Although I make no claims to be a restaurant reviewer, I do enjoy dining out, and I do have my opinions. And since many of my friends have asked me to recommend restaurants for their Napa Valley visits, I feel compelled to write about some of them occasionally in this space. Obviously there are many places online where you can find more complete reviews, so I am not attempting to out-review anyone else.
Last weekend, for our second anniversary, we made a return trip to Press, in St. Helena. Operated by Leslie Rudd, who also owns Rudd Winery, Dean & Deluca, and the Oakville Grocery, Press certainly is not wanting for superb ingredients. And that is obvious from the food and wine that is served here.
We have visited Press a couple of times before, but it had been about two years since we had last dined in the unique space. This was a perfect time for a return visit. In April of this year, the San Francisco Chronicle had dropped Press from its Top 100 restaurant list, which was surprising to me at first. Had the restaurant fallen from its high quality standards? Or was it merely a casualty of too many outstanding new restaurants in the greater bay area? We would soon find out.
The restaurant is located immediately adjacent to the Dean & Deluca “food museum” on Highway 29, and features a large, open space with high ceilings, somewhat industrial in design, but filled with greenery and interesting light fixtures that focus soft, pleasing light over each dining table. A long bar area is at the head of the space, with seating available there for those without reservations. Several bartenders ply their trade there, efficiently mixing icy cocktails while chatting with the many regulars who come in . The bar is surrounded by elegant wooden cabinets housing some of the amazing wines offered by the bottle. If you are a Napa Cabernet lover, this is your place…provided you have some runway left on your Amex card. While the markups seem to be quite reasonable (a bottle of 2007 Revana Cabernet, for example, rated #4 on Wine Spectator’s list of top 100 wines for the year, sells for $125 at the winery and was only $180 on the wine list here.) Many of the wines on the list are very high-end, and many older vintages are available, so even with a moderate markup, the prices can be quite steep. Corkage is $25/bottle if you bring your own bottle.
With an 8:30 dinner reservation, we arrived early specifically so we could sit outside by the gorgeous gas fireplace and enjoy a martini. The sun was starting to set, the cool Napa breeze was starting to flow, and the chilled gin was perfectly paired with the warmth of the fire.
At 8:30 we took our table in the dining room and perused the menu. Many of the meat and vegetable items are sourced from local purveyors, and the menu always includes the precise heritage. On this night, some ridiculously expensive Wagyu beef was available, which we politely declined.
Instead, Laurie had the roasted oysters with creamy leeks, bacon, arugula and parmesan for an appetizer, while I had the Maine lobster and crab cake with avocado emulsion. Laurie’s oysters were quite tasty, and although I am not a fan of raw oysters, I enjoyed the roasted variety and the combination of accompanying flavors. My lobster and crab cake, on the other hand, was just okay….tasted more like lobster than crab, but the whole thing was chewy and somewhat bland. The avocado emulsion was an artful “smear” across the plate and didn’t actually add much to the dish. We followed that by sharing a Caesar salad made with little gem lettuce, tomato croutons and parmesan. We drank Chardonnay by the glass with these two courses.
For our entree we shared a bone-in Cowboy Rib-eye steak, with caramelized onions and Bearnaise sauce. The problem was, the wait between the salad course and the entree must have been 45 minutes, and it was only after complaining that we were told it would be just a few more minutes. I noticed other diners waiting for their entrees as well, so it seemed to be a problem in the kitchen, as opposed to a waiter timimg error. Could this be why Press had dropped from the list? There’s no way to know for sure, but it put a bit of a damper on the evening for me. It’s hard to pace your consumption of wine when the food never arrives. We enjoyed a half bottle of 2006 Dominus, which was one of the dryest, most tannic wines I have enjoyed in a long time. It just needed food to go with it, and unfortunately the steak was late in arriving. However, it was delicious once it did find its way to the table.
So all in all it was a pretty nice meal. We love the space, the food is very good and the service is attentive and professional. Perhaps falling off the Top 100 list will make it easier to get a reservation here. If a great steak and high-end red wine are your thing, this may be the best restaurant choice in the valley for you. We will return, for sure.