The best places to eat, no matter what your agenda.
Photo creditPhoto: Courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
Photo creditPhoto: Oenotri
Photo creditPhoto: The Restaurant at Meadowood
Photo creditPhoto: Meg Smith
Everyone knows Napa’s wine country boasts an excellent, world-class dining scene. Not as obvious: That scene has scope. Regardless of your mood or company, there’s probably a restaurant to suit your plans. Here are five picks to get you started. Area code is 707 unless noted.
For the ultimate wine country atmosphere There are plenty of fine dining spots in the valley where you can settle in for an evening-long parade of artistically crafted courses, but nowhere else will you get Auberge du Soleil Restaurant’s classic bird’s-eye view of the vineyard-striped valley floor. If the maître d’ asks you “Inside? Or out?” there’s really only one answer. And as the hillsides darken after your plate of spiced lamb with yogurt, mint, olives, and lemon sauce, if you feel a chill but you’re still waiting for the mint ice cream and devil’s food cake with peppermint meringue, the servers will wrap you in a pashmina shawl so you can watch the first stars come out. The view is just as good from the terrace of the more casual bistro next door, where the juicy, classic burger comes with a generous serving of herb-dusted fries. 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, 800-348-5406, aubergedusoleil.com.
For a throwback dinner with a twist Shrimp cocktail, a waiter in suit and tie, and a golf course view: At first glance, Ad Lib is the reincarnation of the country club meal your aunt treated you to back when. But the difference here can be described in two words: Thomas Keller. When his French Laundry shuttered for renovations in early 2015, Keller opened Ad Lib at Silverado Resort & Spa as a pop-up to temporarily keep his staff busy. Here ’50s and ’60s rock and jazz play on the loud side, and culinary pleasures are not about intricate tasting menus but focus on more comforting dishes: A Caesar salad tossed tableside, say, with special touches such as croutons made from Bouchon Bakery’s much craved pain de campagne and Keller’s trademark Parmesan crisps. Or a bacon-wrapped meatloaf inspired by the chef’s old family recipe and paired with homemade BBQ sauce. So far, there are no guarantees that this spot will be open past October, so brush off your dinner jacket and make a reservation.
For foodie bragging rights Even if you come to dinner at the Restaurant at Meadowood having already caught the buzz around chef Christopher Kostow—the James Beard award, the three Michelin stars—you still won’t quite believe what’s happening on your plate. From the first bite, which might be a single leaf of fried kale served on a slip of waxed paper clipped to an open vintage hardcover whose pages hide postcards you can flip through while you munch, you get the message: This is going to be a fascinating experience as well as a phenomenal meal. From course to course, everything has a touch of the expected, from tiny cubes of savory, insanely rich “duck fudge” to the parade of locally handcrafted vessels that hold the food. Right now, this is the have-you-been-there? meal for chefs, restaurateurs, and foodies of all stripes, and an experience guaranteed to spark inspiration. 900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena, 967-1205, meadowood.com.
For a kid-friendly dinner without compromises Stylish and sharp enough to impress a date, Oenotri also gracefully embraces kids. The clanging open kitchen, mesmerizing wood oven, and hopping bar produce a boisterous bustle. In between grownup plates of housemade salumi and sprightly salads such as shaved asparagus with kumquat, pecorino, and mint, servers will gamely bring some of their fresh pastas tossed just with some red sauce for the, ahem, less adventurous eaters. After dessert—a silky panna cotta with strawberries, maybe—you can run off the sugar in Napa’s happening, walkable downtown. 1425 First St., Napa, 252-1022, oenotri.com.
For that party feel There’s nothing sedate or serious about Michael Chiarello’s Bottega in downtown Yountville. With a crowd-pleasing menu of Italian favorites and a lively bar, it throws a bang-up party every night of the week. The parade of hits includes short-rib meatballs with rich zinfandel-tomato conserva and kumquats, fettuccine earthy with wild mushrooms and corn, and whole fish grilled over wood. The broad wraparound deck is the place to be, with bistro tables clustered around stone fireplaces and the iconic orange awning lending everything and everyone a golden glow. 6525 Washington St., Yountville, 945-1050, botteganapavalley.com.
This article was first published in June 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.