Winter Brings Delicious Dining for Locals
While it is wintertime here in the Napa Valley, traffic is lighter in places other than on Highway 29, the Silverado Trail and in winery tasting rooms. Locals will likely also benefit from less congestion in the restaurants scattered throughout our region, which is world-famous for wine, art and cuisine.
There are plenty of choices for dining out in the Napa Valley. A diner’s tendency toward repeat visits is great for restaurateurs who rely on locals t o keep the doors open in leaner times. Now is the time to continue to support your favorite dining establishments so that they remain in business, while also exploring other restaurants that may be too booked up during the busier tourist season. Locals should be cherished every day. However, as a local, my sense is that we are appreciated even more this time of year.
This season is known as Cabernet Season, as the grapes are long harvested, there is a chill in the air, we all want to feel cozy, and there is nothing more comforting than warm, hearty fare. One of the appealing things about dining out now, is that there are special menus and even “local’s nights” at some establishments.
I like getting out and meeting locals, and usually opt to sit at the bar to dine most any day of the year. Unlike being seated at a table, it is common, and acceptable, to chat with others – even complete strangers – when seated at the bar. For me, it is fun to get instant recommendations from fellow diners on what they ordered, specialties of the house, and dishes that they enjoy.
Some of my favorite spots to grab a bite (ranging from casual to fancy) include Il Posto Trattoria, Fumé Bistro, Hurley’s, Southside Cafe, Pasta Prego, R&D, Bistro Don Giovanni, Angèle, Grace’s Table, Celadon, Kitchen Door, Hog Island Oysters, Charter Oak, Mustard’s, Hop Creek Pub, Carpe Diem, Ciccio, and Azzurro Pizzeria (known locally as Pizza Azzurro). This list is simply off the top of my head! Add your own favorites to this list and it becomes apparent that the wide array of dining choices, available not far from our very own front doors, is incredible.
At Hurley’s in Yountville, locals populate the restaurant and bar throughout the year. Chef Bob Hurley takes care of diners with free corkage on wines, an all-day menu, a special bar menu, Vintners’ Lunch Specials with a choice of two or three courses, as well as the option to add a reasonably-priced glass of wine. Warm soups, braised short ribs and winter greens, as well as a wide range of menu choices from pasta, to seafood, to wild game, satisfy diners daily.
Mustard’s Grill, just north of Yountville, is iconic and nearly impossible to get in to at certain, jam-packed times of the year. Right now, it is a bit easier to grab a reservation or stop in. Someone in your party must order their famous wood fire-grilled Mongolian Pork Chop.
In Napa, restaurateur Justin Graffigna has created a “home away from home” for foodies at Il Posto Trattoria which specializes in old world, old school authentic Italian cuisine. Two course, specially-priced lunch specials that include salads, soups, pizzas and pastas, are on the winter menu. Wednesday nights are local’s nights, with free corkage. Happy Hour, with food and drink specials and super popular with locals, takes place daily from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. only at the bar. Best of all, however, are Il Posto’s nightly specials. Throughout the winter, the Friday night special is Crab Cioppino…Come ON! Wow!
Napa Valley food and wine writer Paul Franson who publishes the NapaLife insider’s guide to the Napa Valley newsletter, frequently eats out across the valley. Franson said that he enjoys more out-of-the-way destinations such as Il Posto, Fumé Bistro, Aroma and Yak & Yeti, as well in town places as Napakins Bar & Grill, Zuzu and Tarla Grill in Napa. He also shared that may St. Helena restaurants such as Cook, Market and St. Helena Bistro are oddly, reasonably priced, as are Bosko’s and Sushi Mambo in Calistoga.
Matt Miersch of Pasta Prego in Napa reports that his restaurant is in the enviable position of not really competing with tourists to fill tables, as their mission is to serve great food at reasonable prices every day. He takes care of locals all of the time with generous 6 ounce wine pours (5 ounce pours are standard). Chef Marco Ruiz at Pasta Prego creates dishes that have been local favorites for decades ranging from linguine with a sauté of prawns, mussels, clams, tomatoes and garlic in a fresh herb and white wine broth to pan-seared Veal Piccata with capers, garlic, lemon, butter and white wine sauce, and served with Penne Alfredo pasta and vegetables.
Carpe Diem in downtown Napa offers a seasonal three-course prix fixe menu for locals. As the diner, you get to customize the experience and select each course (appetizer, entrée and dessert) off the menu for a fixed price. Carpe Diem, also aware of Cabernet Season, knows how to “Seize this Season” as they say, with a popular happy hour from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday with great eats, and a featured red, white and sparkling wine each week.
The restaurants are an integral and important part of our community, as well as our economy. Many of the restaurants in the Napa Valley are small, independently-owned businesses. The restaurant and hospitality industry also supports so many of our non-profits and worthy causes throughout the year, with contributions and donations. The professionals are hospitality pros, at the very top of their game. When dining out, make sure to reward hardworking servers with generous gratuities. We benefit from the creativity, hospitality and delicious expertise of our local culinary professionals. Now is the time to support these businesses, which serve and support you.