carpe Diem one of your favorite dining spots in Napa Valley.