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Oct 21, 2009 03:40 PM

Calistoga - recomendations

Hey, I've been looking over the boards and was wondering if I could get some additional advice on where to go/eat for my short first visit in two weeks to the Napa Valley, and I'll be staying in Calistoga. I'm a little unsure of how far apart things are, so I am trying to stay in the Northern Valley.

I plan on arriving Monday evening (not sure if I'll make it for dinner, but if so Casual/inexpensive is the focus)
B'Fast - Sarafornia (seems to be highly recommended local place)
two morning wineries (Rombauer and Hietz)
Late Lunch - Mustards (haven't heard much on this board regarding it)
Afternoon wineries (Frank Family Vineyards and TBD)
Dinner - ????

B'fast - Gordon's Cafe (is it still open?) or Boon Fly.

I'm looking for a great bistro meal and will be dining alone, so a great bar dining area would be a plus - probably not interested in Ubunto (though it is highly rated here). I'd also be interested to know which other northern wineries would be worth researching. Thanks for all your help.

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  1. Clearly not asking the correct questions for a first time flyer into the area...Anyhelp would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. I second the pork belly recommendation at JoLe, and they have a nice looking bar (we didn't sit at it when we went there). I have no breakfast recommendations in the area, as our innkeeper Darla brought us a heart breakfast every morning (Foorhills House Inn, ftr.)

      I remember there being a steak house next to Ubuntu where we sat for a drink before our Ubuntu dinner, if that is appealing.

      1. We went to Solbar last month and were very impressed. I'd gladly recommend it. Sarafornia is a good place for breakfast if you want the traditional eggs and bacon style breakfast and it is right downtown.

        1 Reply
        1. re: skwid

          There are non-traditional items on the Sarafornia menu that are quite good -- the pumpkin pancakes, for example.

        2. The bar/cellar at Martini House is a great place to eat. Casual, lively, and you can order off both the cellar menu and the main menu from upstairs. St. Helena is a reasonable drive from Calistoga, and since there are several good restaurants there, there's no reason to drive farther down valley.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Thanks for the recomendation, I think that JoLe sounds like a winner (yummy pork bellys) for dinner. A nice evening walk over as well from where I am staying. I will have to see when I leave on whether I can make it to Boon Flys, I figured it would be a nice stop on the way out of town...

            1. re: cbsmith

              If you're on your way out of town then Boon Fly would be a great stop before getting out of Napa (I didn't realize that was the case when I told you it was a little to far to drive). Napa has a shortage of good breakfast spots, so there aren't too many better options than Boon Fly (definitely go for the doughnuts).

          2. If you think you'd like Mustards, consider Cindy Pawlcyn's other spot -- Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. It's a local favorite and a good spot for a late dinner in the bar. More *Mustardsy* than Go Fish, if that makes sense. The burger is justly popular.

            Go Fish is solid for lunch or dinner, though I think the menu has chaged for the worse since it opened (we loved the three or so fresh fish of the night with optional preparations). Good sushi or for something else light, a bowl of manila clams or mussels and some frites.

            If casual/inexpensive is tops on the list for your Monday night, consider Silverado Tavern on Highway 29 between St. Helena and Calistoga. Good pub grub and house-brewed beers and ales hit the spot.

            Other options in St. Helena would include Cook, for good casual Italian, ditto with Vercelli, both on Main Street. Also Pizzeria Travigne (across the street from over-rated Taylor's) and at the south end of town, Villa Corona for solid Mexican, with bottle beers.

            No place in St. Helena makes it for me for breakfast, except perhaps Meadowood but Solbar is a lot closer for you. (Alas, since The Diner closed, there really isn't a great breakfast place in the valley. How can you beat a spot where you wind up waiting for your name to be called, with hot coffee on tap gratis, sitting next to Bob Mondavi.)

            Not sure what your focus is for winery visiting...we usually recommend visitors consider a sparkling wine producer, Mumm Napa Valley has a lovely "salon" overlooking the vineyards and Domaine Chandon has a beautiful setting further south in Yountville.
            The drive up to Hess Collection is a beautiful one this time of year, the wines certainly as good as or better than your other choices, and if art interests you, spend some time in their contemporary art galleries (no charge, part of the patron's international collection). The setting is gorgeous.

            You're being wise to limit the number of wineries you visit. Even if you spit, four a day is plenty. (And you won't be spitting at a fizzy winery.)

            20 Replies
            1. re: MRMoggie

              Hi there. Good post.

              Jole in Calistoga is wonderful. In the Mount View Hotel. The microbrewery in town -- Calistoga Inn -- is also worth a looksee, and they have some special brews. If you're interested in great burgers, Hydro, right on the corner at the stoplight (there's only one stoplight) has it, as well as other beers on tap. Calistoga Roastery is the local coffee store (they roast their own beans) located across the street from Sarafornia, and they have good breakfast./pastry items in the morning as well as free wi-fi. Sit at the big locals table and chat -- folks are nice, just sit down. I also like the mushroom/caramelized onion pizza at Bosko's (but nothing else) Checkers occassionally has good items also.

              If you dine in St. Helena, Ruth Lafler's rec of the bar/cellar at Martini House is an excellent idea. (The resto is named after a family, not the bar drink, just so you know.)
              Wonderful wines by the glass. Comfortable setting -- you'll feel at home.

              Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, also in St. Helena, is very good for Nueva Latina food and more. I love the shiitake mushroom burger and the rabbit tostado. Go Fish is good only for sushi, IMO, but that may work since our OP, cbsmith, is a solo traveler and diner.

              Silverado Brewing Company is the correct name. It's still a sports bar, and I can't really recommend it in light of far better options unless you're into that scene.

              Sitting at the counter might be fine for Cook (the food is passable but heavy and the place is beyond cramped so get there early if you go), but disagree about Pizzeria Tra Vigne (good for piadine and killer garlic rolls, but nothing else). I'd never call Villa Corona solid for those versed in Mexican food, but it can get you by.

              For sparkling wines, Mumm is good (especially the late-disgorged wines) but Schramsberg is the best in the valley and close to Calistoga. Not so much a fan of Domaine Chandon compared to the other two, and it's much farther south anyway. Of course you can spit sparkling wine. Or just take two sips and dump the rest. Spitting bubbly is done all the time, but not thought of as often as spitting still wine.

              Hess Collection is a marvelous recommendation for one of the best contemporary art collections in the United States. It's stunning, but it is quite a drive up into the hills even if you're in the city of Napa and a very long drive from Calistoga. The regular tier of wines is well-priced but lower than average in quality and flavor compared to Napa Valley wines overall. The top tier of Hess wines (the Mt. Veeder wines) are quite good but not absolute standouts.

              But I'd really recommend that you instead head just south of Calistoga, to the town of St. Helena, and visit the Spring Mountain District of wineries. These wineries produce stunning wines with that magic combination of mountain fruit and refreshing acidity -- some of the best in the entire valley. Spring Mountain Vineyard**, Pride Mountain ***, Paloma (known for stunning Merlot and I'm not a Merlot fan), and Barnett are some that are in this rather small district in which all the wineries are close together. You can read more here:

              I'd say the Spring Mountain wineries offer better flavors by far than either Rombauer or Heitz. You may enjoy Rombauer's chardonnay with its heavy malolactic (butter) flavors and residual sugar, and may have an affection for Heitz's great wines of yesteryear, but I truly think that the Spring Mountain District wineries offer a much better experience in terms of wine quality and beautiful vistas.

              Other Calistoga wineries to visit: August Briggs (great), Chateau Montelena, Araujo, Schramsberg, Bennett Lane.

              Love your memory of The Diner, MRMoggie.

              Cbsmith, The Diner is now Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, and it's wonderful. Lots of great reviews here on Chowhound if you're interested. You can probably sit at the bar.

              Have a wonderful visit.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Thank you again for all the wonderful feedback. I am really going to have to do some additional research to figure out what makes the final list. I appreciate the focus on places that will be a fun dining experience for one patron. I cannot wait to go and I will let you know what places I end up trying!

                1. re: cbsmith

                  Forgot to mention Buster's the BBQ/smoked meat joint right as you enter town on the corner of Hwy.29 and Hwy. 128. Food is pretty good -- do not try the hot sauce unless you like your mouth searing with pain. This is at the flashing red light -- same intersection as two gas stations on the other corners. The stoplight in town I mentioned above at Lincoln and Washington Aves. (where Hydro is) is the only regular stoplight. By the way, the grocery store Cal-Mart has a good gourmet cheese and deli section.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Have to weigh in as the devil's avocado, as my ex-husband used to say.
                    Ix-nay to Sarafornia and Busters BBQ.
                    Ordered beef stew at Sarafornia and it consisted of tough, grisly beef, watery gray gravy and undercooked bell peppers.
                    The sides at Busters looked and tasted as if they were bought in bulk at Costco.

                    1. re: saffrongold

                      Sarafornia is brilliant for breakfast. Unfortunately, you ordered a non-breakfast item.

                      The sides at Busters may be purchased from Costco. I doubt it, but they may be. But, in any case, the meat's the deal. How was the meat? They make great sandwiches and ribs.

                      saffrongold, are you writing off Sarafornia's restaurant because of a single menu item that isn't even their forte? Or Buster's -- writing off the resto because of the sides when the meat is what the resto is all about?

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Maria, can you shed some light on my one experience with breakfast at Sarafornia? I had the Corned Beef Hash. It was great; three eggs perfectly cooked the way I asked over a delicious and visually beautiful hash of home fries, red bell peppers, onions, small peas, corn, and ... some kind of mystery meat. I assume the meat was their version of corned beef but it was gray, had no discernible flavor and a texture I find hard to describe, a bit like sausage but not really. I loved the whole thing except for the meat. Help!

                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                          Hi, Mick. Sorry, I don't know. I've never had that. The color and texture do sound odd. Any overcooked meat will become grey and tough however -- is that the case here? I have had the single best pancakes of my life there, and very good "normal" breakfasts with eggs. The fresh-squeezed OJ rocks, but then it usually does.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Thanks! All the rest of the breakfast was special, so I'll keep it on my list for the (rare) times I have breakfast in Calistoga.

                            Of course, you could accept the assignment of trying that corned beef hash for yourself :-)

                        2. re: maria lorraine

                          When I ordered the beef stew at Sarafornia it was one of the daily specials. My mistake for thinking it might be okay. I suppose I owe them another try if it is only for breakfast.
                          The meat at Busters was adequate and nothing more. Entirely possible I caught them on a bad day.
                          And I do tend to write a restaurant off when things are so off. I don't have the money to go back to a place that was more than a little substandard.

                          1. re: saffrongold

                            No you didn't catch them on a bad day, their meat is always just adequate. It does if you're really craving BBQ, but definitely not a place I would go to with only a few days in town.

                  2. re: maria lorraine

                    << I'd never call Villa Corona solid for those versed in Mexican food, but it can get you by.>>

                    We are, well versed that is, but would happily listen to recommendations of better Mexican restaurants hereabouts. Esp. for dinner.

                    1. re: MRMoggie

                      I find La Luna and Azteca better than Villa are pretty much any taco truck in Napa. La Mixteca is probably the best mexican I've had in a while (Thanks to some chowhounds for pointing it out).

                      Busters is OK, but for anyone who knows real BBQ, it really disappoints. It does in a pinch, but is pretty mediocre for the most part. The hot sauce will put some hair on your chest though.

                      I will agree with Maria that Saraforina is great for breakfast, and can be hit or miss on a lot of other items.

                      1. re: Piperdown

                        Precisely what Piperdown said.

                        Lots of threads on Mixteca, the taco trucks, and La Luna. Azteca is getting more recognition lately on the board.

                        And many thanks to Chowhounds Eat Nopal and Kare Raisu for doing the leg work on resto and truck visits and writing the reports:

                        La Mixteca/Napa... how do I love thee!

                        Antojitos La Mixteca
                        2580 Jefferson St, Napa, CA 94558
                        (707) 252-2057

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Do not find La Luna or Azteca better than Villa Corona but oh well And if already mentioned sorry but Gordons has been closed for a long while,guess Leslie Rudd is confused what to do with all his $!

                          1. re: mick

                            Agreed about the Leslie Rudd confusion re: Gordon's.
                            Fantastic people and concept -- just needed better business people
                            involved.. Wish Leslie would get someone smart attached.

                            I adore Sally Gordon. I adored the place. I miss it, perhaps more than any other Napa restaurant that has fallen out of existence.

                            1. re: mick

                              Um, not to get in an arguement, maria lorraine, but the original request was for casual dining options en route to Calistoga -- La Mixteca is out of the way and La Luna and Azteca are to-go, not restaurants (ok, Azteca has a table out front) thus neither appropriate. Had a quick dinner last night at Villa Corona in St. Helena and it remains solid, if getting more than a little pricey -- rent keeps going up. Also, two tables around us were filled with Spanish-speaking patrons, a large group sat outside, and a couple others came in to get food to go. Someone thinks it's authentic enough.

                              La Mixteca
                              2580 Jefferson St, Napa, CA 94558

                              Villa Corona
                              1138 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574

                              1. re: MRMoggie

                                Sorry, we differ a bit on what's "solid" and what constitutes the best options for our OP. That's OK.

                                The OP asked for dining options while en route his first evening, and while here.

                                Villa Corona, for me, is a so-so recommendation in light of more flavorful and more interesting dining options elsewhere that also fit the OPs parameters. Based on ambience and location alone, I would never in a trillion years send a first-time visitor to Napa Valley there.

                                Even within its category -- Mexican food -- Villa Corona is weak compared to Mixteca or take-out from La Luna in Rutherford or Azteca in St. Helena.

                                If the OP is interested in Mexican (not at all Napa Valley's strong suit), Mixteca does fit the bill. It's located in the city of Napa on the way north to Calistoga, open till 8 PM, and so might work as an option for the OPs dinner if the timing's right.

                                For lunch, take-out from La Luna in Rutherford and Azteca in St. Helena are convenient as well as casual and inexpensive. Lunch take-out may even be preferable to sit-down dining when wine-tasting alone (the chance to picnic at a winery in a pretty little nook). At least, that's the way I see it.

                                La Mixteca
                                2580 Jefferson St, Napa, CA 94558

                                La Luna Market Taqueria
                                1153 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford, CA

                                Azteca Market
                                789 Main St St, Helena, CA

                                Villa Corona
                                1138 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574

                          2. re: Piperdown

                            I think both Mixteca and Villa Corona (I go to the one in Napa) have delicious food - but very different styles. I prefer the Napa location of VC over the St. Helena location by a long shot. Their camarones dishes (a la diabla, and al mojo de ajo) are really solid. The style at Mixteca can't really be compared - different region of Mexico and all. The moles there are well worth a small detour into the underbelly of Napa.

                            Delicious Foods
                            734 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                            Villa Corona
                            1138 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574