You could say my trip to Napa was planned a little last minute. This obviously left me out of the running for dining at certain places like the French Laundry. Despite this, there are still countless restaurants to enjoy in Napa. I made most of my reservations about two weeks ahead of my trip. For those planning, making reservations everywhere from the wineries to restaurants is important. Make this a priority after you decide where you are staying. The restaurants listed below are all in closer proximity to Napa town. There are other fantastic choices located further north in St. Helena and Calistoga if you are staying closer to that area.
- FARM. This is the most formal restaurant at Carneros Resort and Spa. If you stay at Carneros, I would definitely spend one night at FARM. They use locally sourced produce, and the quality of the dishes was evident. In addition, they have gardens not too far from the restaurant on property where you can see a number of the fresh ingredients being grown. Their salad was colorful with pomegranate seeds and radishes finished with a light vinaigrette. One of my favorite things was visiting during truffle season. They had a tagliatelle with white truffles that was so decadent. The atmosphere is polished, and the service was attentive.
- Bouchon. It wouldn’t be Napa Valley without a discussion of one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants. As much as I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, that simply did not happen. That being said, I was able to secure a reservation at Bouchon. The food was undeniably good. I tried the deviled eggs, salade lyonnaise, onion soup, escargots de bourgogne, and the roasted lamb with white beans. If forced to choose favorites, I would probably say the salad and escargot. Finally, if you do not typically order dessert, this is probably the place to make an exception. We ordered three macaroons to go. They are certainly not small bite size macaroons, but instead the size of a cookie. I really enjoyed the pistachio flavor.
- Bistro Jeanty. I dare say that I liked this French bistro every bit as much as Bouchon. This Yountville restaurant was packed on a Saturday night. We started with an order of truffle deviled eggs served with a small watercress salad. They were phenomenal. Next, I ordered the French onion soup. It came out “luke warm.” Typically, I am not one to send something back, but I did. The situation was handled quite well. They brought me a new soup, and the manager came over to apologize. Ultimately, I wasn’t charged for the soup. All was forgiven. The next course I ordered was the quiche served with a butter lettuce/mustard dressing. So tasty! Ultimately, despite the luke warm soup, this restaurant was fantastic. I highly recommend Bistro Jeanty.
- Angele. This restaurant is located in Napa town. After drinking wine day after day, I decided to go for a cocktail before dinner. The Spicycle was a good choice. For food, I tried their oysters, cochon in a blanket, and the wild mushroom risotto. They offered the option to add black truffle to any menu item for an additional charge. Since I don’t regularly get to add truffle to my meals, I chose this option for my risotto. This turned out to be a bad decision. The aroma of truffles to me is usually rather evident. When the dish was presented, I didn’t see the black truffle, let alone smell it. This resulted in me asking the waiter if they were even added. He quickly said yes, and he pointed out a small shaving on my plate. I was rather confused. Ultimately, he returned and microplaned a ridiculous amount of truffle onto the top of my risotto. It almost seemed slightly rash to demonstrate a point. For me, this truffle was still a complete dud. This later prompted me into a deep dive on black truffles. What I found assured me that I had not lost my mind. Likely, this truffle was either old or an imposter. In addition, black truffles do well when cooked into a dish with the heat causing their aroma and flavor to be more pronounced. When shaved over the top of the dish, they lose their luster. Although the food was good, this truffle experience left me less than a satisfied customer.
- Torc. When we visited HALL winery, our guide through the experience had a long time career in Napa as a sommelier. We mentioned some of the restaurants and wineries we were trying on the remainder of our trip. She was very complimentary of Torc, so I went in with high hopes. I found my expectations were most definitely met. The superior service started from the moment we stepped in the door. I first ordered a cocktail. Their cocktail menu was more innovative than other restaurants in Napa. If you order a drink, I recommend the tiger queen. There is another cocktail with green and yellow chartreuse, which peaked my interest as well. I stand by my theory that when you see chartreuse on a menu, you know you are at a high quality establishment. As far as food, I don’t think you can go wrong. I ordered the Pakora, little gem wedge, a salmon appetizer, tagliatelle, and radiatori. I do not think there is a bad dish to be had here. They coursed the selections, and I was left excited waiting for my next plate. Although I don’t currently see it on their menu, the salmon starter was absolutely incredible. I was on the fence about ordering it, but it sounded unique. Our waiter went on to say it was his favorite thing on the menu. If you are in Napa town, don’t miss out on Torc.
- Celadon. This restaurant is also in Napa town. It has a beautiful entry lined with greenery and lights. Their large, fully enclosed porch with fireplaces and heat lamps had great atmosphere. From the menu, I ordered the crispy brussel sprouts, crispy braised pork belly lettuce cups, and the pan roasted airline chicken breast. This food was very adequate. The starters were good, but nothing special. I found the chicken breast to be way too salty. Although the atmosphere was lovely, I wouldn’t return here on a future visit to Napa.
- Model Bakery. If you want breakfast, it would be foolish to not try Model Bakery. The location I tried was in Napa Town located in close proximity to where the Napa Valley Wine Train leaves. They are famous for their English muffins and this is an Oprah favorite. Typically, the English Muffin just doesn’t seem that special. Model Bakery really does the English Muffin justice. Aside from their breakfast sandwiches, they have so many other pastries and baked goods. Their spinach and feta croissant was flaky and still good even cold hours after purchase. This is a great, quick breakfast spot for counter service.
- Gott’s Roadside. This is another place that everyone talks about. The line outside reflects this chatter. They have locations in Napa and St. Helena. The St. Helena location makes this a perfect between winery stop for lunch. There is no indoor seating, but they do have heat lamps during the colder months to eat at one of their long picnic tables. Now, this is not a place to go if you are on a healthy diet. They have burgers, chili, fries, and shakes. I ordered the California burger, Vietnamese chicken salad, and an order of the chili cheese fries. This burger was really good, and they have some other unique burger options. The California burger has fried egg, Cowgirl creamery wagon wheel cheese, Zoe’s bacon, arugula, balsamic onions and mayo. The Vietnamese chicken salad might have been my favorite. I loved it. Finally, the chili cheese fries were good, but not great. I would not order a bowl of chili or the chili cheese fries off the menu on return. There are too many other enticing choices.
You will not go hungry in Napa between the abundance of restaurants and tastings offered at the wineries. There are many options, particularly for those that love French cuisine. Be ready to indulge. Napa is not the place for those on diet restrictions.