(Caveat…. this post has nothing to do with grits, hominy, BBQ, collard greens, corn pone or anything of the sort. Instead, it covers a couple of the great restaurants in the southern part of the Napa Valley. With that said, read on…)
The Napa Valley has long been known for being a destination for outstanding wine and
food, and connoisseurs from all over the globe come here to drive (or weave) up and down Highway 29 to visit their favorite haunts. Historically, the town of Napa was considered to be a run-down farm town that one passed through on the way to all the nice towns, of St. Helena, Oakville, Rutherford, and Calistoga. No one ever stopped in Napa (except for gas) and certainly no one ate here. Establishments like Mustards, Brix, Tra Vigne, Rutherford Grill, Terra, Martini House (now closed, sadly) and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen were all popular, and still are.
More recently, Yountville became the center of the gastronomic universe in the valley, and in fact the whole town is ground zero for lodging and dining. It is easy to radiate out from Yountville by car to reach any of the other towns, and there is no shortage of places to rest your head and feed your hunger in a 4-block area of town. Yountville reminds me of Main Street in Disneyland, but for the well-heeled. The French Laundry sets the bar that no other restaurant in the country can reach, and other venues like Bouchon, Bottega, Ad Hoc, Redd, Bardessono and Hurley’s provide great alternatives in the tidy little burg.
But forgotten among all the upper-Valley noise is the little town of Napa, which has quietly been transforming itself into a great little destination of its own. While the economy has taken a bit of a toll the last three years, over the past ten years the city has spruced itself up, added some upscale lodging (with a Ritz-Carlton and a St. Regis on the drawing boards), and added some outstanding restaurants of its own. People who scoffed at Napa as they raced up the highway in the past are now learning that it is worth a visit, and that it provides very high quality at more modest prices than Yountville.
There are many great restaurants in Napa, some well-known with name Chefs like Morimoto’s and Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine. But two I wanted to note here offer outstanding food in unique surroundings with very good value.
Angele is located on the upscale riverfront attached to the Napa River Inn, a nice hoteloverlooking the river. The restaurant’s website offers this description: “We are a French country restaurant and bar offering refined bistro fare, wine and cocktails on the Napa Riverfront in the heart of downtown Napa. Our dining room, located in the historic 1890 ship’s chandlery now known as the Hatt Building, evokes the simple romance of the classic French brasserie, while our riverfront patio celebrates the region’s
temperate climate and relaxed atmosphere.” The bistro is managed by Bettina and Claude Rouas, who are well-pedigreed, including past successes at L’Etoile in San Francisco and Auberge de Soleil in Rutherford (Claude) and French Laundry, Bistro Jeanty and Bistro Don Giovanni (Bettina). Now they bring their flair and passion for authentic French fare to downtown Napa.
We found the food to be outstanding, the service proficient and personable, and the patio location with high-tech heaters most delightful. Perhaps best of all, the pricetag, by valley standards, was surprisingly modest.
Just around the corner from Angele, at the other end of the same building, is Celadon. Their website offers this description: “Enjoy Celadon’s award-
winning ‘Global Comfort Food’ in our beautiful dining room or on the lovely courtyard. The seasonally influenced menu features flavors from the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Americas. We are located in the Historic Napa Mill, downtown Napa’s exciting new entertainment complex.” Celadon offers a unique array of “small plates” and “big plates” so that you and your guests can craft a tasting menu of your own liking, and sharing is encouraged.
Greg Cole is chef and owner, and he has his own amazing pedigree, which you can read on the website. He worked with acclaimed Chef Philippe Jeanty in the kitchen at Domaine Chandon, and also has worked in the wine business. Now,
with Celadon and Cole’s Chop House under his helm, he provides two distinct and appetizing dining choices for folks who venture into downtown Napa.
We enjoyed the courtyard during our visit, which is a lovely and somewhat rustic covered seating area which was visually quite appealing. The menu choices were quite varied, and
everything we had was delicious. Our only quibble was that the wine prices seemed quite overpriced, and caused our dinner to be more expensive than we would have liked. (a bottle of Kosta Browne pinot, which I am able to buy for $52 as a wine club member, was priced at $160. Ouch.)
So if you go (and I do highly recommend it!), consider taking your own wine and paying the corkage ($15 per bottle) and you will feel better about the evening.
There are many other fine establishments in Napa, and eventually I will write about some of them, so that we can give proper respects to this newly-revitalized southern part of the beautiful Napa Valley.