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Napa Valley - three great dinners?

We will be spending three days in Yountville in the Napa Valley visiting the various wineries in the region. We are looking for three terrific restaurants for dinner. Although money is not a huge issue, we do not want to spend the kind of bucks that the French Laundry costs (~$300pp). We prefer American, French or Italian food...probably not Asian (we get great Asian at home!). On previous visits, we had excellent meals at the Martini House in St. Helena and at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. We would happily revisit these two places, but would like to know where others would go for three great dinners!

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  1. Redd, Terra, Martini House would be my first choices. Ubuntu is very unique as well as delicous, if you're not adverse to a meatless meal. Very innovative.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bobpantzer

      I live part time in Napa and these would be my 3/4 recommendations. We are not fans of Bouchon but we do love Bistro Jeanty and often find ourselves at the bar for a Saturday lunch.

    2. Redd, Ubuntu, Ad Hoc. Each is a very different experience, very different food, and each generally remarkable.

      1. Thomas Keller's Bouchon bistro is where i would eat all three of those dinners. If you like bistro dining, it doesn't get better than this. Go early for casual dining, or later if you like the noise and energy of a bistro. Love this place. Bistro Jeanty is also a fave. You could also take a sunset drive up to St. Helena and stop at Taylor's Refresher for a burger. Order up a bottle of Shafer or Paul Hobbs to go with it. If you can't tell, I like my wine country dinners a little more casual. Have fun!

        3 Replies
        1. re: jeffandnat

          Well...I guess our tastes differ. I have been to Bouchon in Yountville twice and each time had very bad service, very cramped, uncomfortable seating and intolerable noise. We were so uncomfortable that it was impossible to judge the food. We will definitely not return. As an aside, we have been to the Bouchon in Las Vegas twice, and each time had a very good but not great, meal.

          In the Napa Valley we are looking for excellent food and comfortable ambiance...much like that which is available at the Martini House.

          1. re: josephnl

            Sorry to hear of your Bouchon experiences. I have had wonderful meals there, but the energy (noise), is definitely not for all. I also enjoy Martini House. I had a mushroom tasting menu last year that was fabulous. How about the terrace at Auberge du Soleil? I have not been there, but hear the view/ambiance is sweet. Anyone know how the food rates?

            1. re: jeffandnat

              Haven't been to the Auberge in a few years. But at that time, lunch was quite amazing...mainly because of the setting, but the food was very good also.

              Yes...the "energy" at Bouchon, is definitely not to our taste!

        2. Some fine recommendations so far, here is another. We were there last week and it was great.

          1. I'm shocked no one has mentioned Micheal Chiarello's Bottega! Amazing food, beautiful atmosphere - an overall wonderful experience. Get there a bit early for a cocktail on the outdoor patio...

            Oh and if you really want something fun, get the crab!

            5 Replies
            1. re: rflevin

              Well, I didn't mention Bottega because I have not been there yet. We have reservations in mid-June for lunch and I am looking forward to it. I loved Tre Vigna in the early Michael Chiarello days. I yearn for that baked polenta appetizer with wild mushrooms and that gamey sauce. It was there, too, that I first had fresh strawberiries with black pepper and balsamic vinegar. What a surprise!

              1. re: bobpantzer

                OMG - I had forgotten that polenta appetizer.l I lived in St. Helena in the early Tra Vigna days and ate at the bar often just to have that. Does anyone know if he is doing it at Bottega? I will be in Yountville next month and would go just for that.

                1. re: Mariana in Baja

                  Sorry - I meant Tra Vigne - but you all know what I meant. And - has anyone eaten there recently - Tra Vigne???? I haven't been there in ten years and it had slipped so badly the last time.

                  1. re: Mariana in Baja

                    Mariana, it seems to be on their current online menu with the name "polenta under glass". Ingredients sound the same as what I remember and, I agree, I would go just for that. I am going for lunch in June and hope it's still on the menu then.

                2. re: rflevin

                  I don't know if Bottega is worth mentioning. It's crowded because people want to check out Michael Chiarello but I have to say that when I tried last month the kitchen seemed a bit off balanced with its prep of dishes and the service (or at least my waiter) was a bit frantic because of the crowds.

                3. No one has mentioned Greystone at the CIA. Is this not in a league with the others?

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      I agree with maria lorraine. Skip it.

                  1. Recent Visits:

                    Redd has become our go to place for well prepared food, fresh flavors, and efficient service. Good value ratio.

                    Bottega- very energetic place; their wrap-around patio should be very nice this time of year. Food was good, but almost too boldly flavored- found the various sauces quite rich and powerful. Chiarello in and out of the kitchen hobnobbing. Service friendly but uneven.

                    Terra- reliable standby- even though miso cod has become passe, I still think no one does it better. Other dishes also well executed. Perhaps aging a bit, but comfortable wine country elegance.

                    Ubuntu- unique experience, very good, albeit different food. More hits than misses.

                    Bouchon- fine, but nothing special.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: kdoc

                      Restaurant Terra is still very good., Cindy's Back Street Kitchen is also good. I go to Bottega 1-2 times a month. The Polenta (yummy) and I like the menu. I recommend going early for lunch or early for dinner if you can get in to get the service. When it's peak hour it's too hard to get the service you want. Some day's chef is there and some days no.

                      La Toque at the Westin is supposed to be really good, that is my next venture.

                      I love Martini House and Press Restaurant.

                      I'd pass on CIA.

                      1. re: kdoc


                        Terra Restaurant
                        1345 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

                        6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

                        1. re: kdoc

                          Regarding Bottega, really nice place, the service was wonderful, and the food was very good...Maybe a little heavy since it is Italian, but very tasty. I ordered the risotto with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil, delicious. My boyfriend ordered the special of the day which was a porchetta stuffed with sausage, very good. The atmosphere is also very lively.

                        2. If you find yourself wanting to take a very pretty country drive over to Sonoma County, look at the tiny town of Pennegrove (south of Rohnert Park) and The Humble Pie for a funky, creative dining experience in a humble setting but with growing foodie flair and the best pies around - hope they have the lemon pie that day because it is worth the drive. Avoid the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma proper, regardless of laudatory reviews. Junk food in an over-hyped setting.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: glbtrtr

                            I agree with glbtrtr about the girl and the fig...I was there a few weeks ago and was not impressed at all. The cheese plate was good as well as the seafood sausage, but everything else was just alright. There are other places that people have mentioned that are probably a lot better.

                          2. I had a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner at Ad Hoc in Yountville. The meal was very delicious and service was on point. The servers at Ad Hoc take their time and explain your dish in detail when they serve you. I thought it was a great addition to the experience. Here are the photos of my last visit:


                            Ad Hoc
                            6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                            1. mmm, . . . this Napa girl says the top of the list would be Cole's Chop House in Napa - amazing upscale steakhouse in a great old downtown Napa building. I had a special celebration there recently and it was the best meal I've ever had anywhere. Then Auberge in Rutherford for the setting and view. Then Cindy's backstreet kitchen in St. Helena.

                              1. The French Lanundry is the best restaurant in the Napa Valley. The restaurant at Meadowood is the second best.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Paul H

                                  Agreed, with no wavering in my mind that those are the best.

                                  Then, from there dropping down,
                                  Ubuntu, Ad Hoc, Terra, Redd, Martini House.

                                  Beyond that, Don Giovanni, Press, Cindy's...

                                2. We will finally be going in three weeks. Based upon the postings here and our prior experiences, we have pretty much decided on Martini House and Redd for two of our dinners...any arguments with these choices. For our third dinner we are torn between Bardessono (which just received an excellent review in the L.A. Times), Terra and Bistro Jeany. Any thoughts re these three?

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    Ohhhh ... there's nothing as deadly as an out of town review. Reviewers not being familiar with the local dining scene may find good or very good, but might miss greatness around them on a limited visit.

                                    I did a google of Bardessono and it stinks of hype. Maybe Chowhounds will prove me wrong. However, I'd look over on Yelp and ignore the 5 star reviews from people who have posted 2-3 times and take a look at the reviews by the people who didn't like the place.

                                    A hotel restaurant, in a luxury spa run by a corporate chef who was the former group operations chef for Michael Mina`s 14 restaurants. There's a lot of warning bells going off here. Also, it has made sure to get itself press in the big papers like the LA Times and Wall Street Journal.

                                    Then again, looking at the menu, they do use some top-notch sources, some of which don't usually turn up on restaurant menus such as Little Farm potatoes and particularily White Crane Ranch greens. At $12 for the salad that's not too far off from the $8 a bag i pay at the farmers market. However, it depends on how the food is prepared.

                                    I might give them a try for brunch since they have a Croque Madame on the menu and Napa has few good breakfast places. Will report back if I go before your trip. Maybe you should also consider it for a breakfast/lunch option rather than dinner unless you hear otherwise ... outside of the heavy press saturation.

                                    As to the rest. Since you are already selecting Martini House as a past favorite, maybe instead of going to two previous favorites, give Terra a try for something new ... if that is what you've narrowed things down to.

                                    It is a shame that you have chosen to ignore the four suggestions for Ubuntu by some very reliable Bay Area posters. Especially sad since you will be going at the height of summer where this restaurant shines brightest. One of the most memorable meals I had in my life was at Ubuntu last summer.

                                    Which would be another vote against Bistro Jeanty. Why settle for standard French bistro food when this is the time of year that local restaurants are showing off the best of the Bay Area produce.

                                    If you are in Younville, you might consider Brix which is about a mile up the road. Set in lovely vineyards, with their own organic gardens, it has one of my favorite chefs and pastry chefs. If not dinner, then maybe Sunday brunch. During happy hour they have a fabulous cheese plate (much better than the selection on the Bardessono menu). During happy hour drinks and plates are half price and a real steal. I had one of the few really good breakfasts in the Napa Valley at Brix Looking at the menu is seems like they have switched to a buffet format and it looks great ... the Bardessono brunch may just need to wait.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      For our third dinner...which do you prefer, Brix or Terra?

                                      1. re: josephnl

                                        Haven't been to Terra yet, but since you are interested in that restaurant you might go with that. If you have a chance to drop by Brix for happy hour or Sunday brunch or want a nice cheese plate for lunch, keep Brix in mind. Also, to be boringly repeptative, if you are here on the weekend, if you could squeeze in Ubuntu for lunch, I think you will be blown away

                                        If you are still uncertain about Bardessono, you might take a look on opentable.com and read some of the reviews. It seems to go from people who love to place to people who think the portions are too small for the price and the food, while using exellent ingredients, is kind of boring.

                                        I do want to give the Brix buffet a try soon. Maybe the day I'm up that way, I'll give the Bardessono prix-fix $39 Sunday supper a try. It depends. Sometimes those prix-fixe meals are a snooze and you don't save much. Looking at Barndosa prices it could mean a savings of anywhere from $9 - $30. If they have some of their regular menu items available and it seems like a deal, I'll give it a try and report back. If it turns out it is the prix-fixe type of special of salad, salmon or chicken and creme brulle ... I'll just wait for a future brunch.

                                        1. re: josephnl

                                          No question: Terra. I've lived in Napa Valley for many years; I'm in the food and wine biz, and it's my favorite of all.

                                          Do a search and read the posts on Terra.

                                      2. re: josephnl

                                        Not Bardessono. To repeat my original sentence ... Reviewers not being familiar with the local dining scene may find good or very good, but might miss greatness around them on a limited visit.

                                        Yountville: Sunday Supper at Bardessono

                                      3. We just returned from our trip and had one outstanding dinner, one excellent dinner, and one very disappointing dinner + two excellent lunches, both at the same place!

                                        Our best dinner by far was at the Martini House. This restaurant really has it together and seems never to disappoint. We have been there several times, and have had an excellent experience each time. The restaurant is very attractive and comfortable, the service very warm and professional, and the food always seems to be spot-on! The menu is interesting and everything is very well-prepared. The wine list is carefully thought out, and the wine service is excellent. This is one terrific spot.

                                        We also had an excellent dinner at Terra. The service was great and the food very well prepared. The room is not quite as warm as the Martini House, and the menu, not quite as interesting, but nevertheless, this is definitely a top notch restaurant and we will certainly return.

                                        We had a very disappointing dinner at Redd, and will likely not return. Although the starters were fine, the entrees which we ordered were definitely not. I ordered the rack of lamb which was extremely fatty...at least 50% of the "meat" was fat. My companion's fish entree (halibut) was also quite poor. It had a pasty consistency, which in my experience, generally means that the fish has been frozen, then refrozen after thawing. Not good!! The server was extremely busy (the restaurant was packed!), and when she finally came to the table, she was not particularly gracious, nor was a manager who later came to the table. Nothing was said when our plates were cleared, mine half covered with uneaten fat, and my friend's with at least 50% of his halibut uneaten. We left with the strong feeling that since they were so busy, they really didn't care if we were pleased or not; not the sign of a good restaurant!

                                        We had lunch two times at Brix and loved it! both time! The garden setting is wonderful, the service professional and warm, and the food delicious. We liked it so much the first day, that we returned the second!

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: josephnl

                                          Thanks for reporting back. Glad it went mainly ok. I'm glad you liked Brix as much as I do. What did you have there?

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

                                          6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                                          7377 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94558

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            We absolutely loved their "Greek salad" with the wonderful heirloom tomatoes from their garden. Also the zucchini/goat cheese sandwich was terrific, as was the simple "egg salad sandwich". Their use of produce from their garden, the setting, the wonderful service, and excellent wine selection makes this a terrific place for lunch. Is it better than the Mustard Grill which is next door?....can't be sure, but Brix is a winner, at least for lunch!!

                                            1. re: josephnl

                                              Thanks. Hoping to get over there again soon. Will look for some of these. Neve been to Mustard's so I can't say.

                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                I agree and love Brix for lunch. I've been to Mustard's a number of times over the years . . . currently Brix has the edge by a ways.

                                                1. re: vday

                                                  We loved our two lunches at Brix. We also do like Mustard's a great deal. Which has the edge...it's difficult for me to say. I think that I personally like the food at both equally, although I must say that sitting outdoors in the garden at Brix is really special, and perhaps the fresh produce there was a tad better than that served at Mustard's


                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: hungryman0930

                                              I am sure that Redd must be great some of the time...it was very crowded with apparently happy diners. Unfortunately we had a very bad meal...our food was truly awful, and the absolutely uncaring attitude of the staff made our experience doubly worse. All restaurants occasionally miss, but a concerned staff with a good attitude can always turn things around. Unfortunately this did not happen at Redd. So the best I can say is that although this restaurant may be wonderful at times, it is obviously inconsistent, and whereas a really good restaurant will always try to make things right, Redd failed us miserably in this regard. We will not return...certainly not with the wonderful other restaurants in the area such as the Martini House, Terra, Brix, etc., etc.

                                                1. re: adrienne156

                                                  It was Friday night. But even if it were Saturday night, this would still not make up for anything. BTW we ate at the Martini House on Saturday night, and everything was pretty much perfect.

                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                    I only asked because I was there on Saturday and had some highlights and one low point, but the service I received was impeccable despite them being slammed. I'm truly sorry you had such a terrible meal.