Culinary cultures and personalities shine in the West End of Downtown Napa. These restaurants may be small, but they are big on flavor and loyal fans.
Food & Wine just recently gave a glowing review of Oenotri and it’s spot-on except for one thing – they called it the best “new” Italian restaurant in the United States. Hello? All of us locals as well as chefs and somms from the Bay Area and beyond have been calling Oenotri their favorite Napa restaurant since it first opened more than two years ago, hailing the chefs’ talents at capturing the essence of Southern Italian cuisine. The great news is that they have maintained the level of excellence ever since then.
The deceptively delicious spaghetti al pomodoro for example. It’s with the most simple dishes that chefs reveal perfection of ingredients such as the perfectly chewy, al dente spaghetti and fresh, vibrant tomato sauce.
One of my favorite things about Oenotri is that they offer so many vibrant, colorful vegetable dishes such as shaved asparagus or this beet salad (above) with citrus, quince mostarda and dandelion greens. It tempts even the tepid vegetable-eaters to try it and it always wins them over.
And savory? I swooned over this pancetta-wrapped stuffed Jones Farm rabbit with rabbit conserva, mizuna, chickpeas and radish salsa rustica. Even I was never a big fan of rabbit, but I know enough to try anything here because everything is always delicious. Reservations highly recommended, more seating in the comfortable courtyard. 1425 First Street, Napa. oenotri.com
The new kid on the block, Tarla Grill is always humming with diners attracted to the Turkish and Greek-inspired menu. Owner Yusuf Topal honed his hospitality chops in the cruise line business before starting his own business. Tarla is a small venue with some sidewalk seating and a roomy bar to accomodate diners – a good thing since they don’t take reservations for less than six.
Tarla brings exotic spices to the Mediterranean flavors we love so much here. Start with meze or appetizer plate, but also try the spiced Turkish meatballs and the Saganaki – the flaming cheese plate – for something different and delicious!
I loved the simplicity of the spiced grilled lamb shish kabobs served with a flavorful chimichurri sauce. Other great regional entrees include the layered eggplant dish Musakka and the Spanakopita pie made with spinach and feta cheese.
Tarla serves California cuisine favorites too, like this delicious pistachio-crusted Alaskan halibut. But the big surprise was the great selection of desserts, like pistachio ice cream, Baklava, Turkish apricots filled with apricot/chardonnay sorbet and a most unusual Kunafe below made with shredded filo dough, cheese and coconut.
Open for breakfast too. 1480 First Street, Napa. tarlagrill.com
An instant hit when it opened a couple of years ago, Grace’s Table is the quintessential locals’ diner that out-of-towners love just as well for its homey food with an international appeal. Where else can you find a diversity of global favorites like cassoulet or steak frites from France, fish tacos and tamales from Mexico, risotto or pastas from Italy, plus all the standards like great salads. Its success lies in service and a generous menu where everyone will find something that appeals to them. 1400 Second Street, Napa. gracestable.net
NORMAN ROSE TAVERN
If you’re looking for a great burger, micro-brews and maybe a little sports action on the flat-screens, but served up in Napa Valley style, Norman Rose is for you. Beef and lamb burgers, and their marvelous fish sandwich, are nestled between two pillows of ABC Bakery’s famous potato rolls. 1401 First Street, Napa. normanrosenapa.com