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May 17, 2009 12:23 PM

Napa/Sonoma Tips

Hi Everyone -

My wife and I will be in the Napa/Sonoma area for three days in July to celebrate her 50th birthday and I would love some feedback on restaurant choices for the trip. We have reservations for The French Laundry for one of the nights and need to choose places for the other two nights we will be there. Since TFL will cover the high-end of the spectrum, I am interested in more casual, relaxed places but ones with high quality food that will provide some contrast with TFL.

The restaurants I am considering for the other two nights are:

-- Ad Hoc
-- Angele
-- Bistro Jeanty
-- Barndiva
-- Bouchon
-- The Girl and the Fig
-- Martini House
-- Pilar

Not quite sure where we are staying yet, but I am considering the Carneros Inn, which appears to be fairly close to Napa/Yountville and Sonoma (although somewhat of a hike from Healdsburg). If anyone has ideas for any other places to stay, I'd also love to hear them. We will be trying to visit a number of smaller wineries (we've been to Napa Valley several times in the past and have hit many of the big wineries there), probably making appointments if necessary. It's a special occasion so a splurge is ok.

Thanks very much for your help.

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  1. Here are 2 recent reviews by Dr. Food aka uhockey on Ad Hoc and Bisto Jeanty. You might want to try for Ubuntu for contrast and a fairly unique experience.

    1. i'd second ubuntu definitely something little more unique
      and healsburg is far away with so many good choices locally not worth the drive
      try the spring mountain wineries for a different area - lot of them need appointments but it's a very pretty area

      1. Stay away from Angele. From your list, I really like Martini House. I like Ad Hoc and it is different enough from TFL that even though both are Keller, I think it is fine to go to both in 3 days. If you are already going to TFL I'd say skip Bouchon,though. Totally different as well, but... I'd consider adding Zazu to your list for consideration. VERY casual but also quite tasty and a lot of fun.

        1. Pilar no longer exists. I concur that Ubuntu would be a good choice in downtown Napa. Also consider Bistro Don Giovanni which is a reasonably priced, popular Italian restaurant at the north end of Napa. And, yes, Ad Hoc is a good choice, as well. I know that the Carneros Inn is very nice but it's kind of in the middle of nowhere in that you will have to get in a car to go anywhere. I would rather stay in Yountville or Napa or somewhere else that you could walk around in the mornings or evenings and even walk to or from one of your restaurant choices.

          17 Replies
          1. re: bobpantzer

            Vintage Inn in Yountville seems to be a good choice with a moderate price for the area and great central location. As for dining, I have heard good things about Terra restaurant.

            1. re: jsa7405

              Others in Yountville worth considering are Villagio (same owners as Vintage Inn), Yountville Inn, Napa Valley Lodge and, on a smaller scale, Maison Fleurie and Lavender House (both owned by the same owners). New, and more pricey, in Yountville is Bardessono. Yountville offers nice walking paths, some shopping, small village appeal and is equidistance from Napa and St. Helena. Lot's of good restaurants within walking distance of all lodging. No, I'm not a member of their Chamber of Commerce but I did live there for almost 15 years.

              1. re: bobpantzer

                Agree that although Healdsburg is wonderful (stay at Healdsburg Hotel; dinner at Cyrus), it's quite a hike from Napa. It's worth it's own trip another time.

                For Napa, some very edited selections:

                * staying at The Carneros Inn: breakfast at Hilltop next to the pool (Inn guests only) or Boon Fly Cafe; drinks, pre or post dinner, at Farm. More of an urban, late night vibe than commonly found in Napa. Great spa and pool. Relaxing.

                * restaurants:

                Redd for lunch -- spectacular on outside patio (split pork bun starter (memories of momofuko ssam) followed by petrale sole with clams and minced chorizo over jasmine rice.

                Go Fish -- for sushi when you need a seafood fix, so rare in Napa.

                Hog Island Oysters: $1 per oysters and $3.50 beers on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings 5-7pm. In Napa's Oxbow Market. Outstanding.

                Picnics: ham and cheese panini sandwiches from Bouchon Bakery, eat on picnic table on the creek just across from the French Laundry. Dessert of your choice from Bouchon. Or, porchetta sandwiches from The Fatted Calf (Oxbow Market), eat on tables just outside or at the back of the Oxbow Market overlooking Napa River.

                Mexican: Luna Market on Rutherford Cross Road. Order at counter in the back, pick up drinks in the market, pay in the front and eat just outside the market overlooking the vineyards. Downhome local reality. Not fancy, but delicious and way filling. Or, machaca breakfast at Villa Real in Bel Aire Plaza on Trancas in Napa. Will keep you going till dinner. Clean, neat and fun.

                1. re: cortez

                  Hi Cortez - I think you mean Villa Corona for Mexican in the Bel Aire Plaza. I agree -their machaca is my favorite low cost, way filling breakfast - gotta get there before 11:00 AM for that. It will definitely hold you til dinner!
                  Other ideas:
                  Cole's Steak House in downtown Napa is my favorite place. Their steaks are top notch - I've never had better. Expensive, but not as much as TFL. Also, just for the amazing view and ambiance - have snacks/lunch on the deck at the bar at Auberge in Rutherford. Take a hat and sunglasses and soak up a little bit of Napa Valley heaven.

                  1. re: vday

                    I like the steaks at Cole's but have never had better than the steaks at Press in Napa Valley. The Cowboy Ribeye. It's now, in my mind, the prototype definition of flavorful steak. Love the spinach also, the potatoes with duck fat, the truffled mac 'n' cheese. Great red wine, too.

                    But otherwise, Cortez has it going on. I don't find Go Fish at all appealing, though.

                    In mind order, on top: French Laundry, Meadowood

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

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

                    Casual great gourmet food: pastries at Bouchon Bakery, burritos at Luna, picnic stuff and great hotel snacks at Sunshine, other gourmet take-out at Dean & Deluca, ahi burgers (only) at Taylor Refresher.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Thanks everyone for these great suggestions. I have a follow-up question. A major focus of our visit will be to visit a select group of smaller, boutique wineries, preferably ones specializing in pinot noirs. Our emphasis would be on high quality wines from producers who don't produce a high volume. We don't mind making appointments or paying a tasting fee for the right wineries. Based on my initial research, Merry Edwards and Hartford appear to be the types of places that would fit the bill.

                      My question is -- if we stay at the Carneros Inn, are we basing ourselves in the wrong area? The more I read, the more I think we ought to consider Healdsburg. If we do decide to stay in Carneros, are there smaller wineries in Napa Valley or in lower Sonoma Valley that would provide the same quality wines (even if not pinot)?

                      Thanks so much.

                      1. re: Tennyson

                        If you can swing it I would highly recommend stayin gin Yountville (or getting a driver) for your dinner at The French Laundry. Depending on what you (and the staff) does with your meal you may come out in a food coma. If you drink some wine driving all the way back to Carneros will not be sometihng you want to do. Staying in Yountville is so nice at the end of the meal, you just walk a few minutes to your room and then relax. I've not been to the other places bu thte Vintge Inn is quite nice.

                        1. re: Tennyson

                          After dinner at TFL you will definitely not want to drive back to Healdsburg--it is an hour away on a two lane winding road.

                          There are lots of pinot noir vineyards in the cooler Carneros region, but that is not to say that all the wineries which produce pinots are physically located there. I am not as familiar with the pinot producers as I am with some of the other varietals so I am unable to address the specifics of your question.

                          1. re: Tennyson

                            Hi Tennyson - I agree that Yountville might be your best bet for lodging. It's a very walkable little town with lots to discover. The Carneros Inn is out of the way - and it's not really a style of Inn I particularly am attracted to . . . kind of an odd design. I think any of the suggestions for lodging given in Yountville sound wonderful. Also, I agree Healdsburg is too far out of the way if you are planning your trip around the meal at TFL. Come back another time for a stay in Healdsburg - it's also a wonderful little place to stay somewhere near the downtown and walk around in the evenings.

                            1. re: Tennyson


                              As to hotels, I think Yountville is great if your focus is on restaurants and touring wineries in the immediate area. Walking to/from dinner is a wonderful thing.

                              If your purpose includes "leisure/exercise" time in addition to wineries/restaurants, I'd stick with the Carneros Inn. It's facilities are superior to what you'll find in Yountville. In a 100 room inn, it has: 3 restaurants; 3 bars; 2 pools (adult; kids/laps); full fitness center; small clothing boutique; jogging/walking/biking in immediate neighborhood. Its aesthetic (California vernacular outside, W hotel inside) is more to my taste than the faux Provencal or faux Tuscan places found elsewhere.

                              For Pinot Noir, there are several wineries for that varietal in the immediate Carneros neighborhood. You might consider:

                              * Etude: appointment necessary in this higher end producer. Excellent Cabernet as well.
                              * Bouchaine: solid mid-range producer
                              * MacKenzie-Mueller: tiny family owned producer. Tastings by appt. on Friday afternoon in the winery/barn. Mr. Mueller often offers these personally. Charming and delicious.
                              * Acacia: broad range of vineyard designate Chardonnays and Pinots available only at the winery. No appt. necessary

                              Have fun. Let us know how your trip goes.

                              1. re: cortez

                                Not to be argumentative, but both Vintage Inn and Villagio, in Yountville, have a deal with Yountville Fitness Center, right next door, that allows their guests to use the facility free of charge. Both also have decent pools and Yountville is a more than adequate venue for jogging/walking/biking. While the extent of the facilities themselves may not compare to Carneros Inn, Yountville has far more than 3 restaurants and 3 bars. I have wandered around the Carneros Inn, admitedly not for the past couple of years, and while the facilities are excellent, I just think it's stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              I haven't tried Press yet Maria Lorraine - and now I must!

                              Regarding Coles; I was impressed to see a grass fed steak on their menu last time I visited there. It was very good, but in my mind didn't quite compare with their ribeye - we did a side-by-side comparison that night . . . and I LOVE their "hash brown" style potato dish to go with their steaks:-) I'm making myself hungry just thinking about that last meal!

                            3. re: vday

                              vday: you're absolutely right. My error. It's Villa Corona for machaca!

                              1. re: cortez

                                Have you tried the camarones al mojo de ajo there Cortez? On a good day, that dish gives the machaca a run for the money, and it's available after 11 AM:-) I love that place and eat there at LEAST once a week.

                                1. re: vday

                                  vday: no, I haven't tried the camarones. I usually go for breakfast at 9am or so. Sounds like it's too early for the camarones. I'll be sure to try them when I go in at a later time. Thanks for the tip.

                                  1. re: cortez

                                    I think the camarones dish is probably available before 11 too . . . but the machaca only before 11. I'm tuned in to that because it can be hard for me to get there before 11 sometimes, so I miss out on the machaca experience.

                        2. re: jsa7405

                          I just booked for the Vintage Inn -- I called for rates and everything was 25% off. I got a suite for about $300 (on a Thursday night, next week).

                      2. Just happened across your post. I have been traveling weekly to the southern part of the Napa Valley for the past four months and have been "eating my way" through the restaurants in Napa and Yountville.

                        My perspective is a little skewed as I live in Las Vegas and go out regularly ....

                        My favorites (excluding TFL) are probably Redd (in Yountville) and Celadon (in Napa). I eat at Cole's Chop House almost weekly, but that is because I like to eat steak (and lamb chops). It is very good, but I wouldn't raise it up very high. Similarly, I think Go Fish is good - but I get better fresh fish regularly. (But, it is certainly better than the best in many places around the country).

                        Two places I don't see mentioned where I have had excellent meals lately are Elements (Napa), which serves small plates (I think they are very good) with an outstanding wine selection. Even better, they have a wonderful list of cheeses to sample. The other restaurant is Mustards Grill that recently reopened after being closed in February due to a kitchen fire. I had dinner there last week and the food was really very good.

                        Good luck in choosing only two restaurants :)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Adept1958

                          Thanks for mentioning Elements, we haven't heard much about it here.

                          Elements Enoteca
                          1400 Second Street, Napa, CA 94559