Rocabella: Rock Me On! Mediterranean food with Italian undertones

Recently stopped in on Rocabella, a fairly new Mediterranean restaurant at 1st and Main Streets, a 10 minute casual walk from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa.  With all dishes under $14 we decided to invite some friends to dinner and enjoy the experience with them and to order as much as we could together.

The food: we loved it.  Continue reading

Dog-friendly wine tour driver and trainer!

Woof!  Are we excited about Dan Cartwright, dog trainer and now wine tour driver in the Napa Valley.  You no longer need to leave your dog behind when you visit us here at The Inn On First.  Dan will take you and your dogs along for the ride, customizing the wineries to your needs and to your dogs’ needs, too.  Yes, he’ll even do a little training for your pooches while you sip and enjoy your wine in the Napa Valley.  The name of the company is Good Dog Wine Tours, and we are more than happy to schedule your pickup here at the inn.  Dan charges $50/hour per couple and their dogs.  You can bring along up to 2 additional human guests at $10/pp per hour.  Minimum 4 hours.  And yes, Water and Tennis Balls are included.

120 breakfast recipes to choose from

I know.  We’ve read about it for years: breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day.  So here at The Inn On First, a luxury Napa bed and breakfast inn, we take it seriously.  Today we have over 120 recipes that we utilize over the course of one year.  We keep track of when you visit, what you eat for breakfast, and ensure you don’t get served the same dish again.  It is our way of keeping you excited for what is about to be presented to you each morning, no matter how often you visit us.

Corndog Omelet-103   Birds Nest-113

It is also a way for Chef Jim Gunther not to get bored or complacent. His goal is to develop a minimum of 250 recipes before he retires.  He’s hoping for another ten years to work at it and thinks he can achieve that goal.  For Jim, it is a very Zen-like experience- you eat, you enjoy, you let it go. Something new is coming your way the next time.  ”Knowing you get to eat this breakfast but once helps the guest to savor what is present to them today,” Jim stated.  ”And in case you didn’t really enjoy that particular breakfast,” he added playfully, “you’ll never see it again.”

Sushi Om-170 Hot Dog Omelet-154 Cheese Consomme-135-1

 

 

So what are some of the more recent creations that have come out of The Inn On First’s kitchen?  Cheese Consomme with Roasted Potatoes and Poached Egg, Corndog omelets, Argentinian Arepas with Eggs in Chipotle Cream Sauce, Macaroni and Cheese, and S’mores French Toast are a few of the items you can expect to enjoy this year.  The key to the inn’s success?  Everything is made from scratch: from macaroni noodles, to the graham cracker bread Jim created for French Toast.  Using fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients, the focus is on cooking seasonally and creating recipes that have “comfort food” in mind.


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.


Laird Family Vineyards: finding your place in the sun with so many varietals to try

A five minute drive from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Laird Family Estate.  With its oxidized copper roof that you can see from Highway 29, it sits on a small hillock with both indoor and outdoor seating.  Outdoors is where you want to be as you overlook the hills of Napa Valley as well as Laird’s vineyards.

Laird Family Winery Laird Entrance Laird Outdoor Patio Laird Indoor Seating Laird Tasting Menu

We started with the Big Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, with a nose of green apples and pear blossoms, with crisp, floral tones and light acidity with a hint of grapefruit.  Next was the Cold Creek Pinot Grigio with a hint of peach and honeydew melon, and very lemony on the  tongue with a slight mineral flavor.  The Cold Creek Chardonnay was next with light buttery notes, a little oak- it tasted like buttered toast when I swallowed.  The second Chardonnay was the Red Hen Chardonnay, heavy on the oak and with a light minerality with citrusy tones.   Interestingly, it also was more full bodied over the first one.

We moved onto the reds next, beginning with the Suscol Ranch Merlot.  Big black cherry aromas, with blackberies and cinnamon, and yet a light and soft wine on the tongue, with hints of blueberries.  The Suscol Ranch Syrah followed with aromas of dark fruits (plums, black cherries), light tannin on the palate with a clove-spice finish.  Jillian’s Blend, a Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot blend, was filled with herbaciousness (think bell pepper) and had a soft finish.  The Diamond Mountain Cabernet, 8 years old, was as soft as  Cabernet could be, with great fruit flavor.  It is drinkable right now, and carries flavors of raspberries and light cherries.  A lovely wine.  We finished with the Mast Ranch Cabernet, with dark cocoa and dark fruit on the nose, with leather undertones and some tannins on the palate.  I could have used a NY steak at that moment.

Wines list from $20 to $90, with club member discounts available.  If you see Ben while you’re there, or Val, tell them Jim and Jamie say hello!


Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

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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.


Acacia: Pinot Lover’s Paradise

Just outside of the city of Napa, not far from The Inn On First, Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Acacia Winery.  My friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC and wanted to some Pinot Noir tasting and Acacia Vineyards was on the top of my list.  I’ll say it right now, if you love Pinot Noir this is the place for you.

I was familiar with Acacia Pinot Noir that you find in the store, but found out that is a blend. What they offer in the tasting room is a selection of Pinot from out of their 11 (yes, eleven!) single vineyard Pinot Noirs.  Yes, they have Chardonnay, but unfortunately I cannot report on that as I wanted my palate to be Pinot discerning with nothing else in the way.  I was not disappointed.

Acacia View Acacia Pinots Acacia Tasting

We began with the Thornton Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast.  Dark fruit aromas and yet light cherry notes on the tongue.  We moved to the Redding Ranch Pinot from West Marin/Rancho Nicasio.  Beautiful fruit tones that I think set it one step above the Thornton.  The Orogeny was next with a really big nose and enjoyable dark cherry fruit flavors.  We both fell in love with this one.  We moved onto the Lone Tree Pinot, and that was just as lovely as the Orogeny and yet slightly different.  Okay, so this is when I can taste and smell nuances, but they become more difficult to describe.  Trust me, it was lovely.  The Winery Lake Pinot was next in line, chewier than all the others on the palate with fuller fruit flavors.

I’ve never done such a broad cross-tasting of one grape varietal, but they do it right here.  Suddenly I am more Pinot Noir discerning, although no expert by any means.  Now I want to do more single varietal tasting in a single day as I learned so much.  Acacia wines list from $28 to $79.  Appointments are required, so call ahead and make your plan to go and meet with their very entertaining and engaging staff: the Queen of Conviviality (Margaret) The Prince of Pinot (Mike).


The Inn On First in Napa is a popular option for gay and straight tourists alike

Passport Magazine was here recently to do a write-up on Napa Valley and staying at The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was one of their stops.  The author writes:

“Across the Mayacamas Mountains, which separates Napa from Sonoma, Jim Gunther and his husband Jamie (who have been together 19 years) opened The Inn on First Bed & Breakfast in Downtown Napa. Their inn is one of the most popular options for both straight and gay visitors. Jamie says, “Napa is very gay-friendly, despite the reputations of a farm community. Napa always votes Democratic, it voted down Prop. 8 and there are a lot of gay people here in hospitality. Gay locals and visitors go where everyone else goes as there’s no gay bar, so it’s more about tagging along to what’s trendy and comfortable.”

For the full story go here: Passport Magazine.