DOWNTOWN NAPA EATS: 7 Places to Visit
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.