Comment 0 Likes
My travels have always revolved around where to eat. Of course, in Paris we wandered The Louvre, and in Athens toured the Acropolis, but leisurely lunches, beverage stops, and dinner reservations are always researched diligently. Thus, when I was tasked to partner with Discover Torrance to seek out culinary gems in a new-to-me California city, I couldn't wait to embark on a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to explore.
Torrance is located in the South Bay region of Los Angeles and is a hidden food mecca, with more than 400 dining establishments and 10 craft breweries within its city limits. Situated 20 miles southwest of downtown LA, this coastal community includes Torrance Beach, is home to the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the area, and boasts some of the best Japanese restaurants in the country, thanks in part to Toyota moving their headquarters there in 1982, with other companies such as Honda following suit.
I wasn't able to visit all the restaurants I had on my list - that's for my next trip! - but follow along on my food adventures with these culinary highlights.
Not Your Mama's Kitchen
Our Torrance eating adventures started with our stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles Torrance/Redondo Beach, a perfect home base within minutes of many of the restaurants we were to visit. Our spacious penthouse suite featured the top two floors of a townhouse with a loft, two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen, and amenities including complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi, pool, outdoor grills, and a fitness room. Serendipitously, we checked in on a Food Truck night which takes place on alternate Wednesdays with pop-up restaurants and rotating food trucks . Helping myself to a complimentary brew in the restaurant lounge, I headed to Not Your Mama's Kitchen food truck, where I decided on wings and waffles. Verdict? Some of the best fried chicken I've ever had! If I hadn't already made dinner plans, I would have been back at the window sampling more of the menu. Not Your Mama's Kitchen celebrates their Southern roots with family recipes for fried chicken, catfish, smothered pork chops, red beans and rice, and more. You'll want to be on the lookout for their yellow truck if you're in the area, and you can follow their schedule here on Instagram.
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant
Torrance is home to the main bakery facility for King's Hawaiian bread, and no trip would be complete without beginning your day with the signature French toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread. King's Hawaiian was founded in the 1950s in Hilo, Hawaii, where the first loaves were made at Robert's Bakery, later moving to Honolulu renamed as King's Bakery. In 1997, King's Hawaiian Bakery production facility opened in Torrance, and in 1988, they debuted a full service bakery and restaurant. Now tourists and locals alike flock to this restaurant for a menu offering both Hawaiian food and traditional American dishes. Open seven days a week and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you'll find island favorites such as poke, kalua pork, loco moco, huli huli chicken, spam musubia and saimin, and, of course, the popular Big Island Breakfast. This includes King's Hawaiian French Toast, two eggs and choice of bacon, turkey sausage, fried Spam or Portuguese sausage. I suggest choosing the Portuguese sausage and asking to substitute the regular syrup for a side of coconut syrup (photo above).
Of course, you can pick up bread, cakes, and pastries from their bakery too. And an insider's tip from Shannon Severson, a friend and fellow writer who used to work at Toyota's headquarters: "Their Paradise Cake is a guilty pleasure - layers of guava, passion fruit and lime chiffon. It’s wildly popular and was the go-to for office birthday parties (in honor of people we truly liked!)."
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant: 2808 Sepulveda Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 530-0050
Pinwheel Café & Bakery
This charming French bakery and café is located in Rolling Hills Plaza off the Pacific Coast Highway and is open seven days a week until 6 pm. On the menu you'll find wonderful pastries along with breakfast items, soups, and sandwiches: Waffles and omelettes, French onion soup, salade niçoise, croissant sandwiches, and croques. I ordered a delicious Basque tartine (leading photo) layered with a tangy tomato spread, arugula, Bayonne ham, shaved Basque and a drizzle of espelette pepper olive oil, while my husband enjoyed a fluffy omelette with tomato soup and bread so good, we bought more baguettes to take back to Phoenix and share with family, along with chocolate croissants and a white chocolate and cashew scone.
Pinwheel Cafe & Bakery: 2553 Pacific Coast Hwy, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 325-5055
Hey 19 Public House
We stopped in for lunch at this retro pub paying homage to the '70s and '80s. Check out the fun and funky decor, and you might spy prints of Farrah Fawcett and Han Solo, vintage video game covers, or the band Kiss memorialized on a lava lamp. The menu is just as eclectic, ranging from addictive snacks of bacon-wrapped tater tots to the popular Meat Your Maker's, a double-cut pork chop with Maker's Mark bourbon-spiked chutney, mashed sweet potatoes and collard greens. Creative specials also lure the crowds, such as the recent "Let’s get Kraken" with grilled Spanish octopus, organic red quinoa, fried oyster mushrooms, and lemon vinaigrette. With an aim towards sourcing from local farmer's markets, their vegetable dishes shouldn't be overlooked either. Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I'll find it hard not to order the Hippie Tacos again - a flavorful medley of roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, radicchio, toasted almonds, goat cheese, and slaw tossed with house Bourbon BBQ 19 sauce. Pair it with one of the well-crafted cocktails such as Don't Cry for Me with Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica, Double Cross vodka, Elixir G ginger, and house-made ginger ale. Hey 19 also has live music on the weekends, and daily specials such as half-off Wine and Whiskey Wednesdays and all-day Happy Hour on Mondays.
Hey 19 Public House: 4525 Calle Mayor, Torrance, CA. Phone: (310) 378-8119.
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung's fame as a dumpling restaurant was born in Taiwan in 1972 as an extension of a cooking oil shop. By 1993, the New York Times had declared it one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world, and in 2010 the Hong Kong location had been awarded a Michelin star. Fast forward, and Din Tai Fung now has branches in countries from Malaysia to Australia, including eleven restaurants in the US (all in California and Washington). The Torrance location is an upscale, modern space located in the Del Amo Fashion Center shopping mall. Like its counterparts, crowds are drawn to the excellent handmade dumplings and noodles. The signature dish is xia long bao, steamed soup dumplings which contain a minced filling and savory broth. With an emphasis on Southern Chinese cuisine, the menu offers an array of appetizers, noodles, soups, stir-fried vegetables, steamed buns, and a variety of dumplings. Tip: Late afternoon is usually the best time to avoid the lines.
Din Tai Fung: 21540 Hawthorne Blvd #519, Torrance, CA 90503. Phone: (310) 214-1175
I'm jealous of those who live nearby and are able to dine on Japanese food of this caliber regularly. The only other locations of this stellar Japanese restaurant are in Tokyo and Singapore, so it's no surprise that it's a spot that is deservedly busy. We were also pleasantly surprised to find the lunch menu a bargain, offering sushi bowls paired with miso soup and salad, and set meals of seafood or steak accompanied by chilled tofu, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), rice and Japanese pickles for $12.95 (menus below). My husband loved his shrimp and vegetable tempura, while I was just as delighted with a chirashi bowl brimming with pristine raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail, ikura (salmon roe), and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), plus a side of a half-order of zaru soba (cold handmade soba noodles). The dinner menu is more extensive, with daily specials of fish flown in from Japan, grilled and fried seafood, and Japanese Wagyu.
Wadatsumi Torrance: 1757 W Carson St, R&S, Torrance, CA 90501. Phone: (310) 782-7356
Torihei Yakitori Robata Dining
Like Wadatsumi, Torihei has its roots in Japan, with its original restaurant still garnering praise in Yokohama. Torihei specializes in oden (a style of hotpot) and yakitori/robata (skewers grilled over charcoal). If you're that person who likes to try a multitude of different dishes and flavors, this is the cuisine for you. You'll receive three menus - sushi, izakaya, and yakitori - to check off your selections. We didn't do justice to all the delicious-sounding options as we were slightly full from lunch at Wadatsumi, but happily dined on octopus carpaccio, negima yakitori (grilled chicken thighs with scallions), shio ramen, shiokara (salted raw octopus), grilled shiitake mushrooms with bonito, and "cabbage with spicy sauce" (so simple, but one of my favorites of the night). Be sure to make reservations as this is a small, casual spot, but a must-visit when in Torrance.
Torihei: 1757 W. Carson st. Torrance, CA 90501. Phone: 310-781-9407
Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria
A spotlight on Oaxaca is the focus of Madre, and as shown by a boisterous packed house for dinner, we weren't the only fans of this regional cuisine. More familiar Mexican dishes are on the menu, but we were there to dine on specialties such as molotes (masa empanadas) and memelas (tortilla-like masa cakes garnished with toppings). Oaxaca is renowned for its moles (complex sauces made with dried chiles, fruit, herbs and spices) and here at Madre you'll find not one, but six different styles - verde, amarillo, rojo, coloradito, estofado, and mole negro Oaxaqueño, the region's famous black mole made with chocolate. Tlayuda is another traditional dish you will want to try. Often described as a Oaxacan pizza, the base is a large thin tortilla heaped with toppings. With four options, we chose the Tlayuda Madre, piled high with a smear of black beans, cabbage, tomato, quesillo (a Oaxacan string cheese), avocado, chorizo, tasajo (grilled thinly-sliced or pounded beef) and cecina (dried spiced pork).
Excellent margaritas can be ordered to wash down your feast, but I suggest entering the world of mezcal. The flavor of this smokier cousin of tequila is derived from pit-roasting the heart of the agave plant. As a cocktail writer and frequent competition judge, I thought I had a pretty good handle on mezcal producers, but as I learned from Madre's incredible collection, I was mistaken. Have a seat at the bar and ask for one of the artisanal single-village mezcals to sip. They're served the authentic Oaxacan way, neat, with traditional accompaniments of chapulines (crispy fried grasshoppers), cacahuates (peanuts), and orange slices with sal de gusano.
A relative newcomer to the dining scene, debuting approximately a year and half ago, Primo was our finale dinner and a highlight of our California trip. We loved everything about this modern Italian restaurant: The elegant yet cozy atmosphere, well-crafted cocktails and wine list, friendly and professional service, and, oh yes, the food. You'll find it hard to decide between mouthwatering dishes on the expansive menu such as Gamberoni alla Griglia (grilled red prawns with escarole and lemon), Osso Bucco di Agnello (braised lamb shank over polenta), or Porchetta Pizza with fontina cheese and arugula, and all eleven pastas are made fresh daily. My husband raved about his traditional Spaghetti alla Carbonara made with authentic guanciale and an entree of veal piccata, and I was just as impressed with the fabulous Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) and decadent Pici Toscano with hand-rolled pici pasta enrobed in a sausage cream sauce and finished with a shower of truffles. End your evening with an indulgent dessert and a glass of grappa or Primo's barrel-aged Negroni while enjoying the ambiance of live music on the piano.
Primo Italia: 24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 378-4288
I partnered with the Torrance, California tourism board on my trip to Torrance. For detailed information on trip itineraries, dining, lodging, and special events, visit Discover Torrance.
Tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains is beautiful Conejo Valley, a picturesque region encompassing the communities of Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Newbury Park, and nearby environs. Surrounded by rolling green hills, this Southern California gem is located just 30 minutes from Malibu and 45 minutes from Los Angeles, but far removed from the bustling crowds and busy traffic.
While tourist attractions such as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, annual festivals such as Conejo Valley Days, and miles of hiking and horse trails attract visitors, this region is also home to a flourishing culinary scene with a variety of restaurants, from brewpubs to fine dining; from New Zealand specialties to Peruvian sandwiches. My husband and I recently embarked on a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to spend some time in this beautiful part of Southern California. Here are some of the culinary highlights we discovered.
Start your day in Thousand Oaks at Chocolatine French Café. Step through the door of this charming patisserie serving breakfast and lunch, and you'll be greeted with a cheery "bonjour!" by owner Sandrine Casanova-Paccallet. Casanova-Paccallet and her husband and pastry chef Ludovic fell in love with the café while visiting from Lyon, France, bought it from the original owners when they retired, and recently celebrated four successful years. Spoil yourself with treats such as croissants, macarons, chocolates, and crepes with your café au lait, or visit at lunch for the soupe du jour, quiche, or bistro sandwiches such as a croque monsieur.
Chocolatine French Café: 2955 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA. Phone 557-0561.
Next door to Chocolatine is Bad Ass Tacos, a busy spot that has grown from a popular after-hours taco stand to its present location with seating inside and out at picnic tables under a canvas tent. Diners can order tortas, burritos, and quesadillas, but the street tacos take center stage. Warm tortillas are folded around eleven fillings ranging from traditional carne asada to red wine-marinated, slow-roasted short ribs and fish grilled with lime butter. I didn't have a chance to work my way through the entire menu, but favorites include the cochinita pibil (a Yucatán specialty of pork seasoned with achiote and sour orange and cooked in banana leaves) and chorizo y papa (a spicy-savory duo of cubed potatoes sauteed with crumbled chorizo).
Bad Ass Tacos: 2951 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Phone: (805) 370-8226
A Westlake Village gem, eLoong Dumplings can be found hidden inside the North Ranch Gateway Shopping Center. The menu offers authentic Chinese dishes including appetizers, soups, and stir-fried rice, noodles, rice cakes and vegetables. However, as the sign outside signifies, the handmade dumplings are drawing the crowds. These delicious bites include tender steamed shu mai stuffed with shrimp, vegetarian dumplings, and spicy pork wontons, but it's the xiao long bao (or XLB as fans call them) that are the star of the show. XLB are soup dumplings encasing cubes of gelatinized stock which melt as they steam, and at eLoong you'll feast on supple, thin-skinned packages bursting with a juicy filling and flavorful broth. I like to order them with extra chili oil and a side of Sichuan cucumber salad.
eLoong Dumplings: 30843 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Westlake Village, CA 91362. Phone: (818) 532-7668
Plan a visit to Mouthful Eatery for Peruvian-inspired sandwiches, bowls, salads, and sides. Co-owner Luis Alberto Sanchez drew from his Lima, Peru roots and his training at Le Cordon Bleu in creating a unique menu where everything is made from scratch. This local favorite opened as a 16-seat restaurant that expanded within a year to its current 55-seat space. The colorful chalkboard menu invites you to choose dishes such as frito pescadito (cod topped with tropical peanut slaw and chile de arbol gastrique) or La Sarita (roasted pork with sweet potatoes and aji amarillo aioli) before "Selecting your Style" - stacked on house-baked bread or in a bowl over organic quinoa or steamed rice. I'm partial to lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir-fry dish of tender and flavorful soy-marinated skirt steak, tomatoes, red onions, yuca fries, and aioli. In the evening, the menu expands to entrees, or you can make reservations for a special three-course prix-fixe dinner that takes place once a month. Tip: Don't leave without ordering alfajores, addictive Peruvian dulce de leche sandwich cookies.
Mouthful Eatery: 2626 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Phone: (805) 288-6055
The unique moniker of Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie in Agoura Hills is a nod to Ladyface Mountain, which is in full view on the pretty patio shaded by sun sails. Conejo Valley's first craft brewery, Ladyface is known for their award-winning Belgian, French and American-style ales, though the restaurant also offers a full bar with cocktails featuring house-infused spirits. The menu, which sources local and seasonal ingredients, reflects the beer list anchored by Belgian ales with European favorites. Thus, in addition to brew-friendly partners such as fish and chips and the Ladyface Burger (made with dry-aged, grass-fed Novy Ranch beef from nearby Simi Valley), you'll find duck confit, tarte flambée, moule frites, and salade niçoise. Sit back and order a beer flight, or try one of their cask ales, such as the Pedal Pusher, a Dérailleur bière-de-garde with hints of cardamom and coriander that I enjoyed on my visit (photo above).
Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie: 29281 Agoura Rd, Agoura Hills, CA 91301. Phone: (818) 477-4566.
At Aroha (meaning "love" in the Māori language of New Zealand) chef-owner Gwithyen Thomas shares his love of his native cuisine with ingredients sourced from his island country. Feijoa (pineapple guava) and passionfruit are grown on the patio, his dishes are seasoned with wild herbs such as kawakawa and horopito, and fresh seafood, meat, and poultry are flown in from New Zealand. This means you'll find NZ Cloudy Bay surf clams and green-lipped mussels in a fragrant coconut-curry broth spiked with chile and garlic, hāpuku (grouper) with carrot puree, smoked mushrooms and bacon emulsion, and the signature horopito-crusted NZ venison with sweet potato crisps, vanilla-parsnip purée, pistachios, and cherry compote. On a past trip to New Zealand, I fell in love with traditional desserts such as Hokey-Pokey (ice cream studded with honeycomb toffee) and Pavlova (crispy meringue filled with cream and fruit), so was happy to see a modern take of these kiwi classics on the dessert menu. Alas, I had left no room and will have to save that for a future visit. If you're lucky, you'll meet GM Jillian, who will expertly guide you through the menu, suggest wine pairings from the curated list, and introduce you to her well-crafted cocktails.
DINNER WITH A VIEW
An idyllic destination for brunch, lunch, or dinner in Conejo Valley is Zin Bistro Americana in Westlake Village. With a prime location lakeside, it's the perfect spot for a relaxing sunset date. Start with a classic Kir Royale (champagne and raspberry liqueur) as you share a chilled seafood platter or yellowtail crudo before moving on to a Caesar salad made tableside. Enjoy steak and seafood options such as lobster ravioli, diver scallops with mushroom risotto, filet mignon, or an excellent chicken cordon bleu stuffed with ham and Gruyère cheese. There's a cozy firepit on the patio for cooler nights, and live music in the lounge Thursday through Saturday.
Zin Bistro Americana: 32131 Lindero Canyon Rd #111, Westlake Village, CA 91361. Phone: (818) 865-0095
Gelato and Sweet Treats
TIFA Chocolate & Gelato is a family-owned business that began in 2007 as a retail online chocolate company. Now you can visit their welcoming shop in Agoura Hills' Marzin Market Shopping Center to indulge in decadent chocolates (try dark chocolate whiskey, pistachio-rose, and hickory-smoked salted caramel), pastries, brownies, cookies and wonderful gelato made onsite. You can sample flavors such as cookie butter, milk chocolate hazelnut, coconut chai and sugar-free cinnamon. Can't decide on just one? You don't have to! You can get a combination of three, which is what I did - settling on fantastic trio of fig and mascarpone, honey and lavender, and strawberry-balsamic.
TIFA Chocolate & Gelato: 28888 Roadside Dr, Agoura Hills, CA 91301. Phone: (818) 879-0685.
I partnered with Conejo Valley Tourism for my fun, food-filled trip, and you can find more information on the region's activities, dining, lodging, and annual events at Visit Conejo.
Tell your friends you're headed to Napa and their next question more likely than not is "which wineries are you going to visit?" Naturally, the valley's award-winning wineries and vineyards are a must on your travel itinerary, but be sure to spend time in downtown Napa enjoying all it has to offer. You'll find a thriving arts scene, shopping, restaurants, walking tours, outdoor activities, seasonal festivals and more. Here are six ways to explore this beautiful California city and Do Napa.
The Napa ARTwalk
The Napa ARTWalk is a rotating exhibition of stand-alone and integrated sculptures (each available for sale) around Downtown Napa and the Oxbow District. Pick up a guide at the Napa Valley Welcome Center on Main Street or download it here, and learn about the Otocast audio app for a self-guided tour at this link.
One way to embark on this artistic journey is to begin at the historic Napa Mill (tip: start with breakfast or lunch at the Napa General Store) to view the newest exhibit along with more established art pieces. This is also the site of Alan Shepp’s mosaic fountain entitled "Ars Longa Vita Brevis," or "Life is Brief But Art Endures," with his colorful vignettes capturing the history of Napa and the animal denizens of the Napa River. Follow the path along the riverfront and admire Terrence Martin's metal art "Fish On" (a 2010 ARtwalk People's Choice winner) as you head downtown to peruse more works. End at the striking 9/11 Memorial Garden, a collaboration with the City of Napa and local artist Gordon Huether incorporating steel beams from the Twin Towers.
Oxbow Public Market
The Oxbow Public Market is a downtown riverfront hub, a 40,000 square foot marketplace with indoor and outdoor seating for restaurants, locally-owned businesses and their wares, and grocers showcasing California artisans and regional specialties. Start your day here with breakfast, spend the afternoon drinking, dining, and shopping, or stop in for Happy Hour and dinner. You can read more about dining options here.
CIA at Copia
Next door is the Culinary Institute of America at Copia. Here you can attend cooking classes with topics ranging from "California Bounty" to "Indian Cuisine"; from "Homemade Cheese" to "Eclairs and Their Cousins". Learn about "The History of Napa Valley in 8 Glasses" in the Vintners Theater, or bring the kids for Sunday Family Fundays.
The Restaurant at CIA Copia (see more here) also welcomes guests with a sleek dining room, open kitchen, and olive tree-shaded patio to enjoy lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Take note of more pieces by famed Napa artist Gordon Huether, including "Bob & Margrit" atop the CIA's 75-foot tower, a tribute to Robert and Margrit Mondavi, and "The Fork" at the restaurant's entrance, composed of over 8,000 recycled utensils.
Downtown Tasting Rooms
Downtown Napa also plays host to a variety of wine tasting rooms, many in walking distance to each other for easy ambling. One of the most unique settings is the Capp Heritage Tasting Room. Settle in with a tasting flight in the main room with a striking antique mahogany and brass bar and steampunk elements, or relax in the Deco Room anchored by a circa 1910 stained glass ceiling dome (tip: visit on Saturday nights for live music). If you're lucky, you'll have time to chat with Gary Koehler, who is not only the tasting room manager, but a singer, songwriter and historian - be sure to purchase his CD and ask him about the Capp family and great-great-grandfather David Hudson's Napa legacy.
Chocolate Tasting Class at Anette's Chocolate
A visit to one of Anette's Chocolate locations (1st Street or Oxbow Market) is a given, but you're in for more decadent fun if you combine her confections with a chocolate class. Anette Madsen and her brother Brent are famous for their wine-infused chocolates and other sweet treats, and at their 1st Street location, she leads a variety of classes. Sign up for the 45-minute Chocolate Tasting Class ($20 per person) to learn about the history of chocolate and candy-making, the proper way to taste and savor, and how regionality and chocolate-making methods influence distinctive flavors.
Afterwards, take a seat on the cozy patio to linger with coffee, ice cream, candy, and more, or purchase packages of chocolates, truffles, caramels, marshmallows, and candied popcorn along with award-winning wine-infused dessert sauces and fantastic brittle.
Enjoy Napa Valley Rental and Tours
Napa native and local expert Justin Perkins of Enjoy Napa Valley has been leading tours in Napa Valley for 25 years, loves his job, and it shows. His signature Napa River History kayak tours are understandably popular due to his warmth, enthusiasm, and wealth of knowlege. Along his tours, you'll learn fascinating details, from flora and fauna to historical anecdotes and local tips. Enjoy Napa has recently expanded to bicycle tours and Justin will work with individuals and groups to customize bike routes, such as this one that started at Oxbow Public Market and led past vineyards and gorgeous Napa views to the Gordon Huether Gallery (look for an upcoming feature on artist Gordon Huether).
For more information and to plan your next Napa trip, visit DoNapa, the official website of the Downtown Napa Association.
On a beautiful fall afternoon, I arrived in Napa, joining fellow travel writers for an exploratory press trip of downtown Napa's unique offerings. We were hosted by the wonderful team of the Downtown Napa Association on our guided journey. Join me on a photo recap of the culinary highlights of our October weekend.
Napa General Store: 540 Main St Ste 100, Napa, CA 94559, (707) 259-0762.
Located in the historic Napa Mill district on the riverfront, this inviting restaurant, wine bar, and shop is filled with local artisanal products, jewelry, clothing, wine-related gifts, furniture, and more. The shop is open from 8 am to 6 pm, and breakfast and lunch is served daily with a special brunch menu on the weekends. Guests can dine in the cozy cafe or enjoy Napa's beautiful weather on the pretty patio.
On the lunch menu, you'll find soups, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads. I opted for the vermicelli salad, an ode to Vietnamese bún gà nướng. It was the perfect warm-weather choice, featuring a heap of chilled rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and mint topped with peanuts, a crispy spring roll, and fried shallots. Another popular order is "Our Famous Chinese Chicken Salad" combining shredded chicken breast, red and green cabbage, scallions, and toasted almonds tossed with a soy-sesame dressing and garnished with crunchy wonton strips.
Wine tastings are offered daily from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm, focusing on wines made by smaller Napa Valley wineries and boutique producers not often seen outside of Northern California.
Our group were invited to sample four wines to accompany our lunch, two whites and two reds. We started with a chardonnay comparison between Herencia Del Valle cool-climate Carneros Chardonnay and Dos Lagos neutral-oaked Cloaked in Secrecy, before moving on to Ecletic Winery's Charbono from Suisun Valley and Napa General Store's exclusive Petite Sirah made by Julie Johnson, owner and winemaker of Tres Sabores Winery. I loved learning about the smaller producers and esoteric varietals. For example, Eclectic's charbono is an unusual Italian grape varietal with wine produced in very limited quantities and in the US grown almost exclusively in California on less than 85 acres.
Oxbow Public Market: 610 and 644 First Street in Napa; (707) 226-6529
Located in the Oxbow District of downtown Napa, this 40,000 square-foot marketplace is a community gathering spot celebrating local restaurants and purveyors. You'll find shopping, drinking - from coffee bars to distilleries - and a variety of dining venues. The Market is open seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. I didn't have a chance to eat here on this visit, but did some strolling.
Some options that caught my eye include Hog Island Oyster Co. (serving oysters and seafood small plates and entrees), Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse and butcher shop (owned by the Swickards, a seven-generation family of Northern California ranchers), Live Fire Pizza (offering indoor and outdoor seating for beer, wine, antipasti, and wood-fired pizzas), and Three Twins Ice Cream (organic ice cream made with cane syrup and all-natural flavors). I suggest spending a few hours exploring this vibrant scene - something I plan to do on my next trip!
Eight Noodle Shop:1408 Clay St, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 637-4198
We picked a beautiful day to have lunch on the sunny patio at Eight Noodle Shop, a comfortable spot boasting an Asian-influenced menu (steamed buns, rice plates, ramen) and handmade noodles. The draw here is not only the delicious dishes, but friendly owner David Lu, who guided us on our menu choices including addictive Korean chicken wings coated in a crunchy batter and a spicy-sweet gochujang glaze.
What else to order? I would recommend all of the dishes I tried: Fried pot stickers stuffed with juicy pork and shrimp; sesame pork "dry" ramen enrobed in a thick and creamy sesame sauce studded with minced pork, preserved pear, and diced long beans ("one of my favorites" said Lu); Kimchi fried rice topped with soy-braised beef cheeks, sliced cucumbers, and fried eggs; butterscotch panna cotta made with white miso and scotch whisky; and five-spice Okinawa donuts with caramel and apple cream.
Crush Ultra Lounge: 875 Bordeaux Way, Napa, CA 94558; (707) 251-3066
Don't let the name Crush Ultra Lounge fool you into picturing a simple and familiar bar menu, as it did me. My expectations were quickly adjusted when we arrived at the stunning Meritage Resort and Spa, where this entertainment lounge is located. I love the fact that you can enjoy great food and drinks at Happy Hour, wind down after a day of wine tasting, or meet with a bunch of friends for dinner and bowling, as our group did. Some of my favorite bites were the flaky Sonoma duck samosas with coriander yogurt dipping sauce, the short rib sliders layered with horseradish aioli, celery leaves and crispy shallots, and Niman Ranch spiced ground lamb skewers with avocado, tomato, and goat cheese, especially good with my Negroni below (a cocktail favorite).
Sit at the bar or in front of the fireplace, or relax at seating areas with high-back leather chairs. Bonus! After dinner, try your hand at shuffleboard, pool, or one of six bowling lanes.
Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ: 975 First St., Napa; (707) 226-3976
This local favorite is a combination restaurant, wine bar, and retail shop and you'll find it a lively, casual spot to settle in for a menu ranging from charcuterie plates and pimento cheese dip to Caesar salad and a Bounty Burger with Wagyu beef (all from a suprisingly tiny kitchen!). Of course, the BBQ plays a starring role and the best way to sample and share is The Bounty Hunter Smokin’ BBQ Platter. We feasted on smoky pulled pork, sliced brisket, a slab of meaty St. Louis-style ribs, and coleslaw.
You'll find suggested wine pairings for each menu item with 400+ bottles available and 40 wines by the glass, in addition to craft beers and an extensive selection of hard-to-find spirits. I had to order a rye whiskey flight when I saw one offering an exclusive Bounty Hunter barrel of WhistlePig 10 Year rye (Vermont), along with Sazerac 6 Year (Kentucky) and High West Rendezvous (Utah).
And although BBQ features predominantly in the name, Bounty Hunter is also known for its beer can chicken roasted with Tecate beer and lime, which I can attest is the best I've ever had - juicy and tender with a crispy skin seasoned with a Cajun spice blend that includes fennel, coriander, thyme and turmeric. It's a must-order.
Celadon: 500 Main St G, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 254-9690
Celadon is an award-winning fine-dining restaurant tucked away in the Napa Mill riverfront district. To enter, pass through a verdant arched entryway which opens onto a rustic indoor-outdoor space outlined with whitewashed brick walls and anchored by a freestanding fireplace.
Open for lunch and dinner, its global menu is inspired by flavors from Asia to the Mediterranean. A fat Dungeness crab cake reflected Thailand with a green papaya, carrot, and cilantro salad and a chile-spiked sambal aioli.
If it's a special, I highly recommend the clam chowder, one of the best renditions I've had since moving from my homestate of Massachusetts. I also loved the signature cinnamon and cardamom-scented Morrocan lamb shank served with its rich braising jus and Israeli couscous with dried apricots and sultanas.
The Restaurant at CIA Copia: 500 1st Street, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 967-2555
Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia before my flight home was the perfect finale to a fantastic time spent in Napa (look for more details on the CIA at Copia on my next Napa feature).
Open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, the restaurant makes use of the fresh produce grown on-site. Guests can dine on the patio shaded by olive trees, in the airy dining room, or at the chef's counter, or enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine or craft cocktail in the lounge, such as a barrel-aged Vieux Carré, one of my favorite classics.
Seasonal dishes draw inspiration from around the world, such as these four favorites at my luncheon:
- Crudo of local halibut with citrusy Japanese ponzu, pomegranate seeds, and micro-cilantro.
- Fire-Roasted Tomato Toast, a take on the Spanish tapa of pan con tomate with boquerones/marinated white anchovies.
- Vitello Tonnato, a northern Italian specialty and a personal favorite of mine - thin slices of rare roasted veal served chilled, draped in a creamy sauce of egg yolks and preserved tuna, and garnished with capers and arugula.
- Eggplant Involtini, grilled eggplant slices rolled around a goat cheese filling and nestled in a smoked tomato sauce.
Finally, if you're looking for the perfect B&B serving some of the best breakfasts in Napa, click on the photo below for details of my stay at The Inn on First.
I was hosted by the Downtown Napa Association on a media press trip.
The Inn on First has a prime location within walking distance to the shops, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and riverside activities in downtown Napa, a picturesque setting with lush landscaping, and is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway with luxurious rooms featuring whirlpool tubs, gas fireplaces and no TVs. They were also the first Northern California B&B to be certified “green” by the State of California, and serve some of the most delicious breakfasts in town. The Inn on First has it all.
This inviting bed and breakfast is a lovely property owned by Jamie Cherry and Jim Gunther consisting of the main historic mansion and a separate building with first-floor Garden Suites and second-floor Honeymoon Suites. Checking in, you are greeted by your hosts in a bright and airy foyer and shown the main rooms, including the dining room and living room with a baby grand piano that guests are welcome to play.
You'll find thoughtful details such as a split of Mumm sparkling wine and truffles made by innkeeper Jim in your room, complimentary picnic baskets and wi-fi, and a decanter of California port in the mansion sitting room.
You'll find other relaxing spots on the property that invite you to relax and linger such as a quiet fountain-side retreat and a firepit for cozy Napa evenings.
I stayed in the Heritage Estate suite, a beautiful room located in the Garden Suites decorated in cool grays and complete with a heart-shaped two-person whirlpool, spacious bathroom, gas fireplace, and an enclosed private deck.
After a restful night in my comfortable king bed, I woke to a sunny morning and al fresco breakfast on the main patio. Chef/owner Jim Gunther is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and delights guests daily with his homemade specialties. You'll find classic favorites and creative dishes such as breakfast lasagna, tempura sushi roll omelettes, and roasted pear tacos with strawberries and whipped cream. In fact, he has a breakfast repertoire of over 150 dishes, which you can make yourself with his cookbook, A Napa Valley Breakfast Book. It also makes a perfect Napa gift or souvenir.
I started in the dining room at the buffet which offered a platter of flaky warm cinnamon twists, homemade granola, yogurt and fresh fruit, before making myself a breakfast parfait and heading to the patio.
Here, Jim served one of his signatures, fantastic breakfast risotto tots. I loved these crispy nuggets containing creamy herb-flecked risotto that were topped with a poached egg and accompanied by thick slices of toast and jam (homemade of course!). In a weekend of wonderful food at Napa's many excellent restaurants (read about those here), this was a highlight, and I can't think of a more perfect way to begin your Napa exploration.
I was hosted by the Downtown Napa Association on a media press trip. and my stay was complimentary.
Luxury Boutique Brand Leads Downtown Palm Springs Redevelopment with Hotel Opening
PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. (PRESS RELEASE) – Soaring to new heights in Palm Springs is Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs, now accepting reservations in anticipation of its opening this fall. The seven-story, 153-room urban desert escape anchors the city’s major downtown revitalization project and features Palm Springs’ first and only rooftop pool, two restaurants and two bars, serene views of the majestic San Jacinto Mountains, and inspiring spaces for meetings & events.
The first full-scale hotel built in the area in decades and Kimpton’s first project in the Palm Springs market, Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs is a celebration of the desert’s organic, rugged beauty artfully balanced with refined glamour and modern touchpoints. The hotel sits at the intersection of the high desert and local scene, where the base of the San Jacinto Mountains meets the center of the city’s best shopping, dining, outdoor pursuits and arts & culture scene.
“Palm Springs has stunning architecture and design, an inspiring landscape, and a stylishly cool spirit that’s exactly what the Kimpton brand is all about,” said Abe Liao, General Manager of Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs. “With amenities like our rooftop pool – the first in the city – and several guestrooms with balconies, guests have a new way to stay and play in Palm Springs while still enjoying the desert’s authentic aesthetic and laidback vibe.”
A collaborative effort between Powerstrip Studio and the Kimpton Design Team, the design of Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs is inspired by the resurgence of the Midcentury Modern movement, reimagined from a contemporary viewpoint while retaining the era’s essence, and infused with a playful beat. The light-filled spaces embody a sunny mix of minimalist, modern-desert urbanity with clean-lined furniture, custom art installations such as a 16-foot macramé owl behind the front desk and lobby-adjacent library display, grand staircase, and rooftop where six luxury cabanas line the pool. Subtly designed geometric patterns in an optimistic color palette – blues and greens in the guestrooms and pinks and oranges on the pool deck – are tempered with natural wood, creamy neutrals and white.
Guests can opt for Mountain View rooms with picturesque views of the San Jacinto Mountains, Balcony rooms with private outdoor terraces to chill and unwind, King rooms with a glass-walled bathroom offering views of the desert landscape, spacious Spa rooms with separate soaking tubs and glass-enclosed showers, and for the ultimate luxury stay three one-bedroom suites and a presidential suite, each with its own wraparound balcony.
Guests can get a genuine taste of Palm Springs throughout the property with treats by local purveyors in the Honor Bars and menus driven by locally sourced ingredients in the dining concepts. In the lobby living room, guests can enjoy a craft cocktail at Window Bar before heading out for the night or a nightcap before turning in. Juniper Table, a refined yet casual Mediterranean café, offers food & beverage for dining in or on the go. Perched atop the prime rooftop space is 4 Saints, an open-air bar and restaurant by day that transforms into an alluring environment after sundown and nightlife venue during peak season weekends.
For custom meetings, events and weddings, the hotel offers more than 5,000 square feet of multipurpose indoor and outdoor space including a ballroom, rooftop annex, and boardroom.
ABOUT KIMPTON THE ROWAN PALM SPRINGS: Entering the Palm Springs hospitality scene fall 2017 is Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs, a 153-room urban oasis that effortlessly blends laidback cool and rugged desert beauty with high style, culture and unrivaled Kimpton hospitality. Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs boasts the city’s first and only rooftop pool complete with six luxury cabanas, two restaurants and two bars, idyllic views of the San Jacinto Mountains and desert landscape, and 5,108 square feet of multipurpose indoor and outdoor space for custom events & meetings. With its prime location anchoring the very center of the revitalized Downtown Palm Springs, Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs puts guests just steps away from some of the city’s best dining, shopping, art and attractions. For additional information, visit www.rowanpalmsprings.com or call 800.532.7320.
ABOUT KIMPTON HOTELS & RESTAURANTS: San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is a leading brand of boutique hotels and restaurants and the acknowledged industry pioneer that first introduced the boutique hotel concept to the United States. In 1981, Bill Kimpton founded the company that today is renowned for making travelers feel genuinely cared for through thoughtful perks and amenities, bold, playful design and a sincerely personal style of guest service. Out to help people live full, balanced lives, Kimpton aims to inspire with touches like yoga mats in every room, complimentary coffee and tea to start the day, hosted evening Wine Hour, in-room fitness programming and complimentary bike rentals. The award-winning restaurants and bars are led by talented chefs and bartenders who offer guests a chance to dine like a local.
Kimpton is consistently ranked as one of the top companies in the Market Metrix Hospitality Index, Upper Upscale Segment, for Customer Satisfaction. The brand is highly-regarded for its innovative employee culture and benefits and has been named a FORTUNE magazine “Best Place to Work” seven times since 2009. Kimpton is continuously growing and currently operates over 60 hotels and 70 plus restaurants, bars and lounges in 30 plus cities in the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe. In January 2015, Kimpton became part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) family of hotel brands. For more information, visit www.KimptonHotels.com.