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May 29, 2008 03:34 PM

Please help me narrow down my choices for Sunday Brunch/Lunch in Napa area

Hello. NYC hound here. I've been fortunate enough to get reservations for French Laundry in July. Hooray! Loved Per Se, but we have heard reports that French Laundry is better. We're constantly reminding ourselves to not have too high of expectations as we're planning a weekend trip around this reservation and celebrating DH's 40th. We'll be staying in one of the spas at Calistoga. This is what we have so far:

Fri Lunch -- French Laundry
Fri Dinner -- Ubuntu
Sat Lunch -- La Mixteca
Sat Dinner -- Cyrus (I realize it's about an hour's drive from Calistoga)
Sun Lunch -- ?
Sun Dinner -- Relatives in the Bay area; Leaving on the red-eye back to NYC

All of the reservations have been made. I'm not too concerned about Sun dinner as we'll go wherever DH's grandma wants to go. She's 96 so wherever she can make it is fine by us. But I'm having a bit of an issue with Sun lunch. I've narrowed it down to these choices:

Boon Fly

I was originally thinking about Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty, but I gather I could get that type of food in NYC. So I'm more concerned of eating at a place that's more "Californian" -- or at least more difficult to find in NY. If anybody can present a strong argument for either bistro, I'm willing to consider it. Not the hugest fans of typical brunch food (eg. omelets, pancakes, etc.) unless it's very creative or different from the standard brunch dishes. Eg. To me, Boonfly's green eggs and ham probably would qualify as being a bit more creative but their two eggs with hashed browns, bacon or ham wouldn't. We don't wear sweatsuits or Tevas so I'm not too concerned about dress code. I'm also figuring that Sunday brunch in the Napa valley, even at dressier places, is probably very relaxed. Points for a nice outdoor setting but not necessary. And if anybody has any recs for certain dishes or other restaurants not on the list, I'd appreciate hearing them as well.


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  1. REDD and Boonfly are both excellent choices. Don't bother with Wappo, and Farm is good, but your first two selections are certainly the best. One thing to note - Boonfly does not accept reservations, and you may be forced to wait a long time before getting a table, depending on when you show up. If your day is already pretty structured Sunday I would go with REDD, so you know you won't have to wait. Both are fantastic however.

    1. I'd definitely go with Redd. I haven't been to Farm but Wappo and Boon Fly, in my opinion, are several notches below Redd. I love Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty, as well, but Redd is a notch above both of those, as well. Incidentally, until very recently I lived in Yountville for over 15 years. I don't think I've ever heard of La Mixteca. Where's that?

      1 Reply
      1. re: bobpantzer

        Here's the Chow digest of La Mixteca. Sounds interesting, especially the duro con ensalada de cueritos.

      2. Honestly, I'd do Ubuntu for your Sunday lunch and not for dinner Friday. After a four-hour lunch at the French Laundry you're not going to want to sit through another multicourse meal, which means you won't really have a chance to explore or appreciate what Ubuntu can offer. Plus, Ubuntu is at the far end of the valley from Calistoga, which means a lot of driving, especially if you want to go back to your hotel after lunch. My inclination would be to see how you feel a couple of hours after your TFL lunch and if you feel like going out again, hit the wine cellar bar at Martini House for a late dinner.

        If you have lunch at Ubuntu you can walk over to Oxbow Public Market and pick up some goodies for your trip home.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Yeah ... what Ruth said.

          On your Sunday lunch suggestions, the only place I've been is Boon Fly which I liked a lot ... but still ... more of a locals breakfast rec rather than a visitor with limed meal selections.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Agree with Ruth 100%. If you don't move Ubuntu now, you'll end up canceling the reservation Fri night when you're in a food coma, and you just have to try Ubuntu.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Listen to Ruth. You eat lunch at FL and you ain't gonna wanna eat nothing else for the rest of the day. Seriously. Okay, maybe some light fruit in your room that evening, but I doubt it.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Another one to agree with Ruth. Ubuntu is very special. You would appreciate it more if you don't do it on the same day after TFL.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I've never even eaten at the FL and I still also completely agree with Ruth. First thought when I read your post: 'FL and Ubuntu on the same day? No way...."

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Local girl who says Ruth is on the money also.

                    Your instincts are correct about Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty. They are good French bistro/brasserie food, but there is nothing Californian about them.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      He he. In Paris, I've done Pierre Gagnaire and Aux Lyonnaise in the same day because I really had no other choice -- higher end restaurants don't keep the same hours American restaurants do and I was there for an extended weekend when most places close down. All of the Parisian hounds were also said the same thing. I was in a food coma by the end, but was still pretty happy. And I've done Per Se in NYC with a 10P reservation -- not easy on your digestive system. You guys are totally right about keeping Fri dinner light or not eating at all. I'll just leave it up to my stomach.

                    2. >>Not the hugest fans of typical brunch food (eg. omelets, pancakes, etc.) unless it's very creative or different from the standard brunch dishes.<<

                      Aww...Alexis Baking Company Cafe is easily our favorite breakfasty type of brunch in the area, especially for their Sunday breakfast menu. I suspect that when we have to move out of Napa that the single dish that I will miss the most out of the entire Napa Valley area is their eggs benedict. It's a very informal place in a drab area of downtown Napa. But it's a heavy locals' favorite; it can get packed on Sundays. Can pick up some pretty good cookies, cake, bread, etc. too.

                      Redd is a terrific pick. We really enjoy the food there.

                      But just to toss a dark horse in the mix, Bleaux Magnolia offers a Sunday brunch which you might like. BM is probably one of the more underrated restaurants in the city of Napa. I know creole Napa Valley style doesn't exactly sound great coming off the tongue, but their flavors are generally pretty good although we like the dinner entrees more than the brunch.


                      1. Thank you so much everybody for your insight! I've read your suggestions and decided to have Sun lunch at Ubuntu and go to Redd on Fri night and sit by the bar (if I can do it). Called up Redd and they told me that I could sit at the bar and order off their regular dinner menu as opposed to just the bar menu. The pork belly looks really good.

                        I have done heavy-hitters back-to-back before and it's not the most fun thing. You don't enjoy the second meal as much. I only do it when there is really no choice, but it seems that I do have a choice here. Bleaux Magnolia did look really interesting -- we don't have very good Cajun/Creole in NYC. But I think I'm going to stick with the Ubuntu on Sun.

                        And I also love the idea about picking up goodies from the Oxbow Market. I hear Fatted Calf is there, and I've loved their stuff when I've gotten it at the Ferry Plaza. Does anybody know if I can pick some of Andante's cheese there as well?

                        Thank you all again! And to help defray some calories, I think I'm going to be doing a lot of bike riding on this trip..

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          Another option: if you want to do a Thomas Keller daily double, you can sit at the bar at Ad Hoc and order a la carte. Although that means heading back down valley to Yountville, you might want to check out their menu for the day after your TFL lunch and see if you want to come back.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I dunno. The food at Ad Hoc is heavy, and portions are really huge, even if you order a la carte. I like the idea of Redd, because the OP could just make a meal out of a few light apps.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Ummm I was going to say that both of Ruth's suggestions make sense. But...
                              What are you planning on doing between lunch and dinner on Friday, when your room is in Calistoga? A good half hour drive? Having said that, Friday may be a night to just do nothing and enjoy a late afternoon siesta and a spa treatment in evening in Calistoga. And if still hungry wander around a bit maybe even settle for snacks from Cal-Mart. Honestly... Then you will have a reason to come back and do dinner at Redd and Ad Hoc and anything else you care to try...

                              1. re: Madge

                                I'd go to a winery and taste if I had any energy left after FL. The drive back to Calistoga will only be a half-hour (before 5 pm), and if you decide to go out again later, 10 minutes back down to St. Helena to go to Martini House, or a late dinner at my favorite, Terra (it's one of the very finest here in the Valley.) Driving all the way back to Yountville to go to Redd may feel like too much after flying in that day and a 4-hour meal at FL.

                                If you wanted some gourmet snacks for Friday evening when your appetite finally returns, I'd stop at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, or the more expensive Dean & Deluca. (I prefer Sunshine.) Both are on the main drag in St. Helena and on your way to Calistoga. Both carry Bay Area salumi and charcuterie, gourmet deli, Andante cheeses, and a wide selection of Bay Area breads. Cal-Mart in Calistoga also carries Andante cheeses, but doesn't have as wide a selection as Sunshine. You may wish to check with Andante dairy to make sure.

                                If you decided to stay put in Calistoga Friday night, Wappo Grill, while certainly not on the level of Terra or Redd or Martini House, is delicious and casual, and the patio is lovely. The entire town, as you may know, is only about 4 blocks long, so it's easy walking. Have a lovely visit.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  My first plan was to actually go back to the hotel and rent bikes to help burn off our meal. I think we would probably feel better after working out. I think I'd be too full to enjoy a spa treatment, Madge -- though I know a lot of people who just want to do absolutely nothing after a meal like that. Me -- I want to keep active so I'm able to eat more later during the night. The winery is an interesting suggestion, though. May keep that in mind if I'm feeling a bit lazy -- which very well may happen.

                                  I've been to Terra a couple of years ago. Loved the place but I think we may want to try something new. I think we're going to keep it up in the air and see what we're in the mood to do. Some of the appetizers at Redd sound interesting -- because if we do eat, I think we can only handle a few small plates. But I'll look into the other suggestions you have, Maria. Glad to know there are lots of places to find Andante cheeses.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    Lots of great bicycling in Calistoga, where you'll be staying, and throughout Napa Valley. Email me (on profile) for more I want to keep the focus on Chow.

                                    Since you've been to Terra, I'd vote for Martini House. Wonderful wine list, great food and service, and lovely interior and patio. Wine bar downstairs. Located in an old stucco house just a 1/2 block off Main Street (Highway 29) in St. Helena.

                                2. re: Madge

                                  Does anyone else think that sitting at the bar at Redd is like being stranded in Siberia? I love the food at Redd, but it does have a quirky, noisy interior...and the bar is uncomfortable and feels disconnected from the restaurant. Miss Needle, I'd suggest checking in with Redd to see if a table opens up. That is if you ever want to eat again after FL.

                              2. re: Miss Needle

                                Fatted Calf didn't have Andante on my last visit, but the Cheese Shop in Oxbow did. Be sure to stop by the spice shop in Oxbow. It's really nice.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I know you like Oxbow, rw, but it's just not there yet, IMO. I consistently find it disappointing -- like it doesn't measure up to the many other offerings in Napa Valley. It feels sterile, unpopulated -- not like a great food hall at all.

                                  They're trying to get it together there -- they're just not there yet. Fatted Calf is there, but Bay Area salumi/charcuterie is found throughout the Valley.

                                  Miss Needle, with your occupation, will you be enjoying any of the treatments here in Calistoga?

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Thanks rworange. I did call up the Cheese shop and they told me they did carry Andante. I wish I could find it in NY. Guess I'll stock up while I'm there.

                                    Maria, of course I'll be enjoying these treatments! DH agreed to do a couples mud bath with me. I've never had one -- I think I'm in it more for the pictures as I want somebody to take a picture of us with our heads and feet sticking out of the mud. Kind of hokey, but I think it will be fun. Lavender Hill Spa looks like it has a lot of stuff I'm into. I think I will be checking that place out.

                                    Thanks again to everybody for helping me plan my excursion. I'll report back and I'll try to post pics if I remember. I'm terrible at taking pics because I'd rather focus my energy on eating! : )

                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      There were mentions of other Napa markets that carry Andante (actually the Whole Foods with the wine bar carries it). However, The Oxbow Cheese Merchant is one of the few places in Napa that cares for their cheese properly.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        I'm not sure about your last statement.

                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                      Miss Needle was talking about stopping by Oxbow when going to Ubuntu and wanted to know if Fatted Calf had Andante cheese. I wasn't directing her to Oxbow Market ... but as long as she is considering checking it out, then Whole Spice is worth her while ... especially for the spice mixes.

                                      However, getting into the market situation in Napa ... not being a local ... I never got it ... despite the cold shoulders locals seem to be giving Oxbow ... I agree with Daniel Duane's recent Chow article on Oxbow and Napa ....

                                      "for years now I’ve been struck by the sheer lameness of the food-shopping scene. It’s astonishing: In the national epicenter of the food-and-wine lifestyle, with so many spectacular restaurants and literally millions of food-and-wine-obsessed tourists, the grocery situation has generally been on a par with Cleveland, Ohio, circa 1970"

                                      He then goes on to talk about Oxbow and why he is impressed with it. Digression ... I really like how that guy writes not only that I usually agree with his taste, but he captures things in a way I could only dream of doing. Lots of the time I want to say ... yeah ... exactly what he said.

                                      As for me, I don't even get the better area markets. I always hated Oakville Grocery from day one ... even before markets like that weren't common. Dean and DeLucca ... why in heavens would anyone send someone to a New York chain? The rest that have been there forever ... don't get it. As an outsider, no attraction at all.

                                      Anyway, just my reason for liking Oxbow and an explanation that I was just answering the posters question and not directing her there.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Duane unfortunately isn't aware of the options.

                                        Given that Napa Valley is a mecca of food and wine, with a community of people extremely serious about food, wine and cooking, how could its residents -- many of whom are very skilled in the food and wine industries and desire artisan foodstuffs -- ever manage if Duane's assessment of the foodstore scene was correct? It just isn't.

                                        I've been here a long time, and know the community well. Many, many Napa residents cook every day, and combine their home-cooked dishes with some of the wine from local wineries. Residents have to get their gourmet/artisan/ethnic ingredients somewhere and it isn't from the overpriced stores mainly geared for tourists like Oakville Grocery, D&D or Oxbow. What you're calling "the better area markets" aren't used at all on a regular basis by residents.

                                        This is not to say that the grocery stores here are like Berkeley Bowl, and all that Berkeley offers, just that there is much more than either you or Duane seems to be aware. There are at least a couple of great grocery stores, many smaller food stores and ethnic food stores, all of whose products go far beyond those of the local Safeway or Albertson's. Plus, throughout the valley in the warmer months are scattered lots of small farm stands with fresh fruit and produce grown locally, and many farmer's markets (one every day of the week) with foods grown within 100 miles. That's a lot of activity for a rural, agricultural valley 30+ miles long, and 4 miles wide at its widest.

                                        Please bear in mind that Duane writes not about the foodstores of Napa Valley, but of the city of Napa located at the southern end of the entire Napa Valley. And his is a superficial assessment. Sounds like he did very little Chowhounding – actually seeking out foodstores that were unusual and different and offering artisan ingredients. Those foodstores have been in Napa Valley long before Oxbow Market, and he missed them.

                                        Oxbow Market has the potential to be a good resource, but the vendors are few, and the goods offered are an odd mix of food and expensive bric-a-brac. Fatted Calf is a good addition, agreed.

                                        Another problem is location: Oxbow is located in an uninteresting, formerly industrial section of the city of Napa. I can't at all see Napa Valley visitors spending their "tourist minutes" there when the far-reaching, lush green, pastoral beauty of Napa Valley -- and its ample gourmet cuisine and ingredients -- await a few minutes northward.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          I'm deleting my own comments and starting a new thread.

                                          Where are the hidden shopping gems in Napa?

                                          Anyway, t is probably better than hijacking this tread on a different topic.