Only a ten minute walk from The Inn On First, a Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is a new restaurant that is getting a lot of buzz for its food. So last week when our friends, Guy and Christina DeMarco, were in town we joined in the fun. No reservations taken. It’s a drop in and “be social” kind of place.
Lots of small plates to choose from, really a restaurant for sharing everything on the table. The Herb Leaf Fries were just yummy for a starter as was the Dungeness Crab Toasts with sweet and sour sauce. Jamie really enjoyed the Twice Fried Brussels Sprouts (you all know I am a hater) and the Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Blood Oranges was spectacularly fun to eat with a lovely contrast of grill marks and the sweet yet slightly acidic orange. We couldn’t pass up the “Angry” Shrimp cocktail with chilies and orange, although Guy thought they were more “Mildly Pissed Off” with regard to the “heat” factor.
We all dug into and loved the Garlic and Chili Roasted Dungeness Crab with Grilled Bread and spicy aioli. Wowza! Just make sure to ask for extra napkins as this is a finger feast with forks given to each person to extract the meat. Don’t worry, they have these lovely wet towels with lemon to clean up at the end.
Also got a chance to try to the Roasted Quail with Soy Glaze, and that was just delicious. Oh, how the menu tempted us to purchase more, but beware!, these dishes creep up on you slowly and suddenly you find you simply cannot partake of another bite. I passed on dessert as I am currently/temporarily no dairy, and everything had dairy in it.
It just means another trip within the month to sample another 1/4 of the menu. I still want to try the Atlas jacks (sweet and spicy cracker jacks), the Crudo with Preserved Kumquat, the Red Curry Mussels, and the Rabbit Pot Pie. Prices range from $5 to 9$ for Snacks, $8 to $20 for small plates, and $34 to $42 for the larger platters to be shared by up to four people. Wine bar only available, by the glass and the bottle. Plenty of Vegetarian options, and I was unable to find out at the end how they manage Vegans or Gluten-free.
Seating tip: they have high tables in front with stool seating, but ask if there are any tables available in the back that are more like booths (not a lot of them) where it feels more restarauntish vs. clubby.
A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, just off the corner of First and Main Streets, is the restaurant called Torc. The menu is eclectic European ranging from snacks (house made cured olives, or the Iberico ham toasts, and deviled eggs), to small plates (salads, soups, light pastas), to large plate entrees (lamb, beef, chicken, fish). We were fortunate to join our friends Sara and Dan, with their 11-year old son, Charlie, so there were lots of bites to be enjoyed. As Sara is gluten-free they were readily able to work with her dietary issues. It is also clearly stated on the menu that they work with vegans, vegetarians, etc. Basically, “ask and we will accommodate as best we can”- That is service!
The highlights for me were the hamachi tartare with avocado, the delicious gazpacho soup perfectly chilled and flavored, the quail with mushrooms au jus, boar ravioli in a beautiful boar broth, and silky smooth halibut that was perfectly cooked with mushrooms and squash. Why, even Charlie’s plain pasta with grated parmesan was scrumptious in its simplicity.
Prices range from $5 snacks to $10 small plates on up to $18 – $40 entrees. Plenty of wine and beer by the glass and bottle. A lovely meal with a hip-urban environment that is worthy of Napa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 short 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.