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Need help with St Helena dinner picks

Well it's been awhile since we have stayed up in the wine country. My SO is having a significant bday and the aunty is watching the kids so we have two nights away in St Helena. I had originally booked Martini House for Saturday night. When I was looking at the online menu to help select another restaurant for Friday, it didn't look as appealing and my so doesn't care for mushrooms. So I'm back to the drawing board. Thanks to a help from a friend, I've selected Go Fish for Friday and looking at either Market or Cook for Saturday. Press is a possibility but don't really want a steak house even a nice one.

Since we are staying in St Helena and will be driving up on Friday and wine tasting on Saturday, I don't want to drive after freshening up back at the inn. So any recommendations for St Helena dining options is appreciated.

I could also use a brunchy lunch spot for Saturday or Sunday too if you have any recs. These don't have to be in St Helena. I haven't researched these yet, so will do so on the board. Thanks for your help.

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  1. My daughter has been raving about Go Fish. She doesn't often rave about anything.

    1. Terra would be my first choice (definitely over market or Cook). I would immediately dismiss Press as overpriced and over-hyped.

      You didn't indicate when all this was happening as Meadowood is getting stellar reviews but their chef is leaving -- I believe at the end of February. Might be a great choice before he heads out.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Carrie 218

        You know our last outstanding meal up in that area was at Terra many moons ago when they still had the Thai salmon on the menu. I was wanting to try something new but maybe we should give it a go. I still think it is a lovely place and I think Meadowood might be a little too fussy for us but I'll take another took at the menu.

        1. re: Cheesy Oysters

          Meadowood isn't fussy, it's classy, elegant, wonderful food. A bit pricey. Eat there by the end of January before their 2-star chef leaves. Here's my report:

          I adore Terra. My favorite overall in Napa Valley. Fantastic wine list, and wonderful
          master sommelier with great people skills. Martini House is wonderful. They do offer other menu items other than the mushroom special menu, don't they?

          I really like Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. Regular burger and the fantastic ground duck burger with shiitake catsup. Short ribs great also. Some recent threads on Cindy's,
          and actually on all these restos. Do a search on this board and read more.

          Nix on Cook, food is only average, and the resto is teeny. I think the food at Go Fish is below average. Sushi OK, but other things are poorly executed. Kind of an upscale Red Lobster. I'm not a fan either of Market (great French fries, though).

      2. I would deffinitely go to Martini House over Market or Cook, although I do like Market for what it is. I've neve rbeen to Terra but its newer big brother in SF (Ame) is awesome.

        1. Terra is great but they close for winter, I believe 1st 2 weeks of Jan. so check. Since you mentioned special occasion, I would second Meadwood. The food is outstanding; well the 2 Michelin stars are well-deserved. Martini House serves more than a mushroom menu and that would be my second choice for you if Terra is in fact closed on your weekend. Market and Cook are both very simple places offering very simple food. Pawlcyn's places are a step up from those. CIA is it's own special animal and the food can be very good, but it too may be closed. Lots of winter breaks around here....

          1. All of those are good choices. To me, a significant bday dinner would be either La Touque, Martini House, Meadowood or Auberge. My wife and I went to Meadowood for Valentines dinner last year (as well as one other time) and both meals were BEYOND. The chef is leaving soon and though the Executive Chef is spectacular (Vincent) I don't know if he will step in for a while or what. La Touque has not been mentioned. My staff calls this the poor man's French Laundry. The food is a little too 'subtle' for my clumsy palate, but it is certainly a wonderful experience. Auberge du Soliel is really doing a remarkable job these days. They went through some really rough years where the food was subpar and their attitude stunk. They still have a bit of attitude, but the food is really good. Martini House also has a bit of attitude, but it is a beautiful spot and ... come to think of it, last time I ate there I had trouble finding something that appealed to me. So, all these places are a bit fussy, but for a significant bday they would be my choice.

            I don't know of anything brunchy in the area. If you want a great experience with no fuss whatsoever, go to Buster's BBQ in Calistoga for one lunch. HOWEVER, even if you like hot stuff, do not go for his hot BBQ sauce. I do 50/50 with the regular and it still makes my hair sweat. Maybe a drive up to Healdsburg and find something on the square. There are plenty of fun wineries on the way and the square is fun too.

            3 Replies
            1. re: StHelenaInnkeeper

              Yeah, I've been reading some good things abour Robert Curry at Auberge de Soliel which has me interested in stopping by. A nice background summary here.

              1. re: StHelenaInnkeeper

                I'm afraid I am a LaToque detractor. Horribly inconsistent food that is too much of a crap shoot for a special occasion.

                1. re: Carrie 218

                  I'm afraid I am Le Toque detractor as well. Everything Carrie says.

              2. Hi chowhounds,
                Thanks to all of you for your help. After much debate, I reserved Meadowood for Friday evening and Go Fish for Saturday. It reallly has been so long that I've been up there, that I still think of Meadowood as kinda cheesy but I realize that restaurants do change.

                Thanks for the sanity check on Martini House, the previous incarnation of the online menu looks really great and not so mushroom focused--I would not mind but SO is not a fan. Since the Meadowood chef is leaving soon, I decided to grab a table.

                Thanks again and I'll report back on both.

                As for Go Fish, sounds like a fun spot and we love oysters so how bad can it be.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                  Well, it's not horrible, but definitely not worth your money. Sorry. Oysters are everywhere.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Well want to suggest another place for Friday since Cook, Market, and Go Fish are out? We like something more casual on Friday and don't want to drive far or at all. We are staying at the Harvest Inn. I was originally looking at Cindy's but didn't here good stuff from a friend. Sounds like you like it and the menu looks good. Yelp reviews look good too. Anything else or should we switch to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen?

                    1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                      Count me as a Cindy's detractor. I lived in the valley for several years and when Cindy's was suggested for lunch/dinner meetings, I always came away unimpressed and disappointed.

                      Have you considered either Pilar or Ubuntu? Those are my two favorites in the valley...

                      1. re: Carrie 218

                        I live nearby and can heartily recommend Cindy's for certain menu items. I haven't had any bad experiences there whatsoever. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/336224

                        I adore Ubuntu but it's a 45-minute drive south from St. Helena, as is Pilar.

                        Rutherford Grill is good, fun, busy, casual. Not "gourmet" gourmet, but solid.
                        5 minutes south of St. H. in Rutherford at 29 and Rutherford Cross Rd. Big palm trees out in front. No corkage. Bring some wine from one of your winery visits. It is a Houston's chain resto, but slightly modified for Napa Valley. Love the burgers, house salad, ahi sashimi salad, enchiladadas platter, ribs...all good.

                        Or Market. Not as casual as Rutherford Grill. More pricey. Don't think the place or the head cook has been on track since Nick Peyton and the chef have been spending so much time at Cyrus. Dining at the wide wooden bar or at the high bar tables is fun. Great mac 'n' cheese, burgers, well-priced prix fixe.

                        Would recommend to the high heavens the miyagi oyster presentation at Terra, if they'll be open by the time of your visit (closed first two weeks of January, I believe.) Good luck. Have a nice visit.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Maria Lorraine, I lived there two years ago and Zare was an up-and-coming then. No one mentions it now and I'm curious what the locals think of it...

                          1. re: Carrie 218

                            Here's the article in the Chron in August that says Zare closed,
                            However, the website is still live.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Thanks, Melanie. I had no idea - how incredibly sad... He has real talent and I hope he finds a place where he can succeed and be appreciated.

                2. Well we ended up going to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen and Martini House. Food was well prepared at both spots but and we didn't really care for most of the dishes.

                  On Friday we went to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. A couple of the appetizers that looked good off the online menu had been replaced for the winter months. I guess I could have checked the menu as we walked in but I really thought we would find something that we liked. Now my SO is a little fussy so I was somewhat limited in what I was going to order since we usually end up sharing. We started with oysters baked or broiled with spinach, garlic, and some type of cheese. We both loved these and they were our favorite part of the meal--actually both meals. We also ordered a Caesar salad. It was very good but had a tad too much cheese added into the dressing or it seemed as if it was added into the dressing. Since I was limited on my entrees and ruled out the duck tostada and the flatbread with mushrooms, garlic, and Manchengo; I opted to go with the crab stuff peppers in some type of light red sauce off the appetizer menu. My partner ordered the chicken with avacado salsa. It was served with a chili stuffed with Jack cheese and sauted kale. The chicken was nicely spiced. The amount of chicken was enormous and could have used some type of sauce. I ended up dipping it into the sauce that came with the crab stuffed pepper.

                  There seemed to be two directions to the menu. Meat based comort food such as meat loaf and the special of the day which was brisket, sausage, and sour kraut. The other direction was Latin inspired dishes. It was hard to get much of the crab flavor with the peppers unfortunately.

                  Service was quite good although I was without a knife for a period of time and had to track one down. We both started off with a tasty lemon drop and each got a glass of wine with dinner. SO finished off with coffee and she said it was very good. There was a tempting pineapple upside down cake with pecans and carmel, but we had champagne and a decadent choclate cake waiting for us back at our room thanks to my sister-in-laws connections with the place we stayed.

                  The next night was Martini House. Well we both felt like mushrooms were very dominant in the tasting and alcarte menu, something we debated about before. We ended up ordering one regular tasting menu with the wine pairing and an appetizer and entree. We started off with martinis--seemed quite fitting. No sooner had our drinks arrived, well maybe a couple minutes and the courses started arriving. We were both taken back and were a little overwhelmed with the number of servers moving back and forth. Oh yes, we did have an amuse bouche. It was a tiny morsel of mushroom mousse served in the middle of puff pastry. It was tasty but nothing that exciting. Someone had mentioned that Martini House reminded them of Ratatouille and it sure did. The setting is dark and the numbers of servers was almost comical.

                  Now my salad course looked promising. It was radicchio, goat cheese, pecans, pomegranate seeds, persimmon, in a light dressing. Now my SO started with this one and she was avoiding something brown in the dish. I assumed it was another mushroom but it was actually sauteed radicchio. Both of use would have liked the salad more if they were not included and it was have been nice to have a little more persimmion.

                  The first course off the tasting menu was scallops served raw with a little citrus and perfectly ripe avacado. I thought it was a generous serving and would have been better if it didn't have some type of mushroom resting on the top.

                  The next course off the tasting menu was a fish course. Neither of us enjoyed it that much and I can't remember much about it. My entree was sea bass. I would have ordered the scallops off the ala carte menu but there were the proverbial mushrooms and I avoided them since we were sharing. From my point of view, the best part of the dish was a delicious morsel of stuffed pasta that was served with it.

                  The main course off the tasting menu was short ribs served with a parsnip puree. Now I love short ribs and parspips but I found the combination actually too rich for my taste. I think I would have liked it better if the parsnips were served roasted or some other way. The meat was delicious but super rich.

                  We ordered three cheeses--a double creme, a lovely blue, and a Gruyere inspired cheese from Wisconsin where I grew up and couldn't resist. All three were excellent and were served with walnut sour wheat bread slices. Also included some spiced nuts and fruit. I should mention that the bread and butter served with dinner were excellent. It reminded my of the Acme rolls that we get in the Bay Area.

                  Dessert was a Earl Grey pot de creme. It was served with a carmel sauce or something similiar and candied peanuts and a chocolate cookie. I love pot de creme and it was quite good but I couldn't taste the Earl Grey. Martini House did remember that it was a birthday and added a Happy Birthday banner on the plate.

                  Service was very good and attentive. The wines were quite tasty. I tried the two reds from the tasting menu and thought they were very nice.

                  We did get in some shopping and wine tasting. We didn't want to do a lot of driving, so we went to Merryvale, Peju, and Sequoiah Grove. We ended up with a free tasting at Merryvale thanks to where we stayed. Peju applied the tasting to what we ordered and at Sequoiah, we never charged us for our tasting. I think it was because the person grew up in Oakland and we got to talking about some of his favorite spots.

                  We had a lovely weekend and it was nice to be up in the area again after so many years even if our dining options didn't turn our how we would have liked.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                    Thanks for the update

                    Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
                    1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

                    Martini House
                    1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574