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Best in napa? (other than TFL)

My husband and I are heading to Napa Valley in early December. I have been reading the boards about the various places to eat in Napa. We have recently decided to go no holds barred for our meals. Because of this I have been researching French Laundry. Besides probably not being able to get a reservation, I am not entirely convinced that we will be satisfied with spending that kind of money. That being said we are looking for the "other" best Napa restaurants. We are staying right in Napa, and will probably cab it places for our dinners, so that is a factor. This is what I have so far...

We have 4 nights....

Coles (I am running my first marathon, and always crave steak afterward, we are from Alberta though, so the steak needs to be very good!)
Ad Hoc

We love tasting menus and wine pairings. Any suggestions on which to choose would be very helpful.

Thank you!

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  1. That's a good list. I'd put Terra at the top, followed by Martini House. I had one of the best steaks of my life at Press Restaurant -- the cowboy ribeye. Big and expensive but every bite had so much flavor. Had that with the truffled mac 'n' cheese, and their wonderful spinach.
    The potatoes cooked in duck fat are also good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Looks great, I am going to be pretty exhausted. Is the Press Restaurant pretty close to Napa? I want to save our special meals for when I can really enjoy it, but I still want to enjoy a great steak. I will look into Martini House, it did not wow me with the menu the first time, but I have looked at so many they get muddled together. I am very drawn to the truffled mac & cheese, there is a restaurant up here that does that superbly!

      1. re: maria lorraine

        potatoes in duck fat are the best at Press, I would highly recommend Press (I loved there Lamb pate) We also like Mustards Grill for Lunch. WE always go to Napa in December, not a lot of crowds and you can get in to most restaurants besides Frendch Laundry.

      2. For super fabulous I'd suggest you also look at Meadowood Restaurant on the Silverado Trail. They garnered 2 Michelin stars. TFL has 3 and many of your own choices earned 1.
        But you really can't go too wrong. Off nights ahppen but these are all solid choices,
        Bon Appetite!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Madge

          Are reservations hard to get at these places for that time of year (mid week, early December), Do I need to book ahead? Or can I wait until I get there?

          1. re: cleopatra999

            You definitly want to book ahead no matter what time of year it is in Napa valley

        2. My top five in Napa - in order:


          1. Here's where I gotta disagree with maria lorraine - just IMO - and of course it's up to you - skip Terra (boring, again IMO) and Ad Hoc, (unless you go on Osso Bucco night which is widely known to be the best menu offering). Bouchon is hit or miss. Sometimes the service is right on, sometimes irritatingly indifferent or even downright rude. Martini House is good, I love Cole's and if I was visiting Napa I would put Cole's on my definite list (and no I don't work there), Angele is very good. Redd has to be my favorite on your list. If you can get on the wait list for the FL you might get lucky - the FL is actually worth every dollar you spend. Madge suggested Meadowood that that's an excellent suggestion. For lots of good food and fun, Bistro Don Giovanni - but noisy and crowded - just a heads-up. Good luck in the Marathon!

            5 Replies
            1. re: hi standards

              There's room for diversity of opinion, hi standards.

              I love Terra because I've been many times, and the execution and flavor of the dishes is exquisite, and has been each time. I'm sorry you haven't had the experience I've had.
              Here's Terra's menu:

              Bouchon is great, but sit at the bar to avoid service issues and a slightly noisy dining room. I LOVE it at the bar.

              Press Restaurant is a steak restaurant in St. Helena, not the city of Napa. I really like the Kobe burgers there too.
              Take a look at the Press Restaurant menu here...scroll down to the steaks...

              Ad Hoc has received both raves and some minor misses, and it seems like it was a terrible experience for hi standards, who in her own post about Ad Hoc revealed some quite specific food sensitivities that makes a prix fixe menu not the best choice for her.

              Don't overlook Boonfly in Napa -- good mac 'n' cheese (not truffled, though), onion rings, burgers...again, I like sitting at the bar.

              Search this board using each of the restaurant names and also the towns in Napa
              Valley: Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena, etc.

              And, yes, good luck on the marathon!

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Totally agree to disagree maria lorraine. You are correct, there is major room for a range of opinions when it comes to food and politics!

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Dito on this post, if you are looking for good steak then I highly recommend Press in St. Helena.
                  And if you like tasting menus then I also recommend Ad Hoc. Im a pretty picky eater (no red meat) so I dont usually like prix fix menus, but Ad Hoc is outstanding and when I ate there, they were very accomodating.
                  My last suggestion is Martini House in St. Helena, Im pretty sure it was mentioned previously but not elaborated on too much. The setting is very cozy and romantic (great for these chilly winter nights) and the food is very inventive. I think you will love it!

                  1. re: fyoulady

                    How can you recommend Press for good steak if you don't eat red meat?

                    1. re: Husky

                      Its my bf's favorite, we go there all the time

              2. Cole's is a great choice for steak. I've been there several times and received excellent food and service every time.

                5 Replies
                1. re: baseballfan

                  It is amazing how overwhelming this is! Up here I think I could list off the same top 5 restaurants as every other foodie in this city! Far too many to choose from and not enough time.
                  This is what I am now leaning towards.....
                  Coles for my after marathon steak
                  meadowood for our 'treat night'
                  Thanks for all the help and well wishing...
                  Oh yah, and I am on the wait list for FL, we will see if we get a table and decide from there. The owners of our favorite restaurant up here are recommending we do it if we can!

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    Just a reminder to make reservations every where that you can. Two weeks ago, a group of 6 of us were in Napa overnight on a Tuesday and had trouble getting times that we liked. We went to Cole's with a 7:30 res. which was fine with me but displeased some in our group who prefer to dine earlier. When we arrived the place was packed although our table was ready and waiting.

                    1. re: baseballfan

                      Any reviews on COOK in napa? I am thinking about dinner there with 3 couples around new years eve (going to Farm on NYE?. Thoughts?

                      1. re: EmilyCorson

                        Cook in St. Helena is very good. Its a small(I mean VERY small), local favorite on Main Street, so you definitly want to get reservations (especially for a party of 6) because this place is always packed. I found this review in the SF Cronicle that might be helpful (pictures too):

                        1. re: fyoulady

                          It's a local hangout and the food is, uh, serviceable. Nothing at all special. Passable fried calamari and eggplant parmesan. Like fyoulady said, it is VERY SMALL, and the only tables that can house 6 people are squeezed into the back near the kitchen doors, and gosh, it's not very comfortable and even a bit claustrophobic (and I'm not claustrophobic) to sit there. Be advised.

                2. No idea if its in the same class of these restaurants but a visit to Napa would be incomplete without a trip to Mustard's Grill

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    certainly do second your thoughts on Mustard's .

                    1. re: pinotho

                      Mustards is an institution and always comes thru - even if you end up just with apps at the bar.

                      1. re: nancyhudson

                        We dined at Mustards Monday night, and it was a disaster.

                        And I love Cindy Pawlcyn and have loved Mustards in the past.

                        Lumpy mashed potatoes, things just thrown together on the plate, chipotle quail that had no taste of chipotle, a dried cherry-Pedro Ximenez sherry sauce made without dried cherries or any flavor of the sherry -- the cherries were just a garnish on the plate. Terrible Vietnamese "spring rolls" (really lettuce wraps) that were impossible to eat either as rolls or with knife and fork. Good flavor in the dipping sauce, though. Mongolian pork chop (their signature dish) just so-so in flavor, not enough to really be different or even special, slightly dry. Roasted root vegetables that were terribly undercooked -- the onions, for example, were still raw and crunchy -- and these were strong pungent winter onions. Not pearl onions, and nowhere near sweet or caramelized. Terrible.

                        This was careless, sloppy cooking with complete indifference to details. Who was checking things in the kitchen? Lumpy mashed potatoes? Completely undercooked root vegetables, still hard? Chipotle quail with no chipotle?

                        Sorry to post such a miserable report, but there were so many things wrong with the meal, and neither of us are terribly picky.

                        Find someplace else to dine. Much better food elsewhere for the same cost.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Did you complain while you were there?

                          1. re: Carrie 218

                            We did mention a couple of things, like the raw onions and root vegetables. To have mentioned all of the MANY things that went wrong seemed an inapproriate burden to impose upon our server, and something better directed to management. Perhaps a letter to Cindy is the appropriate course of action; I haven't decided yet. Your thoughts, Carrie?

                          2. re: maria lorraine

                            ICAM! The last time I ate there, (May), my fish was not only served inappropriately raw, it was utterly frozen inside! Stone cold frozen! I sent it back twice and the result was a hard microwaved outside and a still frozen inside. My husband's meal was almost as bad. Yuck. I will never, never, never go again!

                    2. Last Saturday my wife & I ate at Ubuntu in downtown Napa. My wife is a vegetarian & Ubuntu is a vegetarian restaurant. Michael Bauer had reviewed it in the previous Sunday's Chronicle, giving it 3 1/2 stars. I usually don't put much stock in MB's reviews, but since Ubuntu is totally vegetarian, & there are so few really good ones around, I thought we'd give it a try. For once I can find no fault with an MB review - the meal was superb. We started with house cured lucques & picholine olives, marinated in wild fennel & orange - very subtle & addictive & also had glazed cashews. Next was a salad of Star Route lettuces - so fresh & crisp with a honey, vinegar & mortared almond dressing. The dressing was delicous - just a touch of sweetness. Then one of the stars of the evening - matsutake mushrooms & sesame tofu (house made) in a natural broth with white soy & d'avignon radish. Words fail me. The other star was three cauliflowers in a cast iron pot. Roasted, pureed & raw cauliflower topped with little brown butter toasts. Last (& actually least, though by no means unworthy) a sauerkraut & la ratte potato tart with a petite salad w/ Orleans mustard & caraway aioli. It sounds like a lot of food, but these are small plates. Desert was cheesecake in a jar & it was a fitting end to the meal. We left quite satisfied. Oh, the bill, before tip, was about $65. We brought our own wine. They didn't charge corkage. I don't know if this was an oversight, or if they simply don't charge corkage. It didn't occur to me until later, so I couldn't say anything.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: rfneid

                        Going on Sunday and can't wait! Thanks RFNeid!

                        1. re: Carrie 218

                          Please report back. I'll be interested in another's opinion.

                          1. re: rfneid

                            I saw this report and my boyfriend and I decided to go here for dinner last night. We really really enjoyed it. Everything. The setting, the energy, friendly service, and most definitely the food and wine. Thanks for your report!

                            Enjoyed the olives as you did. The orange was prominent, and nice to have fresh olives.
                            Autumn savory fruit salad. (My BF said his favorite of the evening). Shaved persimmon, pomegranate, glazed cashews, asian pear and greens. Well dressed and savory as promised. Very good.

                            Root vegetable with saba dish-- I don't know exactly what was in it but tasty.

                            Mushroom pizza - generous mushrooms and cheese, a nice complement to the root vegetable dish.

                            With these, we had a half bottle of the York Creek Cabernet. We had never had it but we are going to go check this winery out one day. Excellent.

                            Dessert--- I had to try the cheesecake, so we had 2 desserts!
                            Medjood date spice cake with caramel sauce, apples, and ice cream. Excellent. Not too spicy which I appreciate. Moist, and the caramel sauce- yum.

                            Also loved the cheesecake. Very unique.

                            Great evening. We want to go back and eat at the communal table. There were no open tables but a few there last night.

                      2. Whatever happened to the restaurant at CHANDON?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jimtak

                          It's changed hands and chefs a whole bunch of times. I haven't heard much about it in a couple years. When we first moved to Napa, Chandon was almost the only game in town - along with Foothill Cafe (owner sold last year) and La Boucane (owner retired and I think the place is an office now).