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Napa trip report Feb 2014

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I'm actually getting caught up on my 5-months-behind-posting-reviews on Yelp, and when a friend asked for some recommendations on going to Napa because we were just there in late February, I pulled this from the very long full reviews I had. One of the downsides of age [smile], if I don't write it all down I forget the details! Forgive the length, but this covers all six places we went.

Napa 2014 February
We travel 1-2x/yr on midweek, 3-day trips (retirement is wonderful, lol). As usual we ate a mix of old (visited at least once before) and new (to us) restaurants. All were at least good, which has not always been our experience, but only two were excellent, as follows.

Best to worst, they ranked:
1. Ca'Momi
2. Solbar
3. The Grill @Meadowood
4. Market
5. Browns Valley Mkt (deli)
6. Brix

Ca'Momi: Hated the space, loved the service and food. The patio worked out great for us, because we could spread our many dishes over a four-top instead of crammed onto their minimal two-tops. Our best meal in the NV, barely beating out Desco/Oakland as our preferred Italian. And we are suckers for bigne and ciambellina (okay, along with Ca'Momi's crackerbread, sweetbreads, and oxtail ragú). But if you want to take a large quantity of those luscious whipped cream beauties home, one has to go separately to purchase the pastries ASAP. What they have in the case is what they have made for the entire day – and it's not a large display case. If you're just having one or two for dessert after a meal, the waiter can get it for you. But we came with an ice chest and ice, and bought at least a pound of these treats. With the loss of Borgo Italia's pastry chef, we can't get these in Oakland and believe me, we miss them! Our friends, not surprisingly, adored us upon our return home when we shared the goodies.

Solbar: We've always enjoyed Solbar. It would have ranked with Ca'Momi this time if we hadn't ordered a poorly conceived entrée, the Lucky Pig. I left feedback through OT that the dish really needs rethinking. The sauce was especially poor. Our starters were flawless, as usual. I always forget the spa menu is not your typical "rabbit food"; these are done with superb ingredients and great execution. They offer clean intense flavors and good-sized portions. A simple chicken noodle soup was a masterpiece of roasted bone broth, properly clarified, with delicate poached chicken breast in neat dice and mini-farfalle. Solbar remains a bright, open, relaxing dining room. The service is superb, some of the best in the entire Valley.

The Grill @Meadowood would rank a bit higher with us if it hadn't cost so much, and if the entrées had been salted properly (some items had too much salt and some had none at all). Also, we went for dinner and this restaurant seems better for lunch. There is nothing to see outside in the dark and the DR is surprisingly generic and awkward for such an upscale resort. The food was uneven: some of it was unexciting and generic, but some dishes showed a creative brilliance that caught us by surprise. A soup of baby turnips and macadamia nuts sounded strange but it was amazing – and we don't like turnips! An asparagus flatbread was perked up with thin shavings of raw rhubarb in another wonderful combination.

Market: It reminded us of Mustards, except that we liked it better. But the comfort food is just a bit oversized and excessive, with too much of the "more is always better" attitude. It's designed to impress and overwhelm, not to entice or intrigue the gourmet. The crab dishes are very generous but my crabcake was overwhelmed with too much beurre blanc. Crab Louie was good but again, too much dressing, too many minced shallots. Porcini ravioli tasted more like shiitake with too much tart red wine. Still, it's a good value with those oversized portions, and the service was very good.

Browns Valley Market: We love perusing delis but BVM disappointed us by reducing the variety of Saag products they offer. In 2012 they had some Saag charcuterie we had never seen before, but on this re-visit those products had disappeared and only ordinary stuff was available. They now use a lot of Boarshead products, which are not our favorite. BVM is famed for their sandwiches for those who are picnicking. We are rating them a little higher than we otherwise would because their "cheese guy" turned us on to a fabulous soft cheese, Castelbelbo. It's a mixed sheep/goat/cow milk cheese, and delightful! I picked up a perfect Fromage d'Affinois; sadly, their St. Andre was past its prime. They also carry Bouchon baguettes, so we bought some Columbus prosciutto to have with cheese and the bread for dinner that evening. BVM only offers Boarshead and Columbus for prosciutto, so we picked the Columbus as the best of a bad pair. It won't replace Parma in our hearts, but it's decent, a plus given for being very lean, and has an attractive black pepper aroma. There's La Quercia but only in pre-wrapped packaging.

Brix: Its decline was anticipated with the departure of Chris Jones and no one named to replace him. Consultant David Cruz has also left as of Jan 2013. But nonetheless a shocker after three great meals here over the 2011-2013 timeframe. The food was good, don't get us wrong. The ingredients remain top-notch and both front and back staff are total pros. But there's no vision or passion driving the menu. When Jones was in the kitchen, after a meal we would have a hard time deciding what we liked best. As far as we know no one knows where Jones has gone, or even why he left. Brix is like Angelé: the good chefs never seem to stay more than a year or two, and that's not a good thing. If the Kellehers can find another good chef, there's no reason why Brix couldn't return to the higher ranks again. It's a gorgeous dining room, btw – they did a bit of remodeling when Jones left (June 2013). Always beautiful in the daytime, but now it has a warmer feel and better layout in the center, so we think it would be as handsome for dinner as it is for lunch.

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  1. Thanks for the review. We will be there in April!

      1. Appreciate all the notes and so sad to realize that Brix has declined so much...