Napa: River Terrace Inn Breakfast
Earlier this month I spent a few days in downtown Napa. My base was the River Terrace Inn on Soscol. The shot below is the view from my third floor river view room (1 night free with 2 paid nights).
The dining terrace for breakfast al fresco has the same view. A buffet breakfast is included in the room rate. While it wasn't great, it was good enough that the convenience, time and cost savings of eating here made it worthwhile. I could make myself a hot cup of tea without waiting. Besides cut slices of decent melon, the buffet also offered whole fresh fruit (bananas, oranges, and apples), cereals, breads, and pastries (none of which are recommended). The scrambled eggs were just awful. But the home fries weren't bad, as long as you forgot about them as home fries since they were devoid of any brown crustiness and could just enjoy having something warm and nicely spiced with paprika, onion, and rosemary. Best thing on the buffet were the marinated bocconcini with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.
My time allotted for lunch each day was pretty limited. Still, I wanted to treat myself to a Napa experience as long as long as I could get in and out quickly. I rue somewhat not breaking new ground, but the tried and true provided the reliability as I needed.
I'd made a reservation at Pilar via Opentable. Arriving promptly at 12:30pm on a Tuesday, I was the only customer in the place and no one else came in later. The server and I had a chuckle over my reserving a table. Didier Lenders was manning the kitchen along with one helper. The employees outnumbered me 3 to 1.
Despite the lack of lunch customers, the menu had many choices of interesting dishes to select from. Unlike some restaurant that dumb down the lunch menu, at Pilar, the seasonal offerings show-off the chefs' talents.
To start, I had the sweet corn and crab soup ($7). Enriched with a bit of cream, this needed something to keep the sweetness of the corn, the sweet crab meat, and the sweet flavor of the cream from being monotonous. Adding a bit of salt helped, but somehow this dish wasn't everything it could have been.
My second course, grilled quail with frisee and lentil salad, peas and smoked bacon vinaigrette ($11), was dead-on perfect in every way. The expertly marked, semi-boneless quail was juicy and brimming with flavor. The slight bitterness of the frisee, earthy lentils, bright spring green flavors of the peas and tiny fava beans highlighted the tiny bird beautifully. The vinaigrette added a refreshing lift and also depth.
This was not unlike my experience two years ago here when half our dishes were stellar and the others not quite there. This time, I was so pleased with the quail dish, it made up for the soup start.
re: Melanie Wong
The next day, ZuZu was a bit more populated during lunch hour though less than half-full. I ordered -
boquerones with eggs and fresh maionesa, $6
day's special - beef picadillo empanada and guajillo sauce with salad greens, $6
gateau basque, $6
My favorite was the boquerones (anchovy) tapa on a parsley salad bed. The luscious mayonnaise added an over the top richness. I almost ordered another one.
The empanada was somewhat disappointing with a softish, near soggy crust and bland filling. The guajillo sauce was much too spicy hot and I needed that side of beautiful salad greens to tone down the heat.
The gateau basque was quite nice with a dense moistness. The white-centered strawberries would have embarrased another pastry chef and I chose to ignore them. The candied walnuts seemed overly abundant but they were delicious little bits and I scarfed them up with the custard sauce.
re: Melanie Wong
Having spent $23 for lunch each of the previous two days, I needed to downscale my next pick. I headed to the Cafe Society planning to get a tartine or other French style sandwich.
The lunch special of the day --- an individual spinach quiche with a side of salad --- plus an iced tea set and some change in the tip jar set me back $10. This was a very nice lunch, especially for the price. The vinaigrette had that french snap and I liked the briny accents from the capers. Only the heat of the day kept me from ordering the Angelina hot chocolate.
My first night I headed over to Genova deli on Trancas to get some ravioli to go. But it was already closed by the time I got there. Instead I went to the nearby Trader Joe's to stock up on snacks.
The next night, I visited a long-time Napa institution, The Depot, for malfatti to go from the The Back Door (shown below). While the address is on Fourth St., the entrance to the parking lot is through the adjacent used car lot. The Back Door at the rear of the building faces the railroad tracks.
I didn't have my own container, but the amiable woman who took my order didn't charge me 50¢ for the quart-sized styro. I got a dozen malfatti ($6) and for good measure, a dozen spinach and ricotta ravioli ($7) in meat sauce too, both packed in the same container. This was the first time I'd tried the ravioli and I liked them a bit better. The malfatti have a soft, comfort food texture and are somewhat bland. I was impressed by the thin and tender pasta on the ravioli and liked the sharp sheepish accent in the seasoning. The sauce was typical red sauce Italian American, perhaps a little thin.
I didn't take the time to peek into the main restaurant. The chef/owner of Belle Arti Trattoria Siciliana recently closed his restaurant to take over the kitchen here. He made great cannoli and some very good Sicilian dishes at Belle Arti, hope they survived the move here.
re: Melanie Wong
My favorite taco truck has been La Playita which parks on the side street next to my hotel by the bank. But it serves the lunch crowd and makes an early departure.
At dinner time, my choices were limited to La Esperanza from St. Helena which parks on Soscol across from the hotel and Cuvee Restaurant. Tacos are $1.50 each. I ordered a trio: carnitas, lengua, and al pastor. Just so-so, the al pastor was pretty boring, lengua was decent, and either they gave me the worst carnitas I've ever had or dried-out chicken by mistake.
re: Melanie Wong
For my last night in town, I returned to Pizza Azzurro for an update. I've been here twice before, liking Caesar salad and the 4-cheese pie, loving the iceberg wedge with Point Reyes blue cheese dressing studded with bacon and sliced radishes, and finding disappointment in an indifferent pasta dish.
This time I started with the Caesar salad ($8.50) made with whole romaine leaves and giant garlicky croutons. It's big and probably best split with a second eater. I forgot to ask for the anchovies this time, which are readily provided but not the default. The dressing is much heavier and creamier than I typically like, but I still like this one very much.
The special pizza of the day was a Spring pie ($12.95) - fingerling potatoes, asparagus, green garlic, and cheese. The crust was thinner and more cracker-like, I think, than my earlier experience. The lightness matched the springy, green flavors of this pie. This had just a bit too much cheese weighing it down, but the taste was fab.
With a $2 soda, tax and tip, my total came to $29. That seems rather dear for such a casual place, but I guess that's the going rate these days.
1400 Second St.
re: Melanie Wong
re: Junie D
You're welcome. Since I was staying right there, I fully expected to have either lunch or dinner at Cuvee. Each time I looked at the menu, nothing really grabbed me and the prices looked awfully high to just settle for something less than promising to eat. I ended up saving it for my friday lunch with a friend, but then she had to cancel that morning. Left to my own devices, I scooted down to Vallejo to have a great lunch at House of Soul. (g)
Two years ago, I did try La Playita's restaurant. Here's the note I wrote for myself that didn't make it on the board then.
6/22/04 - Uva Trattoria Italiano (sic) and Tacos La Playita
Lunch at Uva was my first time back since the new ownership took over. I told my waitress, Kim, that I was in a bit of a rush and she was right on top of expediting everything to get me out on time.
For a quick start, I ordered a cup of the days soup, cream of zucchini (designated with the growers name), $3.50. Id heard a rumor that Lucy Gore sometimes manned the soup station here. In my opinion, this little cup of goodness displayed the rounded flavors, intensity, and TLC that show her hand on the stock pot.
My main was the special pasta of the day, spaghetti al tonno, $15.50. The thick strips of barely cooked oil-poached tuna had an unctuous, glossy texture melting in the mouth. Bits of braised onion and garlic sweetened the tomato sauce while capers and black olives added salty highlights. The decidedly firm and al dente strands of bouncy spaghetti splattered about ricocheting dots of red all over the table and probably on my face and clothes too. A little piquancy would have made this dish perfect, yet I was still very satisfied and would certainly return.
La Playitas truck, parked on McKinstry just off Soscol near the Wine Train station and entrance to my hotel, had been my favorite tacos in Napa. I had a chance to try the sit-down restaurant for dinner finally.
You order and pay at the counter, then the food is brought to your table. Warm chips and some roasted tomato salsa are complimentary. The shrimp and octopus coctel (campechana de pulpo y camaron), $11, was just okay the octopus was fine but the shrimp were overly firm and a few of them were iodine-y. The tongue soft taco (taco de lengua), $1.50, was just like the truck, served with zingy salsa verde and grilled cebollitos and radishes on the side. While a few other mariscos round out the menu here, I think Ill stick with the meats next time.
Uva Trattoria Italiano
1040 Clinton St.
Tacos La Playita
1851 Old Sonoma Rd.
re: Melanie Wong
re: Jennie Sheeks
re: Melanie Wong
(thanks for the Mocca tip.. I can't wait to try it)
as for the malfatti... we have a family preference for Lawler's (though i have long suspected it is the getting in and out of the parking lot at the depot that sways us most o fhte time). but we usually eat them with a fork in one hand and a hunk of garlic bread in the other (think shovel). it isn't pretty, but it does liven up the flavor. and fresh parm is a must. :)