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Jan 31, 2008 02:52 PM

Napa - Oxbow Public Market is ready and it is stunning

What a difference a week makes.

The only businesses that are still pending are Ritual Coffee Roasters, Kanaloa seafood market, Taylor’s and Rôtisario. The last was scheduled to open this week but the blackboard with menu items said next week.

What surprised me is that not everything is in the main building. Fatted Calf, Model Bakery and Taylor’s are in separate buildings on the side. Taylor’s does look like it will be ready soon after all.

At the door of the Oxbow Market (and on the website) is a schedule of when the remaining businesses will open. The fish market won’t open until April. Ritual won't open until May. You can get a cup of Pete's Coffee though at Model Bakery.

With everyone open and even on this cold rainy day … lots of people … this is a totally different place.

There are lots of tables where there were empty spaces. Even Pica Pica had quite the crowd.

The wine and cheese merchants are WONDERFUL !!! … !!!

This is such an intelligently thought out market after all. It will be amazing once the produce vendors show up regularly.

My house is almost the same distance from Ferry Plaza and Oxbow … let’s see what I should choose … in the next link

Oxbow Public Market
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

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    $4 to SF, $4 to Napa
    Least Expensive gas in the Bay Area to fill my tank in Vallejo
    Most expensive gas in the Bay Area to fill my tank in SF


    Ferry Plaza – Pay a bundle to park, or lug groceries to garage further out. Drag myself there early Saturday morning or brave the teaming masses yearning for food later in the day. Trip over tourists. On rainy days juggle umbrella and produce bags. Fight for the few seats in the crowded restaurants. Going to Ferry Plaza is a planned event …no casually dropping by.

    Oxbow – Free parking right by the market. Easily load that flat of strawberries or such in my car without needing to visit a chiropractor afterward. Go any darn day I want at a civilized hour. Sip wine and nibble on cheese and such at the spacious wine and cheese shop with the large windows overlooking the beautiful wetlands. In better weather, sit on the outdoor patio. If all I want is a loaf of bread or a bit of pate from Fatted Calf … or a tomato from a produce vendor … I’m in and out in less than 5 minutes. Tourists … most probably … but they are spread out over the week and not jammed into an intense morning of shopping


    Ferry Plaza: No matter where I go in SF, there is traffic and parking to deal with. In an earthquake one of those big buildings might fall on me.

    Napa: Maybe drop by a winery or two. During the summer drop by at one of the little farm stands that sell strawberries and such. During an earthquake I fall to the mustard-covered vineyard ground and am knocked in the nose by a grape. If I need something Oxbow doesn’t have … there is the new Napa Whole Foods up the road with a Trader Joe’s next door.

    On the way home I do my bargain basement shopping at the new Grocery Outlet in Vallejo or the superstore in Napa whose name one dares not mention but it begins with a “W”.

    Stop by my favorite paleteria in Vallejo.

    What oh what should I choose?

    Of course if I was stuck … uh, still living in SF, Ferry Plaza would have to do. It is nice to have the choice due to my location. I never would have ever guessed I’d leave my heart in … Napa.

    3 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Nice post rworange, thanks for all the good info. I hope to check it out next Sat.

      2. re: rworange

        Overlooking beautiful wetlands? Really? I saw ugly construction and a bit of grey river.

      3. The original comment has been removed
        1. Okbow is no Ferry Plaza Marketplace. Its small and quite boring. I am glad its there but you can walk through it in 5 minutes. The establishments have very limited seating and the Salumi platter at Michael Mondavi's place was a rip-off. Not a destination spot at all. A Saturday morning at Ferry Plaza....despite the high produce prices... is something that you will never experience in Napa. Go to the farms or a co-op if you really want great produce at great prices. These markets are becoming a little too Rodeo Drive for many amateurs.

          3 Replies
          1. re: SFguy

            Have you been this week to Oxbow?

            I had a totally different tune last week about the place. As it gets up and running, I'll take bets it will leave Ferry Plaza in the dust.

            The thing is that Oxbow has the right perspective. It is for locals who want to shop. It doesn't have the tourist focus that Ferry Plaza has. If a few of my favoirite vendors from Ferry Plaza would only show up at Oxbow, I'd be estatic.

            It has some of the feel of the Ferry Plaza market when it was located on Green Street ... AND IT HAS PARKING ... NEAR THE PRODUCE VENDORS !!!

            Oxbow meets my shopping needs, not my specialty needs. It is where I want to go every week and not make a special event out of going.

            Anyway, anyone who hasn't been since most of the shops opened, take another look.

            1. re: rworange

              I was at Oxbow on Saturday (1/26). Don't get me wrong its a great addition to the Napa scene. But you are comparing apples and oranges (no pun intended). Ferry Building is in the middle of an area where you never have to drive to and you can eat at the Slanted Door or hang at the bar. I never felt any comfort at Oxbow, grant it its not quite done. But they are very different places, as they should be. As for locals that want to shop local, hmmm.. a Venezuelan sandwhich shop, a chinese tea purveyor, a wine shop from San Francisco, not very local.

              1. re: SFguy

                And you made my point exactly about Ferry Plaza. I don't see you mentioning a thing about produce ... and that is what I meant about local.

                When Ferry Plaza was on Green Street, the point of the market was for people who lived in SF to buy exceptional produce ... not hang out and eat upscale food.

                So Oxbow is aimed at the people living in the Napa area rather than being set up for the tourist trade. There's some of that, of course, but it is a place to buy top-quality groceries ... seven days a week.

                The produce isn't there yet ... and also it is the dead of winter and rainy season ... so no farmers market is too stellar recently.However, once they get the promised produce vendors in, it will be a complete shopping experience.

                For now I can get my Queztal, Riverdog, Far West Fungi, etc at Whole Foods Napa.

                And when the produce comes to Oxbow, I can easily get it to my car.

                It just seems like it will meet my mundane weekly grocery shopping needs better than Ferry Plaza.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. I think it's obvious that Napa wants to grab some of the tourists that pass by the town, heading up valley. That's why Copia is there, that's why those silly trolleys take people into the city of Napa to taste wine in shops that are nicely restored but still are nothing I'd go out of my way to see if I were a tourist. I don't think it is "aimed at the people living in the Napa area," though if they benefit, that's great. So far, I get a whiff of desperation from the place.

              1. re: Glencora

                Yep, I would have agreed with you last week, but today I saw the possibilities. I probably posted some of the same sentiments recently.

                Copia, though, does need to kick it up a notch. AFAIK, it serves no one. The stingy information they give out seems to me, aimed at the wine and food neophyte.

                Despite free Jan/Feb admittance ... despite dropping the regular admission ... walking in there makes you feel they are just out to pick your pocket. There is one stale permanent exhibit with some of the interactive kiosks broken. There are one or two changing exhibits that are just too high level to be interesting. However, you can always take one of their courses for $50+ bucks. Based on the main exhibits, I have no confidence that any of those courses would be worth either my time or money.

                I'd rather take a course at Whole Foods Napa which demonstrates through its intelligent selection of food and wine it sells that it understands my tastes and needs. Whole Foods doesn't talk down to me and I'll throw my money at them.

                For someone with a low level of food and wine savy, anything at one of the big wineries down the road is far more informative.

                What is sad is that it is free Jan and Feb and still empty.

                The 'film' is nothing more than a thinly veiled commercial. If you are a tourist and arrive in Napa without ever hearing about the restaurants and wineries mentioned ... well, you are truly clueless and this last minute help isn't going to do much good. Do I really need to watch someone eat a slice of salami?

                Copia should be doing something to attract the food and wine-savy locals.

                All I kept thinking was that Copia is something that would be a showcase somewhere in the center of the country in the suburbs where there are mainly chain restaurants and only supermarket wines.

                I admire the concept of what Copia was supposed to be and it is something I would be willing to throw my bucks at ... However, I want something in return for my money ... not infomercials ... and exhibits that assume I'm a country bumpkin.

                That was why I did a post inquiring what was good about Copia. I thought I might be missing something.

                I do like that melting pot exhibit ... though they screwed up my own nationality. I was surprised to see Polish people represented since we don't have a big presence in California. Then I could not believe that traditional Christmas Eve dishes included meat ... MEAT. No, no, no, no, no. Poland is or was 80 percent Catholic. Just like Italy's dinner with fishes on Christmas Eve, the majority of Poles would be appalled to see meat on the menu.

                Even today ... long after the Catholic Church dropped Christmas eve restrictions on meat ... I rarely eat it on Christmas Eve. Though I realize that this was just one person's experience who was part Romanian and Czech, IIRC, it should not have been presented as Polish tradition. Then again, she was probably the only Pole they could find in California.

                1. re: Glencora

                  Agree with you Glencora. I definitely got the impression that this was a tourist destination, not geared specifically for the locals. I was finished with the place within 10 minutes. However, I'm looking forward to visiting in the spring to see if there is a difference. I'm optimistic, but my impression so far, is not good.

                  1. re: vnchile

                    I'm not that familiar with the food shopping in Napa.

                    Where do you go for groceries? Until Whole Foods opened, the only market I found worth shopping at was Sonoma Market. Since the cheesemaker's daughter closed, I haven't found a cheese shop that cares for its cheese and is knowledgable. Vella cheese is a favorite of mine, but it is limited. Good markets? That one that starts with a V was fine if local and desparate.

                    To me, a joint like Dean and DeLucca is all about tourists and little about locals. So what at I missing?

                    What are the meat shops in the area the same as or better than Fatted Calf or Five Dot? Other bakeries for bread other than Model? (I hate that place in Sonoma). I never made it to that one fish shop in Napa, anything else? What's a great store for spices, teas, olive oils and coffee? Great ice cream shops? I like Annette's, but more for the toppings rather than the ice cream ... well ... wine ... I'm lost there. My choices go back to Sonoma with Sonoma Market and that place on the square near the bakery.

                    I'd appreciate the recs. I'll be in the Napa/Sonoma area this year and would like to check out shops of better quality than what is available at Oxbow. Is there some street where all these businesses are grouped together?

                    I might have missed something, becuase as you can see from my choices when I was in Wine Country, I liked what Sonoma had to offer a lot and really didn't like Napa at all or see the point to it. But I might have hit the wrong parts of town.

                    I'm not a Trader Joe's fan. Where DO people buy produce in the area. As much as I like Sonoma Market, that isn't their strength. It seems the farmers markets close down in winter.

                    Are you locals hiding the good stuff?

                    1. re: rworange

                      We went to both Oxbow and Copia today in the wind and pouring rain. Man, what a miserable day it was.

                      It didn't seem all that crowded to me, but I'm using the Ferry Plaza as my yardstick. The vendors all agreed that they were slammed. (Kind of made me laugh. Didn't have to stand in line for anything and it wasn't shoulder to shoulder. They don't know how good they have it!)

                      Oh, I take it back about not standing in line -- the Three Twins ice cream shop was giving away free cones today to celebrate the founders' birthday. The line wound around the end of the building. Despite the cold, wet weather, people were waiting in line for ice cream. Their flavors were appealing (cardamom!), but the idea of eating it chilled me to the bone.

                      I found that the sales people at the Olive Press focused a little too much on the hard sell, although maybe they were just really enthusiastic. The selection of samples was nice -- there were probably 10 or 12 oils to try.

                      The clerks at the Cheese Merchant were extremely helpful and friendly and willing to hand out samples. We tried several blues, all of them delicious. They have a nice selection, but it seemed just a tad pricey.

                      The Whole Spice Company had an excellent selection of high-quality herbs and spices, and the prices are very reasonable. The bulk spices aren't self-serve, though, so it took some time to buy an ounce of 5-6 different things. The clerk was friendly, though, so it was okay. On a really busy day, I can see how it would be impossible to shop there.

                      The meat at Five Dot Ranch looked superb and was very reasonably priced. We didn't end up buying any (partly because we couldn't decide), but I'm sure any of it would have been wonderful. I was really tempted by their corned beef. (Next time....)

                      We ate lunch at Pica Pica. I had the grilled cheese and the gf had an arepa with ham, poached egg and, um, other things I forget. We both enjoyed our lunches. (I was a little annoyed at having to pay $.50 for a tiny container of salsa, though.)

                      We headed out into the rain to visit Model Bakery, but actually couldn't find it. There was a big "NO! NOT OPEN" sign in front of Taylor's (I'm paraphrasing), so we walked to the side of the building and never did see Model. By this time, we were soaked, so we gave up and ran back to the car.

                      Like the wimps we are, we then drove across the parking lot to Copia. Man, I tell you, I sure am glad we didn't have to pay admission, because I would have been extremely disappointed if we had. There is no 'there' there, as others have said. I was really bummed; I've been looking forward to going since it opened. During nicer weather, I'm sure we would have enjoyed strolling through the gardens. But since that wasn't an option today, all we got were the slim pickings inside. The photography exhibit (focused on wines from all 50 states) is a joke. The shots are no better than anything you'd find in a glossy tourist bureau guide. The gift shop has an incredible collection of cookbooks, though, so we dried out while browsing through them.

                      Then it was back into the rain for the drive home.

                      I liked Oxbow. It's a little sparse right now. (Oh, did I mention no produce vendors today?! What's with that? That's the entire reason we went!) But once they get settled in and all the vendors are up and running, I think it will be a nice place to visit. Not necessarily a destination in itself, but a nice addition to the area.

                      1. re: mudster

                        Model and Fatted Calf share the west side of the building behind Taylor's. I bought a "grab and go bag" with 3 chocolate croissants and
                        a bear claw-like thing for $2. Today warmed one of the chocolates left,
                        ate some on the ride home, 350 til crisped. Delicious, 2 to go. Their sour rye is also good.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          Ah, thanks. Their signage is confusing, then, because the sign for Model and Fatted Calf are on the side of the Taylor's building.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            Is the "grab and go bag" just a euphemism for day-old goods clearance? Not that I have anything against day-old baked goods, but it would seems a bit déclassé for a place with Oxbow's pretentions.

                            1. re: Xiao Yang

                              Yep, as mentioned in the post that was specifically about Model Bakery and what they offered.. They also sell day old sandwiches for half off. Same policy, from my understanding, as the original bakery. That grab and go bag really is the deal. It's not just 50 percent of but as wolfe said about 5 of the baked goods.

                              Who said you can't do wine country on $10 a day.

                          2. re: mudster

                            The produce vendors are supposed to be there from 8am - 2pm. I've only ever seen one so far. However, the rain has had an impact on all the farmers markets. I didn't even bother with my local ones because so few vendors showed up last week. I wouldn't expect this week to be better.

                            Five Dot Ranch ... the hot dogs are really killer. I pigged out and had the last of the four I bought for dinner tonight.

                            Copia really needs two or three permanent exhibits similar to the one on the second floor and more traveling exhibits. Then it wouldn't seem so empty.

                            1. re: mudster

                              I would guess that Oxbow's main attraction (in my opinion), being open seven days a week , is also one of its biggest problems when it comes to produce. In general, the most adored farms don't have the resources to commit to a seven day a week presence, especially since they can probably make more money by making the rounds of the once-a-week "hobby" farmers markets. I imagine that it will be even more dominated by value-added merchants than the FPFM, given the attractions of a low overhead and a guaranteed well-heeled clientele for non-perishable goods.

                              1. re: Xiao Yang

                                That's just the thing about Oxbow which people who went before most of the businesses opened (even last Sunday) miss. There's not a lot of that value-added specialty stuff. Unless tourists are bringing their hibachi's, how many of them are going to being buying beef, fish, fresh mozzarella and fresh sausages ... and produce when it shows ... I don't see how this is there to suck in tourists only.

                                There was a comment about the cheese shop being pricy but it seems the same price-wise as any Cowgirl Creamery shop. I bought three pieces of amazing cheese for under $10 total. Whole Foods Napa is more expensive and there's not the same knowledge or care as the Cheese Merchant.

                                Even the olive oil joint which could cater to tourists lets you bring your own bottle to fill up with any of their dozen oils. Do you really think tourists are going to be loading up on Chinese tea? I'll bet that even Imperial Tea at FP isn't what tourists are flocking to for food gifts to take home.

                                At this point, unlike Ferry Plaza, it isn't a place I'd say tourists must stop. I would hope locals give it a chance because it seems to me a great food shopping option for that area.

                                The produce vendors are on the website and are not the usual farmers market suspects. I truly can't guess if the produce vendors being there seven days a week will actually work though. Then again, little over a week ago, like many people, I didn't think Oxbow would work.

                                Like I said, the town of Napa is (was) pretty shabby market-wise. I have yet to hear a response on where there are similar food shops in that area. The closest is Sonoma Market. For years people have been complaining on the board about the limited options in this area. But as I said, maybe I am unaware of other places. What I saw in the past in the area wasn't that impressive, spread out, or geared to the tourists like Oakville Grocery or Dean and DeLucca.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I don't see it as an attraction for tourists, who will be headed straight for the wineries, or even the gastro-tourists, since the FB already has the limelight. It more likely will serve local foodie yuppies (fuppies?); if they can afford to shop at WF they can probably afford to shop at Oxbow.

                                  The seven-day-a-week thing could be a blessing in disguise, because it might open up slots for deserving local farms that heretofore have been bumped by "designer label" produce growers (a.k.a. "the curse of Alice Waters"). They may now be able to diplay their talents in a bushel instead of hiding them under one, so to speak.

                                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                                    I must have missed your report on Oxbow, Gary. Are your strong opinions based on actual experiences with the vendors and products, or are you just indulging in another round of armchair chowhound? Perhaps you've developed a rare psychic ability to taste food remotely...

                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      I haven't said anything about the food or how it tastes; in fact, according to the accounts almost no produce has even shown up to taste yet. I was speculating on how the available produce vendor slots might be filled with growers willing to commit to showing up seven days a week. I was also speculating on who the likely customers would be and no, I haven't mounted any market research surveys yet, either.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    As a Cheese Board regular, I'm always shocked by the prices at Cowgirl Creamery, though that's somewhat offset by some great cheeses nobody else sells.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Yeah, but Whole Foods charges more than both of them combined. I actually paid over $30 a pound for one cheese (didn't buy a pound).

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        I paid $26/lb for a Tomme de Chevre that was 25% wastage (rind and mold) at the FPFM directly to the producer.

                              2. re: rworange

                                I’m trying to hold off on judging Oxbow, hoping it makes sense to me when it all shakes out. But I can’t resist your Napa shopping questions:

                                “Where do you go for groceries?”
                                Brown’s Valley Market – small store, usually good quality produce, meats, and groceries
                                Vallerga’s, occasionally
                                Genova deli on Trancas

                                “What are the meat shops in the area the same as or better than Fatted Calf or Five Dot?”
                                One great thing about Napa is the proximity to folks raising beef, pigs, lamb. We shop for meat from our freezer, and also Brown’s Valley Market (but wouldn’t say it is same or better – different league – BVM butchers are the guys who will handle the venison you shot or smoke a ham for you, but have never heard of a rillette). Goat at the meat market on Jefferson across from Napa High. Seafood at Osprey.

                                “Other bakeries for bread other than Model?”
                                ABC or Bouchon Bakery occasionally. I like Artisan.

                                “What's a great store for spices, teas, olive oils and coffee?”
                                Coffee: Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co.
                                Olive oil: Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory in St. Helena
                                Spices: Berkeley!

                                ”Great ice cream shops?”
                                Eh, I guess Annette’s but Three Twins is my new favorite

                                “Where DO people buy produce in the area.”
                                NV Farmer’s Markets close Nov through April. Riverdog Farm’s great CSA delivers to several Napa locations, and there are the two Fruit Baskets (Arnold Drive south of Sonoma and on 12 in Sonoma) which are great for cheap fennel, overripe bananas, etc. The strawberry stands usually open in April and the one on Silverado Trail just North of Trancas predictably offers lots more than strawberries. Farmer’s Market on Friday mornings in Sonoma goes year-round.

                                “Are you locals hiding the good stuff?”
                                You do have to search. No one-stop shopping other than the new, grotesque-but-tantalizing Whole Foods.

                                1. re: Junie D

                                  Junie D highlights the strengths -- and the weaknesses -- of Napa shopping, especially for those of us on the east side. Since the Silverado Vallergas closed down, there's nothing close to one-stop shopping.

                                  Groceries? Browns Valley Market is nice, but it's way out in the west side, so: Nob Hill, Whole Foods, 99 Ranch (in Richmond!).

                                  Seafood? Osprey is ok, but it's mainly "white people" fish. Whole foods seafood selection is limited, but everything I've tried is very good quality.

                                  Bread besides Model? I'm an Artisan fan too -- Nob Hill sometimes carries these.

                                  Cheese? Until Whole Foods, uh... Berkeley?

                                  Coffee? Certainly not Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co. Went in to buy French Roast years ago, and they gave me some kind of poofy blend. I went back in to exchange it for French Roast, and they said they didn't really make french roast, because the locals don't like it, and when I asked why they called their poofy blend "french roast" they gave me the little cocked-head doggie look and blinked a couple of times...

                                  Produce? My garden.

                                  So what Oxbow brings is the hope of high quality food closer to home. Good cheeses. Five Dot is nice, but it's very limited. Nice that Fatted Calf is offering various uncooked meats in addition to their terrific confits, porchettas, etc. Maybe the seafood place will be ok. Model Bakery: good. But I doubt that Oxbow will ever become a one-stop food source: no full-service butcher; no dairy; no full-time greengrocer.

                        2. Since we were driving past Napa, we stopped at Fatted Calf. Great store. Bizarre location.

                          Took a look around the rest of the place. Though it was 12:30 on a Friday, except for a crowd at Taylor's and a long line at the arepa place, it seemed pretty dead. There were maybe one or two tables occupied in the large wine merchant / cheese merchant restaurant / bar space. I'm not sure Napa's demographics are right for that sort of upscale food mall, seems more like a St. Helena or Yountville sort of operation. But I guess Napa's trying to remake itself in their image.

                          I would have tried an arepa but it looked like it would have taken half an hour to get through the line. Seemed weird that they don't have any pork.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I was at Oxbow on a Saturday afternoon and if it hadn't been for the ten of us, it would have been pretty empty. But actually I was surprised in general by how dead downtown Napa was. I'm not used to being able to find a parking space so easily at lunch time on gorgeous spring Saturday in what I perceive to be a tourist area.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              It's the Napa Valley wine country north of Napa that draws tourists to the area.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Gee, Robert. Thanks for explaining. I had no idea.

                                I've been in downtown Napa when it was a lot busier, but that must have been during the week. I guess I was just surprised that downtown Napa is more like the SF financial district (busy with workers during the week, not so busy on weekends) than downtown Berkeley, downtown Alameda, etc., especially considering the number of restaurants and tasting rooms there are in downtown Napa these days.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Stopped with a friend just before our Friday night res at Ubuntu a few weeks ago. The Wine Merchant was packed.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Bizarre location? In what sense? Where would you have them?

                              1. re: teleme

                                Someplace with more foodies who have lots of disposable income. Napa is pretty working-class and the median income is $50K.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Ah, I see. I thought you meant the particular street (not that's it's particularly wonderful).

                                  Yes, Napa's a difficult place, I think, for high quality food. It does support a couple of decent groceries -- Browns Valley and Vallergas -- but the nice, big new Whole Foods isn't exactly bustling.

                                  And the better restaurants cater mostly to tourists, which means wine-friendly and not too adventuresome. With the exception of some Mexican restaurants, nothing very good as far as "ethnic" or inexpensive restaurants.

                                  But there are a lot of people in the Napa area who do have money and taste, and with the dearth of good duck confit, well it kind of makes sense. ;)