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Oenotri, Downtown Napa’s latest restaurant, combines the essence of Southern Italian simplicity with the purity of local ingredients. On a recent Wednesday night, the restaurant was packed by 6:00 p.m. and buzzing with energy. The casual venue is modern and spacious, with re-habilitated wood tables and an open kitchen. In Oenotri, owners and chefs Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde have created a restaurant that will appeal to locals and visitors alike.
The menu is very focused, featuring authentic Southern Italian flavors achieved the traditional way, with wood-fired oven, house-made salumi, pastas, oils and vinegars and the freshest local ingredients, whose flavors cannot be duplicated any other way. The menu is inspired by the chefs’ backgrounds at Oliveto in Oakland as well as di Fede’s Italian upbringing. The dishes are so authentic, they would evoke strong childhood memories, as it did for a friend.
What is so appealing about the menu is that the flavors are achieved without heaviness because the quality of the ingredients is so high. In the tradition of Southern Italian cuisine, there is little use of cream or butter sauces which would mask flavor. While there are rich dishes such as pasta with Spicy Willis Farm Pork Ragu, many of the pastas and entrees such as black cod or Paine Farm Squab feature the ingredient itself, roast to just the right degree of doneness. Even the pizzas have achingly thin crusts that highlight the rich flavors, for example, of black kale pesto, gaeta olives and the aged pecorino. The pennette (short-tube pasta) made with wild nettle is earthy and rich with olive oil and a bit or lardo, and so naked that you can taste the quality of the pasta flour.
The menu provides for a variety of dining options, whether one wants to have a light meal with small plates, meet friends for a glass or two of wine with selection of salumi, or have a full course dinner. Wines by the glass feature classic Italian food wines such as pinot grigio, garganega (soave), friulano and barbera. The menu changes frequently to showcase seasonal ingredients.
Oenotri, 1425 First Street at Franklin in Downtown Napa. 707-252-1022. www.oenotri.com. Open 5:30 – 9:30 pm Sunday through Wednesday and 5:30 – midnight Thursday through Saturday. Reservations recommended.