HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


unpretentious wine country?

My boyfriend and I will be in Calistoga in two weeks and will want to dine out one night in Calistoga, St. Helena, or perhaps Yountville. (Napa is probably too far.) We'd love good fish and vegetarian options. Are there any restaurants in that area that don't have super fancy food? We're not concerned about the price, but we'd love a menu that isn't all the usual foie gras, goat cheese salad, stewed rabbit, eggplant napolean, etc. etc. I love Chez Panisse and Delfina in the Bay Area, and Quartino in NYC ... is there anything along these lines in the wine country? Simple preparations, lots of fresh veggies and fish, creative but not over the top? It's our one-year anniversary, so romantic and quiet would be a plus. Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. We love Bistro Don Giovanni. It's in Napa but easy to get to because it's right on Highway 29. We go to this restaurant every time we go to the Napa Valley. It's the perfect blend of great food but hearty and down-to-earth (my husband calls it not too "foo-foo"). Everything is delicious. . this is a local's favorite.

    We like to dine outdoors or on the back patio by the fireplace.


    1. I'd recommend Cindy's Backstreet in St. Helena. Great food in a very relaxed setting. It's become one of my faves in the Valley. Lots of others have commented on it recently ,so you can probably find more detail with a quick search of the board. Enjoy!

      1. Wappo in Calistoga. You can take a look at the menu online and see if it is too froofy for you! http://www.wappobar.com/

        1 Reply
        1. re: bluestgirl

          I've always enjoyed Wappo when I've gone. The food is not always the main attraction for me, but the space is very cozy and inviting and I always leave wanting to return.

        2. Bouchon is a great choice. Classic french bistro, but not stuffy, at least once you get by the front door. Roast chicken is great, as are fairly straightforward fish selections. Call now for reservations, but it will still probably be a squeeze. Its a great way to eat Thomas Keller's food without the whole FL experience.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chris Rising

            I wish Keller would pay more attention to Bouchon. The inconsistency in food and service here makes it a disappointment to anyone who is expecting his touch.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Amen to that! The prices are high at Bouchon..and not worth it.. in my opinion.

          2. Right down the street from Bouchon is Bistro Jeanty, another great French bistro. Also in Yountville is the new Redd restaurant. It's gotten some good reviews on this board. It would be more upscale than either Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty.

            Martini House in St. Helena is good with quiet casual dining in the downstairs area.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rtmonty

              Unfortunately, Bistro Jeanty, which I love, doesn't offer many veg options...two salads, a pasta and some side dishes. Call to make sure.

            2. Good recommendations. Another thought is Market in St. Helena. The food is "American Classics," not stuffy and the dining room is dramatic.


              1. What's the current word on P. J.'s Steak in Yountville? I had dessert at the bar last week and liked the casual atmospher and great bartender. The couple next to me had a smoked salmon salad, papardelle with lamb sugo, and a burger that all looked and smelled great. The food seems to be a mix of American steakhouse/comfort food with some Gallic touches. I noticed that the vegetable side dishes that I'd liked so much when it was Pere Jeanty are still on the menu.

                P. J.'s Steak dessert -

                1. Bouchon is one of my favorite restaurants in the country, but if you want to go you do need to make a reservation now. You can also try to walk in--lots of people make reservations and don't call to cancel if they can't make it. I've read some mixed Chowhound reviews lately, but there have been some very recent changes in the kitchen at Bouchon and the food coming out of the kitchen has been impressive. It is one of two restaurants in this country where I have ordered simple roasted chicken and been overwhelmingly impressed with how it was perfectly prepared without being so "froufroued" up that I didn't recognize it as chicken. Also, the profiteroles are delish for dessert.

                  But I second the recommendation for Market in St. Helena, which is fancy enough to feel special, without unrecognizably fancy food. My boyfriend and I went there for our first date, and often go when we have family in town, or for special occasions when he doesn't want to go to Bouchon "again."

                  1. Thanks for the suggestions -- everything looks good, but pretty heavy. What are people's favorites for lighter fare? Casual and non-froofy seems to equal comfort food in the wine country. And I'm surprised at how meat-centric the menus are, given that we're in California ....

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sydneybrie

                      I felt the same thing, meat-wise, when I first moved here last year. Seems that organic/free range/local meat is seen in a much better light than imported seafood. Also issues with mercury et al.

                    2. Some alt and some confirmations of whats been noted. I live here, and have seen some places get better over time, some worse. Just FYI, the distance between Yountville and Napa proper is 10 minutes..not so far out of the way.

                      In St Helena: Market is great for lunch...and dinner. nice, casual comfort food, not too expensive.

                      Cindys Backstreet - as already noted, good food as a rule..some things falter a bit, but its a charming "gentrified country" setting.

                      Martini House - used to be one of my favs...one of the best meals ive had in years a few years back, but the last two visits have left me wanting...service was very amateurish, and once great wine service (everything was decanted) now gone. Great place for a drink downstairs though.

                      Press: Rudds newish american steakhouse via napa valley upscale casual..sort of the wine country version of Delfina is Delfina served american...and was a "bit" more elegant. Great early evening at the bar.

                      Down valley a bit, not a huge selection - though i really like the outside bar at Auberge du Soleil a lot...great views, good food, casual but really nice.

                      I would highly suggest Greystone at the CIA - ive had really outstanding food there and very unpretencious and they have a lot of lighter things.

                      If you care to venture to Napa proper, theres a lot going on here that fits your needs - Zinsvalley, NV, Uva, Angele, Celedon and Pilar come to mind - Id also highly suggest the breakfast/brunch at Carneros Inn Boonefly Cafe - very good, cheap and nice urban vibe should you venture over to the highway to Carneros etc...its right there. Their donuts are to die for.

                      In any event, enjoy your time here -- but yeah, as a rule, its sort of heavier, meat centric as a rule...though everywhere will pretty much have at least one fish and vegi option.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: naparover

                        The founding chef from Press recently left --- how has that affected the cuisine?

                      2. My husband and I ate at Brennan's Grill in downtown Calistoga yesterday and it was good and not too "foo-foo". We went for lunch and my husband had the hangar steak. It tasted like tri-tip with a nice sauce and good flavor. It came with half of a twice baked potato and fresh veggies. I had chicken picatta that had a great flavor. It came with a fresh green salad.

                        We also had dessert. I chose the Triple chocolate cake and was surprised that it was good amazingly light without being overpowering. My husband had the creme brulee which was excellent and a generous portion as well.

                        They did have a good selection of appetizers that would make a light meal including calamari that smelled delicious. They also have sampling flights of wine that you can purchase.

                        The atmosphere was nice. . .lots of wood and a great bar.


                        1. I think most places up here are pretty casual, save The Obvious Ones in Yountville. I much prefer Jeanty to Bouchoun, although the thought of that menu in this heat doesn't inspire.

                          My first choice would be Pilar. It's a little expensive but it's intimate and you eat what the chefs dream up. it's not corporate cooking.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Earl Grey

                            Pilar looks great -- thanks for the suggestion.

                          2. What about Soo Yuan in Calistoga? Asian/Pacific menu....gotta be light fare. This goes without saying..a veg search of Calistoga might prove fruitful!